When a Pick Six carryover reached $3.2 million earlier this month at Hollywood Park, the U.S. racing industry was given an instant lesson in the power of substantial pools. The Hollywood carryover became one of the biggest stories in racing this summer and was the prime reason the Southern California track handled $18.4 million, including an additional $7.59 million that was bet into the already giant Pick Six pool, on an otherwise ordinary Monday afternoon. There's nothing horseplayers like quite like the chance to make a life-changing, seven-figure score.
The problem is that U.S. racing has never quite figured out how to create large pools in multiple-race wagers on a regular basis; what happened at Hollywood was an anomaly. That's not a problem in Sweden, where huge pools don't occur every once in a while but twice a week.
In Swedish harness racing, a wager called the V75, that is available every Saturday, has become a national phenomenon that out-handles the lottery. Now available in New Jersey and about to spread across the U.S., the V75 is essentially a Pick Seven. There are also consolation payoffs for anyone hitting six or five winners, thus the name V75.
What makes it different from the standard multiple-race wager in the U.S. is that a single ticket costs just 10 cents and the races involved have huge fields (normally, anywhere from 12 to 15 horses), which makes hitting the bet extremely challenging. Yet, because the base wager is just 10 cents, a player can play thousands of combinations for relatively little money. You could use three horses in each of the seven races and it would cost only $218.70.
Last week's handle for the V75 was $10.54 million. Carryover pools for the V75 have reached $25 million. Within the last 30 days, only one winning ticket has been sold on the wager on two occasions, and both winners pocketed more than $6 million, well more than the $576,064 the Hollywood Pick Six paid to the 13 people who had it.
Those kinds of payoffs don't go unnoticed, which is why Swedes are mad about the bet. It is estimated that 1 million people a week play the V75, many of them buying it off track at places like grocery stores. The less sophisticated players like to rely on something they call Harry Boy, which is a computerized quick pick. But Harry Boy takes odds and the horses' chances into account and does not spit out perfectly random tickets.
The Swedish racing industry is in the midst of taking the bet international, which will only make the pools continue to grow. It can also be played in Denmark, Holland, Estonia and Germany. The hope is that the U.S. will be the next market to embrace the V75 and its sister wager, the V64. The V64, which is available on Wednesdays, is a Pick Six that has consolation payoffs for anyone hitting five and four winners. The typical V64 pool is about one-fourth that of a V75 pool. (The reason the wager is held on harness races and not thoroughbred races is because standardbred racing is far more popular and prolific in Sweden.)
Unfortunately, the V75 concept probably wouldn't work in the U.S. There's not a U.S. track around that can guarantee six or seven races with 12 to 15-horse fields or anything close to that. The bane of the Pick Six's existence is the winning 3-5 shot in a six-horse field, something that happens all too often. And with the lottery so popular and so firmly entrenched in this country, it's hard to imagine non-racing fans lining up at the local 7-11 to play a Pick Seven rather than Powerball.
That leaves the V75 as the only regular alternative for an American horseplayer hoping to bet into an eight-digit pool. The obvious drawback is that no one among us knows the first thing about Swedish harness racing or how to handicap it. Anyone wanting to get serious about this bet faces a huge learning curve. In the meantime, you can always throw darts at the program page. The other problem is the time difference. The V75 races go off in the early morning hours in the U.S., not exactly the time of day when the typical U.S. horseplayer is tuned into wagering.
It remains to be seen if the V75 will work here, but that won't stop the wager from continuing to be wildly successful in the Scandinavian countries. The formula -- big pots and big payoffs -- is a simple one, but it works.
We're not alone
And you thought some of our stewards were bad. Check out Saturday's Group I Grand Prix de Paris (it's available on youtube.com) at Longchamp. Zambezi Sun crossed the wire first but appeared certain to come down. About a half-mile into the race, Zambezi Sun clearly came over and dropped rival Eagle Mountain and jockey Kieren Fallon.
The stewards took a full hour to make the race official and then, somehow, left Zambezi Sun up. Making the result even more controversial: Juddmonte Farm, which sponsored the race, owns Zambezi Sun.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.