Three friends rode a punting rollercoaster to win the New Zealand Punter of the Year title at Hastings at the weekend.
Shane Coey, Tony Moynihan and Sam Jorgenson of Wellington came back from a balance of just forty cents to end the day with $12,720 - an incredible turn of luck - and banked an extra $20,000 for winning first prize.
There were tense moments for the trio though, who erupted with "man love" when announced as the winners, high-fiving as the news sank in.
Coey said just a few races earlier they were resigned to leaving the course with little more than memories, as a run of bad luck and a lost ticket almost saw them bow out.
"We are stoked. It was pretty nerve-racking though. I was shaking," he said.
"We're just mates who love our banter and a bet - definitely not professional punters though. These were huge bets for us, hence the shakes."
The annual competition, now in its 32nd year, saw punters start with a pot of $1500, of which they had to spend a minimum of $150 per race.
The syndicate with the most money at the end of the day claimed the $20,000 first prize to go with their winnings, a trophy, and the distinction of being crowned New Zealand Punter of the Year.
Coey had entered the competition once before, as had Moynihan, while Jorgenson was making his debut. Their syndicate name was "We've Got a Fair Bit On", a cry used often throughout the afternoon among the men.
Despite enjoying the hospitality of the day in a room with 140 like-minded punting syndicates from around the country, they weren't having much luck.
But that all changed at Race Seven. They were all bullish about the chances of a horse called Aim Smart. A rush of blood saw them place $236 to win and $500 a place on the horse.
After placing the bet their balance was just 40 cents. But Aim Smart duly won, paying $5.50 and $2.10, and they were back in the game with a balance of $2348. And 40 cents.
But there was a problem. Each syndicate was issued with a voucher, to be presented before each bet, and another voucher was issued at the completion of the bet. Their voucher, which had a grand total of 40 cents, was nowhere to be found.
"We looked everywhere. We looked at the rubbish bins and thought...na na na. Can't do that," he said.
They approached race control who he said were "fantastic" in sorting out their problem.
"I thought we were gone, but they were fantastic in sorting it out. But we only got our next bet on just in time. They were about to jump," he said.
Their next bet was a small one. With Melody Belle the raging hot favourite in the main race of the day, they couldn't see value in backing her at $1.30 win odds, so backed another runner to place.
With two races to go and the competition leaders well ahead, they received some sage advice from another punter, who suggested they were still in a position to win.
"He said 'lads, do you want to win this or what?' It was next level for us, but we were on a roll."
So they made a decision to go home with roughly what they came with and wager the rest. A healthy slice of the next quinella saw their balance balloon to $5500 with just one race left.
Sticking to the plan in the last, they put $2000 to win on Hartley and had a $350 boxed quinella of Cutting Up Rough, Toms, Hartley and Sir Nate.
Cutting Up Rough and Hartley dead-heated with the quinella paying $22.80, and Hartley's win dividend was $1.70. That left them with $12,720 and a nervous wait to see if that was enough to take the title.
It was, by more than $1000.
"We thought... we may have won this, but were trying not to get too excited," he said.
They planned to share the trophy around and have it engraved and return it next year.
"It's a great day out. We're definitely going back next year," he said.