Luck, and not especially skill, was the biggest factor five Baltimore area racing fans say won each of them nearly $2,500 in this year's national Breeders' Cup Pick 7 contest.
Six Marylanders, five of them from the Baltimore area, were among 61 out of more than 221,000 entrants who ended up with all seven winners on the Breeders' Cup card.
"I wish I could say it was skill," said Llewellyn Hoerl, a retired groundskeeper for the Baltimore County school system, who lives in Catonsville. "But to tell you the truth, it only took me about 15 minutes to fill out the form and drop it in the mail. I just went by names of the well-known trainers and horses I followed that had won some of the big races."
Hoerl quipped: "If I go to Laurel, I can't even pick the Daily Double."
The Breeders' Cup, horse racing's $10 million one-day extravaganza, was held Oct. 27 at Belmont Park. For the last three years, the Breeders' Cup organization has sponsored a nationwide handicapping contest worth $350,000 to see who can pick the most Breeders' Cup winners. Contest blanks are run in newspapers all over the country. For the first time this year, fans could phone in their entries.
Whoever picks all seven winners gets $150,000. The first year no one picked all seven, so the $150,000 prize went to one fan who selected six out of seven winners. Last year, in more than 300,000 entries, no one picked all seven.
This year, because four of the winning horses were favorites, there were 61 winners who split the $150,000 first prize. Each winner receives $2,459.
None of the Baltimore area winners can recall if they actually picked all seven winners. Most of them say that in a couple of races their choices were scratched. According to the contest rules, they automatically got the race-time favorite in those races. In such races like the Turf and the Mile, European horses, In The Wings and Royal Academy, were not well-known at the time of pre-entry, a week before the race when many fans mail in their picks. But by post time, they were actually favored to win at Belmont.
L In addition to Hoerl, the other Baltimore area winners were:
* Charles Butta, a disabled bricklayer who lives in Hamilton.
"I used to go the races," Butta said, "but since I became disabled, I don't go any more. I do watch the big races on TV. Mostly, it was just luck. I go by the jockeys and sometimes, there are horses that I just like."
DTC * Roger Lee, 34, an engineer who works at the Goddard Space Center and lives in Owings Mill.
"I mailed in two entries, but it was the phone-in picks that won it for me. The phone call cost $5, but it was worth it. Basically, I just played hunches. It was just luck. But I'm an avid reader of the sports sections. I like all sports and know pretty much what's going on in racing. I go to the races maybe four or five times a year."
* Ernest Harden, 65, a retired textile worker who lives in Oella.
"I'm just a casual racegoer, but I love the races, always have. I just picked names of horses that I knew. I can't even tell you who I picked or who ran. I just cut out the blank and sent it in. Talk about dumb luck. I don't have any plans for the money. It will just go into my retirement fund."
* Woody Trafton, 48, who works at the General Motors plant on Broening Highway, assembling trucks and vans.
"The first year I picked five out of seven winners and got a check for $2.42. I didn't even cash it, just kept it as a souvenir. This time I took it more seriously. I mailed in six entries. I loved Safely Kept [the Sprint winner] because she ran here since she was 2 even though I bet Northern Wolf to beat her in the De Francis Dash last summer. And I loved Unbridled [winner of the Classic]. I would have bet my whole paycheck on him. The toughest race was picking Bayakoa over Go For Wand. They were both so good. It was terrible about Go For Wand [who broke her leg and was destroyed]. But what can you do about it?"
Gene Rose, of Thurmont, was the sixth Maryland winner. He could not be reached for comment.
As far as cities go, Baltimore area racing fans turned out to be among the most savvy in the nation. There were eight winners from Kentucky -- including four from Lexington and three from Louisville. They were seven winners from New York -- four from the New York City area and three from upstate.
The Breeders' Cup organization will end up mailing out nearly 12,000 checks to various winners. Aside from the 61 grand prize winners, 1,542 individuals picked six of seven winners and will get checks worth $48.64. A total of 10,211 people selected five winners. They will each win $4.90.