Chris Hertzog figured all was lost as he sifted through the trash at Turf Paradise (search), frantically searching for his winning Kentucky Derby (search) superfecta ticket.

The Phoenix firefighter gave up after two hours, wondering how he could've let $864,253.50 slip away.

"I couldn't believe I lost this once in a lifetime payday," the 39-year-old Hertzog said in a statement released through the track on Monday.

According to Turf Paradise, the mutuel clerk who sold him the ticket came to the rescue on Sunday, finding the misplaced slip of paper next to the machine where Hertzog had placed the wager the previous day.

"Don't you just love happy endings?" Hertzog said.

Hertzog bought one of seven $1 tickets to hit the Kentucky Derby superfecta, which yielded the highest payout in Derby history. Two of the other winning tickets were sold in New Jersey, one each was sold at Philadelphia Park and Suffolk Downs and two others came through clearinghouses in Maine and Nevada, said Churchill Downs (search) spokesman John Asher.

The gigantic payoffs came after 50-1 long shot Giacomo (search) sprang the second-biggest upset in Derby history, edging 72-1 longer shot Closing Argument. Afleet Alex, one of the favorites with odds of 4.5-1, finished third. Another long shot, 30-1 Don't Get Mad, was fourth.

No one picked the top four Derby finishers in order on a $2 ticket, which would've paid more than $1.7 million, Asher said.

Hertzog made 100 $1 bets — 50 superfectas and 50 trifectas — all in random computer-generated quick picks. When he thought he'd lost after the Derby, he left the tickets on a table and walked off.

Later, according to Turf Paradise, a track official told mutuel clerk Brenda Reagan that her machine had spit out a superfecta winner. Track owner Jack Simms told Hertzog, but when he returned to the table, the tickets were gone.

"I couldn't believe it," he said.

Maintenance crews gathered all the garbage bags in the clubhouse and Hertzog and others picked through them with no luck.

The next day, Reagan noticed two tickets lying next to her machine, according to track officials. One of them was Hertzog's winner.

"When I punched Chris' tickets, there were so many that they bunched up and these two must have fallen on the side," she said in a release from the track.

After taxes, Hertzog walked away with over $604,000.

"What a roller coaster ride this has been, just unbelievable," Hertzog said.

In New Jersey, longtime betting buddies Tom Ritchie and Brian Wien cashed a superfecta ticket at the Meadowlands, where they've been meeting for lunch and handicapping for years.

They sat in a car for a half hour on Friday and made $200 worth of wagers on eight tickets. On Saturday, Wien stuffed the tickets into the visor in his car and drove home from a party with the windows open.

The next morning, Ritchie's wife, Meryl, heard that two superfecta winners were purchased in New Jersey. Ritchie called Wien and waited 45 minutes for Wien to find the tickets.

They still weren't convinced they'd won until a cashier ran the ticket through a machine on Monday, Wien's 45th birthday.

After taxes, the men split a $622,262.50 payout.

"I'm still a little in shock," Wien told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "Until it cashed, I wasn't sure."

Ritchie and Wien also hit the Derby superfecta two years ago, when Funny Cide's win generated a $2,795.80 payoff.

This year, on-track betting on the Derby totaled $10,055,508 and off-track wagering soared to $93,270,002. The combined $103,325,518 marked the first time wagering on a North American race had topped $100 million.