Bettors win big at Keeneland all the time. But on Thursday, the Make-A-Wish Foundation won big, too.
All day, Make-A-Wish kids had been handing out trophies in the winner's circle and mingling with horses and jockeys, before a packed crowd at the racetrack. As the sixth annual Make-A-Wish Day concluded, a man from Marietta, Ga., came to the volunteer table to offer $100 for their Wishing Well.
"We said, 'Thank you, that's very generous,'" said Jessica Cary, a volunteer from the Louisville office.
A few minutes later, he was back.
"He said, 'Who's the boss?'" Cary recalled. She directed him to Darla Chezem, who has been with the Louisville Make-A-Wish chapter for 12 years, helping hundreds of sick and disabled children take dream vacations, meet their favorite celebrities or give back to their communities.
"He asked if we were able to accept a winning ticket as a donation," Chezem said.
Could they come with him to the teller to cash it out, and did they have their tax information handy?
"He said it was a big ticket, but we didn't have any idea," Chezem said.
The betting clerk looked up from the ticket and said, "Did he really donate this to you all?"
"I think he thought we knew," Chezem said.
The man confirmed the gift.
The winning Pick 4 ticket paid $26,000.
About 150 children were granted wishes last year in Kentucky. The average wish costs about $8,000, said Emily Denholm, communications coordinator.
This one moment will make three or four more come true.
"We were in tears," Chezem said. They turned around to thank the donor.
But he was already gone.
She caught a glimpse of him turning the corner by the paddock.
"He said he didn't want anything from this, patted us on the shoulder, and walked away into the crowd," Cary said. "He said, 'This is for the children.'"