Rise & Fall


The remarkable story of how $1.6 million slipped through one horseplayer’s hands, and the Canadian who reaped the benefits.

Story by Chris Lomon

For one mystery bettor, the horseracing wager known as the Rainbow 6 became a $1.66-million heartache. For another, Walter Lytwyn, it was a nearly $184,000 pot of gold.

It was the betting shock heard around the sporting world, Gulfstream Park’s version of the Pick Six that cost one person a seven-figure payout, but one that gave Hamilton, Ontario resident Lytwyn an unexpected windfall.

A 20-cent minimum bet, the Rainbow Six pays out when just one ticket has the winners in six consecutive races that are designated by the track.

If multiple tickets have six winners, or if no bettor nets all six, 30 per cent of the day’s Pick 6 wagers carry over to the next racing day, with the other 70 per cent divvied out in consolation tickets.

It’s been a tough wager to tame, and one that stole the media spotlight on February 22.

Lytwyn, a longtime bettor, and regular at Flamboro Downs, spent $72 to play the Rainbow 6 that Saturday and was rewarded with a staggering $183,296.15 for his handicapping prowess.

It was a day and result he won’t soon forget.

“Not ever,” said Lytwyn. “It’s unbelievable, really.”

How he came into his six-figure payday is sheer sporting drama.

Rewind to the Gulfstream finale, carded as race 12, a 1 1/16-mile tilt on the Hallandale (Florida) turf course.

The race, contested for a purse of $34,500, featured 14 three-year-old maidens. It was also a claiming event, with any of the entrants who made the gate available for a purchase price of $75,000.

For any bettor, novice or seasoned, the race was a difficult one to decipher.

It was a longshot by the name of Collinito, a chestnut son of Elusive Quality, who would become the centre of attention.

The very same horse who 33 days earlier, in his career debut, at odds of nearly 90-1, finished 11th, thirteen lengths behind the winner.

A victory by the 15-1 Kentucky-bred colt would mean a massive score for that soon-to-be cursed mystery bettor, the one who would have the only perfect ticket if the Gary Contessa trainee crossed the wire first.

“They’re off!” said track announcer Larry Collmus, just after 6:20 p.m. local time.

Jockey Luis Sanchez urged Collinito to the lead from the outset, the duo widening their advantage to more than six lengths about a half-mile in. Victory was far from a slam dunk, but for one horseplayer, the scenario appeared to have some promise.

As the field turned for home, however, the real drama began to unfold.

Strategy Keeper, another outsider at 39-1, began to rally on the outside of Collinito down the lane. With a rival hot on his hooves, Collinito wasn’t able to maintain a straight path. He drifted right and mildly impeded his rival, but didn’t make contact.

Collinito then pushed a half-length in front, but drifted to the right again and into his challenger’s path.

Strategy Keeper fell behind, but re-rallied with a strong brush, falling a neck short at the wire.

Soon after, the most divisive word for bettors in horse racing popped up on the infield tote board: ‘INQUIRY.’

For some, it offers a chance to make a losing ticket a winner. For others, it is the exact opposite.

‘Maybe there’s still some hope?’ pondered Lytwyn, sitting in his home, intently watching the television replay over and over again.

And for him, there was. The reward at stake? One he still has a difficult time fathoming.

“I thought to myself, even though it happened so quickly, that the horse that won did interfere with my horse,” recalled the 58-year-old. “I figured I had a chance. I knew there was a lot of money on the line. As soon as the inquiry sign went up, I remember I yelled, ‘Take him down.’ They showed every angle of what happened. It felt like forever waiting to find out.”

The stewards finally made their call. Collinito was disqualified and Strategic Keeper, No. 13, placed first.

For one person, it was a devastating decision. For others, including Lytwyn, they would walk away with $36,659.22 for a 20-cent wager.

Lytwyn had five times more reason to exalt. His ticket was based on a one-dollar wager.

Not bad for a consolation prize.

“Unbelievable,” uttered Lytwyn, who has been playing the horses for four decades. “I’ve had big paydays before, but never anything like this. One time, I turned 10 dollars into 500. Before this, back when Greenwood Racetrack was still open, I turned 100 dollars into 20,000. But never anything like this.”

So, what was it that prompted Lytwyn to put that 39-1 horse on his ticket?

He asks for a moment to fetch the program, the one he kept as a memento of his unforgettable day.

“A few things, actually,” he offered. “I had looked at his other races and he had closed well at shorter distances. Now, he was going further. I also liked the jockey, Paco Lopez. He’s one of the top guys there. I also like the trainer, Edward Plesa, Jr. He does well after he claims a horse. Strategic Keeper was a former $25,000 claimer running in for $75,000 on the Saturday. That might have scared some people away, but I figured he’d run well and had a shot to win it.”

It was, of all people, a high school teacher who introduced Lytwyn to horseracing back in the mid 1970s, taking him and a group of his friends for what he terms, “a kind of field trip.”

From that moment on, Lytwyn became a fan of the sport, both thoroughbreds and standardbreds.

“For my money, it’s the best entertainment value,” he said. “Playing the slots or the lottery, I really don’t have control on the outcome. With betting horses, I feel I do.”

As for offering up advice, Lytwyn believes the best approach to wagering is to have faith in your formula, whatever it may be.

“It’s so easy to talk yourself out of picking a horse, or not taking them, especially when you are at the track,” he noted. “I always stick with my original plan. There’s no worse feeling than to have changed your mind and you end up losing because of it. I learned that years ago.”

Lytwyn’s also learned how six figures can change your life.

A longtime federal government employee, Lytwyn’s big score allowed him to make a major decision.

“It gave me the freedom to do what I want, when I want and how I want,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that I would quit my job after winning the money. But, things weren’t exactly great there. Now, if I do things the right way, I won’t have to worry about things from a financial standpoint.”

It means Lytwyn can concern himself with other pursuits. On this day, his mind is on a familiar focus.

“I’m watching Gulfstream, playing the races. The Rainbow 6 (on March 14, the pot was over $3-million) is still up for grabs.”

Who’s to say Lytwyn can’t conquer it again? After all, he has the Midas touch when it comes to one of racing’s most elusive and much talked about wagers.