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Matt Milligan found that the feeling of a major score in horse racing wasn’t something that happens one day, then fades away. It sticks in one’s mind like other memorable life events: graduations, weddings, birthdays or reunions.
Milligan’s big hit happened more than five years ago when he cashed a 50-cent pick 5 ticket for $93,918.40 on Del Mar’s July 24, 2014, card. The 49-year-old from Louisville, Ky., still remembers the circumstances vividly.
His winning ticket almost never happened, because the last horse Milligan added to the ticket was a 50-1 morning line shot that doubled his investment to $160. But he had faith in his handicapping, and that’s what propelled him to realizing a nearly six-figure payout.
“I really had a terrible year up until a week before this happened -- some really bad close calls for big amounts,” Milligan said. “But I had hit for five grand at Saratoga twice leading up to this day, so I decided to go from $80 to $160. The biggest thing that I think about now is that I probably wouldn’t have hit this because I would have normally tossed the horse that cashed it for me.”
Milligan played the early Pick 5 on a Thursday Del Mar card. He said with that type of sequence, “The challenge level is always there.” But big rewards do await.
“You are going to get beat a lot and it’s going to hurt,” Milligan said. “You just keep showing up because of these kind of days and these kind of hits. You want to play within your budget, but it’s the thrill of reeling one of these suckers in.
“It’s just really hard to describe. It’s like unlocking the code.”
Milligan placed his bet while on his lunch break and had dinner plans with his family later. He wouldn’t be sweating out each race in front of the TV.
He spread in the first leg, using five horses in a race where a 7-2 shot struck for the combination of trainer Peter Miller and jockey Martin Pedroza. The favorite ran last.
But it’s the second leg of this pick 5 that Milligan will always remember.
“There was a very vulnerable speed horse as a favorite in a race with a bunch of speed,” Milligan said. “The only problem with the horse I liked (Mon Petit) as a longshot was she was also a speed horse, but, she wasn’t really as fast as the other horses on paper.
“Basically I figured maybe she’d hang around in third and these horses would start to back up and she could get it done.”
Mon Petit, 50-1 in the program, left the gate at 53-1 when a field of 3-year-old fillies broke to go a mile on turf.
“She was first time turf and she had a French dam, so that was another part of the angle on her,” Milligan said. “I was thinking maybe she could improve on the turf. Of course, Carson Sullivan was the jockey and he was probably 0-for-50 at Del Mar. I really didn’t think too much about him.”
Milligan liked this filly enough to also key an exacta with her over the rest of the field, a $7 wager.
“In hindsight that was so critical that I did that because I got value out of that horse,” he said. “I basically hedged the entire Pick 5 bet because of it, so I didn’t have to worry about hedging in the final leg. You hear people say all the time that if you have an opinion on a really big longshot you just have to do something to make sure you get paid if they win.”
Mon Petit won, and the $1 exacta paid $360. That covered the cost of his Pick 5 ticket and then some. He had what basically equates to a free roll.