Remember that '50s TV series called The Millionaire? Remember how Michael Anthony would ring the doorbell of some unsuspecting beneficiaries and announce that he had a cashier's check for $1 million for them? And remember Anthony's proviso: that if the recipients ever revealed the amount or the donor (eccentric multibillionaire John Beresford Tipton), they would have to forfeit whatever portion of the million was unspent? Well, Lee and Patti Brauer of Tieton, Wash, remember. They talked about that show a lot after they won $1 million in the Canadian lottery. In the best tradition of Old Man Tipton, they, too, wondered how all that money would affect the lives of ordinary folks—themselves.
Their story begins not with the ring of an unexpected visitor but with the purchase of two $10 Canadian lottery tickets, the first the Brauers had ever bought. Just before Christmas 1977 they learned they had "hit" the lottery, each ticket paying $50. "It sure was a temptation to cash those tickets in," says Lee. "That money looked pretty good with Christmas coming up. But we took the gamble and bought 10 more $10 tickets."
In the 12 years of their marriage, the Brauers' main entertainment had been going to racetracks and betting. They were used to taking risks, albeit on a modest scale. Although most of their time was spent working their 10-acre apple orchard (Red Delicious and Goldens), every chance the Brauers got, they'd go to Yakima or Portland Meadows or Longacres Racetrack. They loved horses and handicapping and dreamed one day of owning maybe 25% of a $1,600 claimer. It became their habit to wrap their winnings in aluminum foil and stash the loot in the freezer, which is what they did with the ten $10 lottery tickets.
On the whole, racetrackers are a pretty superstitious bunch, and the Brauers are no exception. They knew that the million-dollar lottery draw would be on Sunday, April 2, 1978. Patti circled the date on their kitchen calendar and wrote on it: "The day we win a million." But the only thing that happened on Sunday was that the Brauers lost all their betting money at Yakima Meadows. On Monday, Lee and Patti sat at home and tried to figure out if they had enough money to live on until their apples were harvested. "We weren't broke," Patti says. "But we figured we needed $6,000 to get us from April to September, and we didn't have that much. Lee didn't want to borrow money on our expected proceeds from the crop. So we just sat there estimating the minimum amount we needed to get through the season."
August 3, 1980
The call from Canada came on Tuesday. Patti answered the phone and heard a very polite man from the Canadian lottery ask if she would please read her ticket numbers to him. She yelled, "Hold on," and started throwing meat out of the freezer. She couldn't find the tickets. Lee found them. He read all the numbers to the man on the phone. The last ticket number was the big one. Patti's knees gave way, and she fell to the floor. Screams, cheers, tears, laughter.
Now this is the John Beresford Tipton part. What do a couple of young apple growers do with a million bucks? The Brauers stayed up for two days and three nights just talking about it. There were big decisions to be made. Should they move to Canada and get the million tax-free? Or should they stay in the U.S. and hand a staggering $750,000 over to the Internal Revenue Service? The Brauers decided to remain in Washington, but they hired a tax specialist to see what he could do about reducing the bite.
Apprehensive about what all that money would do to their life-style, they continued to work the usual 12 to 14 hours a day in their orchard. They made a few cautious purchases: a new pickup truck, a tractor and a racehorse, in that order. "We parked the new pickup in the backyard," Lee, says, "and kept driving our old clinker around. At night we'd all go out and sit in the new one and fiddle with the gadgets. But it took us weeks to get over feeling conspicuous."
In June of 1978 they contacted a friend, Dale Leach at Northwest Farms in Yakima, and said they'd like to buy a horse, preferably a bargain-basement thoroughbred. Leach showed them a yearling colt and said, "This horse is kind of a runt, but he's improved a lot." The Brauers liked his looks and his breeding (by Saltville out of TV Actress, by TV Lark), so they took another gamble and paid $5,000 for him. "You have to understand where we came from," says Lee. "We lived our whole lives on a tight budget. No matter how much money we had, $5,000 seemed an awful lot for a horse. In our minds we were still struggling. You don't go all your life just making ends meet and then change overnight."
They named their yearling Loto Canada, the title of the Canadian lottery. A few days later—perhaps because they were getting the hang of spending money—they purchased a second yearling for $7,500 and named him Canadian Express. During this period of comparatively wild monetary abandon, the Brauers remained more or less in hiding. The newspapers and wire services had broadcast the news of their million-dollar win, and people started hounding them. From all parts of the country letters from total strangers poured in asking for "loans."
That summer Lee and Patti spent their free time lying on the grass watching their yearlings graze at Northwest Farm. They became absorbed in making plans for their new "babies," as Patti called them.
In August they had another bit of luck. "We met Len Kasmerski at a sale at Longacres," says Lee. "He'd heard we had a couple of horses. He came up to us and said, 'I want to train for you.' The more we looked at his record, the more impressed we were with his 2-year-old program. We sent our horses to him on November 1."
Initially the Brauers and Kasmerski thought Canadian Express was going to be the better racehorse, but Express was intimidated by the other horses and after three races he'd earned a grand total of $120. So the Brauers turned him out to pasture in Yakima.
Loto Canada was another story. In December 1978 he was gelded because, says Kasmerski, "His breeding didn't merit stud duties. Besides, he was really mean." As it turned out, Loto Canada not only had a penchant for biting—especially his trainer—but also for candy bars, Coca-Cola from a can and running in slop.
On May 26, 1979 Loto Canada was sent to the post for the first time, in a five-furlong race at Longacres. He led from wire to wire and won by seven lengths. After finishing second and third in his next two outings, the "runt"—he stands just a hair over 15 hands—won four consecutive stakes by a total of 24 lengths. In all seven races he was ably ridden by Jockey Wendell Matt. It may or may not be significant but the first stakes win—the Blue Boy—took place at Exhibition Park, in (where else?) Canada. The other three came at Longacres, where Loto Canada was named Best Two Year Old Washington-bred and Best Two Year Old Colt or Gelding of the meet.
It was time for the Brauers to find out what their horse was really made of, so they shipped him to Santa Anita and the Sunny Slope Stakes on Oct. 17. He would be racing against some of the best horses in the West, so they got Bill Shoemaker as his jockey. Loto Canada came in third, behind Kentucky Derby-nominees The Carpenter and Doonesbury. Not bad for a little Washington-bred gelding. The Brauers decided to try again, this time in the 1 1/16-mile El Camino Real Stakes at Bay Meadows. Not only was Doonesbury in the field, but also Brent's Trans Am, a Derby contender from the East. Again Shoemaker was up, but Loto Canada finished fourth.
"He gave it everything he had," said the Shoe. "He's a good horse, but he's just a cut below the best." Disappointed but undaunted, the Brauers shipped their horse to Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. After finishing fourth in the $50,000 Rebel Handicap, Loto came back to win a $25,000 allowance race at a mile and 70 yards, leading all the way to beat a field of seven that included Temperence Hill, the subsequent winner of the Belmont Stakes. Patti said afterward, "There's only so much luck to go around. We thought we'd used it all up."
Indeed, the luck seemed to have run out on April 12 in the Arkansas Derby. Loto, sent off as the hot favorite (9-5), tired in the stretch, finishing well behind winner Temperence Hill. "It was the most painful day of my life," says Patti. "They bet over a quarter of a million dollars on him. It wasn't just us losing, it was all those people who bet on him and lost." To add to their misery, Loto came out of the race bleeding from a nostril, and the Brauers didn't hesitate to ship him home for a rest. Gone were their dreams of running in the Illinois or Ohio Derby, where they were sure he'd have a good chance of winning. "Greed for money or just plain ego gets in the way," says Patti. "You have to keep telling yourself it's just not that important. There's always another race on another day. What's really important is that you don't want to hurt your horse."
Their concern for Loto's well-being paid off on May 11 at Longacres. Carrying 126 pounds, Loto won the 5½-furlong William E. Boeing Stakes by 10 lengths, setting a track record of 1:02[2/5]. To date, Loto Canada has started 17 times, had seven firsts, one second, seven thirds and was unplaced only twice. He has earned $179,600, and that'll buy a tractor or two.
"He'll give you an honest race, unless he gets bumped," says Patti. "We're going to keep racing him as long as he wants to run, and he'll never run for a price. We know what we've got." John Beresford Tipton would have approved.