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Bettor a winner in life even as Kentucky Derby play fails

Tony Palumbo OrlPark waits for Kentucky Derby begSaturday May 7 2011 with Peggy BaldwHawthorne Race Course Stoney Point Grill MokenIll.

Tony Palumbo, of Orland Park, waits for the Kentucky Derby to begin Saturday, May 7, 2011, with Peggy Baldwin, of Hawthorne Race Course, at Stoney Point Grill in Mokena, Ill. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 7, 2011 11:11PM



Orland Park resident Tony Palumbo was a winner before he even placed his Kentucky Derby bets Saturday. Palumbo found out he won $1,000 through the Hawthorne Race Course sweepstakes to use for up to three bets on the Derby.

“I said, ‘Come on!’ I was really in shock,” Palumbo said about the phone call from Hawthorne. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Palumbo said he’s never bet that much money on a race before, but he did win $1,400 on a $12 bet three weeks ago.

“That was really lucky,” Palumbo said. “I just goof around. I have fun.”

Palumbo and his wife of 41 years, Marion, and daughter-in-law Michelle Palumbo joined hundreds of others looking for fun and a little bit of luck at Stoney Point Grill, 19031 Old LaGrange Road in Mokena, the site of one of Hawthorne’s six off-track betting parlors. A beer tent and pig roast were set up in the parking lot to entertain the overflow crowd, while a drive-through betting facility accommodated those who couldn’t stay. In true Derby tradition, ladies in colorful hats cheered and shouted at their horses as the crowd watched races throughout the day on several dozen flat-screen TVs.

The Palumbos became regulars at Stoney Point Grill when Tony Palumbo battled lung cancer five years ago. He and his family started playing the horses during his chemotherapy sessions, placing 10-cent bets on the superfecta.

“We’d all pick a horse, and it was like $2.40,” Marion Palumbo said. “It was a way to pass the time during his eight hours of chemo treatment.”

Surpassing those bets many times over, Tony Palumbo placed a $400 bet on Santiva to win, place or show and divided the rest of the $1,000 between two tickets of six-horse trifecta box bets.

“I picked Santiva because I kind of liked the name,” Palumbo said. “It was like my grandmother’s first name, Santa, and it reminded me of her.”

Plans to go to Las Vegas were in the works before the race began, with Marion Palumbo saying she would take Tony if her bets paid off because he already promised her they’d go if he won.

“I’d get about $3,500 if Santiva wins,” Palumbo said. “It’s a really long shot.”

When it didn’t pan out, Palumbo, a happy guy who has regained his health, said of his loss: “We had a great time. I would never have bet that kind of money. It was just all fun.”

“We didn’t win. We didn’t lose,” Marion Palumbo said with a smile. “Vegas is postponed for a while.”



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