Jack Ninio, a 51-year old horseplayer from Las Vegas, has been playing the races for more than 30 years since being introduced to the sport in college while attending the University of Arizona, and his experience and persistence paid off in the biggest of ways Saturday at Fair Grounds when he held the lone winning ticket in the Black Gold 5, earning him a hefty payday of $463,219.
“When I was at school in Arizona, I was at a fraternity pledge meeting, and I heard someone talk about how a player had won a Pick-6 at the Tucson Dog Park for $17,000,” Ninio told Fair Grounds publicity. “I started playing the races and have been playing horses for a long time and feel very happy – very excited. That was a life-changing score for me.”
Fair Grounds has been one of his favorite wagering spots for some time. He explained, “I love this game more than I can articulate to you, and I think the racing at Fair Grounds is so far superior to so many other circuits. I’m a West Coast guy, but the fields are almost always big down there, and it’s just such a great product – Rosie [Napravnik] is out there along with so many other great jockeys, there are great stakes races, and I am always really impressed with the product.”
He had been following and playing the ever-increasing Black Gold 5 pool “for months,” as the pool that he took down Saturday first started building on December 14, 2013, and had picked his spots based on whether or not he thought the jackpot could possibly pay out.
“There were some days when there were some small fields or lots of favorites that I thought would win, and I would sit those days out, but Saturday’s races looked like the kind of day when there could be just one winning ticket,” he said. “And I saw the first few races in the sequence yesterday and thought there were some vulnerable favorites, so I threw out some horses I thought could get beat, but that I also thought would be used heavily on other players’ tickets.”
Ninio's winning score came on a $1,764 play that did not include the race favorite in the opening leg (Forest Henri, second at 9-5 in Race 5) nor did it include the second-choice in the Black Gold 5’s second leg (Cotton Club Cutie, second at 5-2 in race 6). Those two races kicked off the sequence with upset winners Charlie’s Ring ($17.20) and Pretty Petal ($27.40).
“After those first two legs with some shorter-priced horses I thought could get beat, I went ahead and bought that maiden race [Awesome Houdini, $12.80 in Race 7], and then I used most of them in the next race, throwing out only Hopeful Notion and Purgenality.”
Alvear won that eighth race, paying $21.60, and set him up for the payday of a lifetime if favored Run Freely could win the finale.
“I thought the favorite in the last leg had not been disgraced when running for $12,500, and now they were dropping him in for $5,000, and I didn’t think anyone else could pick up their legs to keep up with him,” he wisely assumed, as even-money favorite Run Freely made the lead near the eighth-pole and drew clear under the wire for a 2 ½-length score.
When asked about his overall wagering strategies, Ninio offered “I’m a player who looks for value in carryovers. I will occasionally play win bets, but I’m more of a Pick-4, Pick-5, and Pick-6 player with an eye on carryover pools.”
He repeatedly acknowledged that alongside handicapping acumen, luck plays an important part in taking down the carryover portion of a wager like the Black Gold 5.
“I am so excited to have been able to hit it, but I could have picked those same five winners and still split the pool with someone else who had a great day and managed to find them, too. Any horseplayer who has such an ego to think they’re the greatest in the world for getting lucky on a day like that needs to check their ego. I got lucky Saturday and things worked out my way,” he said, “and I wish there was a wager that would give more people more chances to have a day like this.”
“As happy as I am to have hit this – and I really am very happy and excited to have hit that one in a million chance of what I did yesterday – I would honestly have been just as happy to hit for $100,000 and know that three other people also hit it for $100,000 somehow,” he continued.
“I would love to see an innovative new wager that is sort of similar to current jackpot wagers, but with a twist – something like a Jackpot Pick-7 with a smaller increment that also had a provision to include more mandatory payout days. Say, every time the pool hit $300,000, one half of that pool would continue to carry over as the jackpot pool, but the other half would come out to be the seed money for a one-day mandatory payoff day. That way, you would still have a chance to hit the jackpot on a daily basis and take down the whole thing, but everyone would have a chance to get a big payday on the mandatory payout days. The pools would be massive and more people would have more frequent chances to make really nice scores. That would put more money in the hands of more people and I think that the more big winners there are, the better it is for the game.”
On Saturday, however, Jack Ninio was still perfectly content being forced to settle for being the only winner – with more than 463,000 reasons to be thankful for his good fortune.