Q&A: Indy 500 champ Marcus Ericsson on his ‘explosion of feelings’ after a dramatic victory

For The Win spoke with Indy 500 champ Marcus Ericsson less than 24 hours after his dramatic victory.

All Marcus Ericsson had to do to win the 2022 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday was just hold on for a few more laps until the checkered flag.

He was out front on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s mammoth 2.5-mile track, only a few miles from his first Indy 500 win and third win of his four-season IndyCar Series career since switching from Formula 1. But when Ericsson’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Jimmie Johnson, crashed, the red flag came out, halting the race and evaporating his substantial lead.

So for about 10 minutes, Ericsson and the what was left of the Indy 500 field waited on pit road, strategizing.

For 31-year-old Ericsson, it was all about a strong restart for the two-lap shootout that would follow. He had to get out front and hold off his hard-charging competitors, Pato O’Ward and 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan.

Showing off some masterful defense, Ericsson fended off O’Ward for the thrilling final five miles of the race.

And as the Swedish racer led the field through the last lap with the checkered flag practically in sight, a yellow caution flag came out for an incident, ending the race and making Ericsson the 2022 Indy 500 champ when he crossed the finish line at the Yard of Bricks.

For The Win spoke with Ericsson on Monday, less than 24 hours after his dramatic victory.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

(Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports)

First off, congratulations! What does it feel like to be the latest Indy 500 champion?
I’m still sort of trying to wrap my head around the fact that I won that race. It’s the biggest race in the world, and it’s something you work so hard [for], and you sort of dream of it for so long. And to actually do it and actually win it is just, yeah, it’s just an unreal feeling. So it’s gonna take a while to sort of understand that it’s real, I think.

So the red flag comes out, four laps to go and two after the restart. When you were sitting on pit road for 10 minutes or so, what did those few minutes feel like for you in the driver’s seat just waiting?
It was some of the toughest minutes of my life, for sure, because I knew how close I was to winning this race and how much just race means. So it was hard to sort of keep focused.

I was, first of all, I was so angry that that red flag came out because I had the race won pretty much. I was counting down the laps, had a big gap to [Pato O’Ward in second]. So I was just praying for not a yellow flag or a red flag, and then that happens.

And, of course, I had to regroup myself and refocus and make a plan for those last two laps and sort of figure out a way to still win. So it was very, very tough. It was very tough mentally to sort of stay sharp. But I had a plan in my head when we restarted, and I follow that plan to a millimeter, and it worked out.

What was that plan, knowing that there was a two-lap shootout, and you had a target on your back because you had the lead?
The plan for me, it was to try and break Pato’s toe, so it was kind of trying [to] weave on the straights to make it harder for him to follow me. And then I make sure I covered the inside line into [Turn 1] because I knew that was the best spot for him to overtake. So it was all about trying to do that and hoping that would be enough.

You were weaving all over the track. It sort of felt like watching a video game. Did it feel like that as you were driving, trying to keep Pato O’Ward at a distance?
I was doing everything possible to try and keep him behind. And you know, you have to take all the tricks up your sleeve to try and make that work. It was pretty, pretty intense out there for sure.

A lot of Indy 500 winners say that they win the race, and that makes them want to win another one even more. Do you already have your eye on the 2023 Indy 500?
I do, yes. First of all, I’m gonna go and try and win a championship because we’re leading the championship now after this weekend. So that’s the next goal. But of course, yeah, you win one here and see how amazing and special it is, it’s just want to make you win more.

After you won team owner Chip Ganassi climbed in onto your car for a moment in Victory Lane. What did you say to you in that moment?

(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

He was just so happy, and [said], “I knew you could do it,” and stuff like that. You could see how much he meant to him as well. It’s been 10 years since he won this race, and he deserved it. He’s putting such a good team there, and I’m so proud to be part of the organization. And this month, either one of us five Ganassi cars could have won that race because we were so fast all month. So I’m just super happy to be part of that team.

Did you know that the caution flag had come out right at the very end of that last lap? Did you know that you had won it before you actually crossed the finish line?
Yeah, I did. I saw the caution come out, and then in the last corner, I realized this is going to be the checkered flag. So it was very cool those last seconds before finishing the lap and taking the checkered flag and sort of realizing the explosion of feelings for sure.

Have you slept at all?
Two hours.

Did you get a chance to celebrate with your team at all yet?
No, but my family’s here from Sweden and my girlfriend and some others, like sponsors. So we went out for dinner last night, and I was super nice. I was trying to sleep. I couldn’t fall asleep because I was too excited, and then when I eventually fell asleep, I woke up like two hours later because I couldn’t sleep. So I’m exhausted, but I’m excited at the same time.

What’s been the best thing about the last 20 or so hours since you won the Indy 500?

(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s hard to pick one moment. But I think the milk is obviously such a special thing here for the 500. And it’s something you picture in your head that you dream of for so long. So I think that was very special. And then I think the victory lap, waving to all the fans was also so cool to sort of try and take it all in.

What did that milk tastes like?
It tasted amazing. It was very cold and good.

How long did you stay in your milk-covered fire suit?
Until like 8 p.m. last night. And I’m still in it now. I mean, I got out of it to sleep but I’m still in it now. It smells good [laughs].

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10 awesome photos of Marcus Ericsson’s Indy 500 victory milk celebration

Whole milk for 2022 Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson!

The newest Indianapolis 500 champion ordered whole milk for his celebration, and surely for Marcus Ericsson, that milk never tasted better.

Ericsson won the 106th running of the Indy 500 on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, out-dueling a hard-charging Pato O’Ward in a riveting two-lap shootout to end the 500-mile spectacle.

The wild final two laps followed a brief red flag with just four laps to go, elevating the suspense of the race’s end. But Ericsson put on a show and came out on top.

And when it was finally his time to head to Victory Lane and celebrate, he followed tradition with a few sips of whole milk — that’s what he requested on the milk poll from the American Dairy Association Indiana — and then dumped it on his head and face.

Here’s a look at 10 awesome photos of Ericsson’s Indy 500 celebratory milk moments.

Meet the true hero of the Indy 500’s bizarre celebratory tradition: The Veteran Milk Man

See Marcus Ericsson win the 2022 Indy 500 in a riveting 2-lap shootout

WOW.

The 106th Indianapolis 500 ended in incredible and dramatic fashion — a thrilling two-lap shootout with Marcus Ericsson putting on a show to hold on for the victory.

Leading up to the finish, Indy 500 rookie Jimmie Johnson crashed with about five laps left, and officials threw up the red flag, momentarily pausing the race and building suspense for the last couple laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s iconic 2.5-mile oval.

Johnson’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Ericsson, had the lead going into the restart, followed by Pato O’Ward, Tony Kanaan, Felix Rosenqvist and Alexander Rossi.

It was a wild restart, but Ericsson shot out front and aggressively weaved all over the track, as O’Ward charged after him and tried (but failed) to find the perfect spot to make a pass. But the Swedish driver showed off some incredible defensive skills as he held on tight to the lead.

And on the last lap, a yellow flag came out for a crash toward the back of the field, and Ericsson won the 2022 Indy 500 under caution. Despite that, the final laps were beyond captivating:

https://twitter.com/IndyCaronNBC/status/1531002120081707012?s=20&t=Tfns3djgGulSNjc1x_UA8g

Ericsson became the second Swedish driver to win the race, and he snapped a 10-year Indy 500 drought for Chip Ganassi Racing. It was also Ericsson’s first win of the 2022 season and his third career

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Racing, NASCAR worlds wish Jimmie Johnson good luck in first Indy 500: ‘You know what to do’

NASCAR drivers and other racers are very excited for Indy 500 rookie Jimmie Johnson.

The Indianapolis 500 is always a huge deal as one of the biggest races in the world and on the single greatest motor sports day in the world.

Sunday, in addition to the Indy 500 (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC), there’s also Formula 1’s Monaco Grand Prix and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600. So race car drivers around the world have been super busy lately, but many in racing still found time to wish Jimmie Johnson good luck for his big day.

Johnson — a seven-time NASCAR champ turned IndyCar driver — will make his Indy 500 debut Sunday, living out a childhood dream of his. When For The Win recently asked Johnson if he thinks NASCAR drivers might be envious of his Indy 500 opportunity, he said it probably goes beyond stock car racing:

“Oh, I think so. I think all drivers want to race in all marquee events. Everybody wants a shot at it. Hopefully, my time here will inspire others to come do it because I know there’s a lot of great talent in all forms of racing that would really enjoy this experience.”

So ahead of one of the biggest Sunday’s of Johnson’s extensive racing career, his racing pals, especially in NASCAR, shared sweet messages and wished their former competitor good luck in his Indy 500 debut.

In addition to those at Hendrick Motorsports, Johnson’s former NASCAR team, including former crew chiefs Chad Knaus and Cliff Daniels, racing stars like Mario Andretti and Tony Stewart shared their excitement and encouragement:

Indianapolis 500: The ultimate guide to the 2022 Indy 500

Everything you need to know before the 2022 Indy 500 green flag.

The 2022 Indianapolis 500 is nearly here, and it’s an exciting weekend for motor sports fans everywhere.

One of the biggest and most anticipated races on the planet, the 106th running of the Indy 500 is Sunday, May 29 at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval, and the green flag is set to fly at 12:45 p.m. ET (NBC).

We here at For The Win have put together a bunch of preview content for the race, from a beginner’s guide to the 2022 Indy 500 to the latest odds to interviews with now-five-time pole winner and 2008 Indy 500 champ Scott Dixon and Indy 500 rookie Jimmie Johnson.

Here’s all of that content in one place for you to enjoy before the green flag waves on Sunday.

10 peculiar things you didn’t know about the Indy 500

Brush up on your Indy 500 history with these odd and fun facts.

This story was originally published in 2019 and has been updated.

The Indianapolis 500 is one of the oldest and greatest motor sports events in the entire world, capturing the attention of diehard racing fans and once-a-year viewers a like.

The first Indy 500 was back in 1911, so with more than a century of history, it’s hard to keep track of every detail and quirk related to the race and the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway where it’s held. So here are 10 peculiar lesser-known facts about the race.

MORE INDY 500: Meet the true hero of the Indy 500’s bizarre celebratory tradition: The Veteran Milk Man

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick share their predictions and hopes for Jimmie Johnson’s first Indy 500

“Jimmie could surprise a lot of people,” Dale Jr. said about the seven-time NASCAR champ’s first Indy 500.

Jimmie Johnson is ready for an incredible ride when he makes his Indianapolis 500 debut Sunday behind the wheel of the No. 48 Carvana/American Legion Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Sure, he’s started 18 races and won four on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s iconic 2.5-mile oval in the NASCAR Cup Series. But the IndyCar Series is a totally different, and faster, beast at the mammoth venue.

The seven-time NASCAR champ’s old racing pals — Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick, who are both part of NBC’s Indy 500 broadcast team — have confidence in Johnson and high hopes for his first Indy 500 and only second IndyCar oval race.

“I think Jimmie could surprise a lot of people,” Earnhardt said Tuesday during an NBC press conference call.

“This whole month, he was able to have so much time with the car and the team at the facility, sort of move beyond the enormity of the moment. I know that’s going to be nearly impossible when he walks out on the grid for the race to sort of be beyond the enormity of the moment or the weight of it. I really think Jimmie could do really, really well.”

(Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports)

MORE INDY 500: Mario Andretti expects Jimmie Johnson to be ‘a force to be reckoned with’ in first Indy 500

Earnhardt also pointed to Johnson’s strong sixth-place finish in his first IndyCar oval race at Texas Motor Speedway in March as a possible indicator of how he could do Sunday.

Johnson — who retired from NASCAR at the end of the 2020 season and was an IndyCar rookie in 2021 — has done fairly well with fast practice speeds throughout the last couple weeks, plus a couple small mistakes in there. During the two-day qualifying last weekend, he had a solid four-lap average speed of 231.264 miles per hour and will start 12th.

“He did a tremendous job, which, honestly for me — I’ve known Jimmie for a long time and [we’re] good friends — I would expect nothing less,” said Scott Dixon, Johnson’s Ganassi teammate and the 2008 Indy 500 winner. “This is definitely more on his wheelhouse, something he feels more comfortable with, outside of the other part of the season where he’s still learning a lot.”

Even though Johnson’s IndyCar oval experience remains limited, Patrick said “he’s going to have a great chance to have a good day.”

After his 12 races last season, all on road and street courses, and five so far in 2022, he has so much more familiarity with the car now to help him in the Indy 500, she said. That includes everything from the steering wheel and tools inside the cockpit to pitting, restarts and how to pass.

“He seems to be happy and excited,” Patrick told For The Win. “My dad was just saying [Monday] night that he was watching qualifying with his dad, and his dad was like, ‘He’s just having a blast!’ So he’s really just having fun, obviously — fun at 240 miles an hour.”

“Indy cars are not stock cars,” she continued. “So there’s a lot that can go wrong. But I think the fact that he’s done Indy cars for so long now and run so many races and has so many miles, I think really does prepare him for this next step to doing ovals and being here at the Indy 500.”

MORE INDY 500: Meet the true hero of the Indy 500’s bizarre celebratory tradition: The Veteran Milk Man

Dixon, the six-time IndyCar champ and now five-time Indy 500 pole winner, set the record for fastest pole speed in the race’s history with a 234.046 miles per hour four-lap average. Dixon, teammate Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay also combined for the fastest front row in Indy 500 history.

Jimmie Johnson with Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan during practice for the 2022 Indy 500. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

So a traditionally fast race could reach even higher speeds this year, and that has Earnhardt a little on edge, knowing how competitive and intense Johnson is.

“I’m a little bit nervous because he seems to be pushing to the max,” Johnson’s former Hendrick Motorsports teammate said. “Every time he’s on the track, it’s like he is on the edge. Nobody’s going to reach out and tell a seven-time champion, with all the success he’s had in his career, what to do, how to drive, how to approach anything.”

Earnhardt said he hopes Johnson has a great experience regardless and a finish he can be proud of, but he continued expressing his concern.

“I am full of anxiety that he’s going to push, push, push too hard, and somehow that might put him in a bad situation,” Earnhardt added. “He’s gotten so, so close a few times already this month to some bad situations. But he’s a pro. You trust that he knows what he’s out there doing, understanding the limits of the car.”

For their picks to win the 2022 Indy 500, Patrick said she’s leaning toward Dixon, Palou or four-time Indy 500 winner Hélio Castroneves, also the defending champ.

“I would probably put my money on Dixon if it was me,” Earnhardt said. “I’d have a little bit on Jimmie, as well.”

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Meet the true hero of the Indy 500’s bizarre celebratory tradition: The Veteran Milk Man

The Indy 500 winner will be handed a bottle milk afterward. Here’s the story of why — and how it gets there.

The instant Simon Pagenaud felt the ice-cold bottle of milk hit his hand, he raised it high in the air and poured.

As the whole milk flowed over his bright red Firestone hat, Pagenaud lifted his head, allowing the quart to spill over his face. Mouth opened and eyes closed, he enjoyed a few drops as he emptied the bottle on himself. He couldn’t help it; he wanted to soak up every bit of this famous Indianapolis 500 tradition.

“You usually get to spray the champagne when you win a race, and Indy is the only place you get to drink milk,” Pagenaud told For The Win, reflecting back on his 2019 Indy 500 victory. “So I just sprayed the milk all over my face because I just wanted to embrace the moment.

“That’s really when I thought, OK, I’ve joined the club. I can enjoy this just like they did before, but I’m gonna go even further. I’m gonna pour it all over my face just to show how happy I was.”

But while the Indy 500 and its iconic venue, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, can elicit magical feelings, the bottle didn’t just appear in Pagenaud’s hand. It was delivered to him by one of the “milk people.”

Editors note: Clicking this video will not replay the entire race. It begins with the post-race celebration.

Meet the milk man

When the Indy 500-winning driver’s car is ushered into Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Victory Lane, a myriad of people are there eagerly waiting. But, perhaps, the most important person is holding a bottle of ice-cold milk.

The Veteran Milk Person. Yes, that’s an official title.

For the 2022 Indy 500 on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC), the Veteran Milk Man is Tim Haynes, a 62-year-old dairy farmer from Garrett, Indiana who runs his family-owned Superior Dairy. As the veteran, he’ll be charged with the all-important task of delivering the celebratory 32-ounce glass bottle to Sunday’s winning driver.

His most crucial responsibility?

“The thing they joke about, dare I say, is ‘Don’t drop the milk,’ ” Haynes said.

Tim Haynes, the 2022 Indy 500 Veteran Milk Man. (American Dairy Association Indiana)

The American Dairy Association Indiana (ADAI) runs the show when it comes to the milk celebration, and their designated “milk people” are dairy farmers who make a three-year commitment to be part of Indy 500 history. After being the Rookie-elect for the first year, the chosen farmer becomes the Rookie Milk Person and inherits the duty of handing a bottle each to the winning team owner and chief mechanic. The following year, they become the Veteran Milk Person.

However, just because Haynes’ top responsibilities are at the end of the 500-mile race doesn’t mean he’ll have a casual and relaxing day. And after being the Rookie Milk Man for Hélio Castroneves’ 2021 Indy 500-winning squad, he knows what to expect.

He and the team of milk people will arrive at the track with the cooler around 6 a.m., surrounded by security — mostly to gain publicity around the milk, an ADAI spokesperson said. One year, the milk arrived in an armored car. Another time, the ADAI hired actors to play bodyguards for the cooler. This year, the milk and milk people will arrive with a police escort, where they’ll likely be greeted by fans wanting to take photos.

The milk people will then take the cooler to a secure location, and when the green flag flies, they’ll get a chance to watch the race. Or, at least, most of it.

“Usually about 15 laps before the end,” Haynes explained, “we head down to the presentation area where we wait for them to bring the winner. … It’s a maze of people. Everybody wants to be there.”

Before the Indy 500, the ADAI polls all the drivers for their milk preferences, should they win. They have three choices: whole milk, two-percent milk or fat-free milk. (Lactose-free milk is a secret fourth option, should any drivers request it.) The majority in recent milk polls requested whole.

Takuma Sato after winning the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2020. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

So when the winner takes the checkered flag, the milk people consult the poll, see the winner’s preference and pull the correct type of milk from the cooler.

“The taste was amazing,” said Takuma Sato, the 2017 and 2020 Indy 500 champion. “It was the best milk I had ever! Of course. It was 2 percent, chilled and felt amazing.”

Nine decades in the making

Although the celebratory bottle of milk is the Indy 500’s most famous long-standing tradition, going back to the 1930s, it’s undeniably a peculiar one. If you’re grossed out by it, take it up with Louis Meyer.

“It’s one of those great Americana events and traditions that really came out of no real pomp and circumstance [or] from some sort of directive,” said Jason Vansickle, vice president of curation and education for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

Meyer was the first three-time Indy 500 champion, and he regularly drank buttermilk throughout his life, as his mother emphasized it when he was growing up. Though Meyer won the 1928 and 1933 Indy 500s, the first documented photo of him downing buttermilk after an Indy 500 win was in 1936, Vansickle explained.

The photo caught the attention of a milk industry executive, who vowed to have milk return to Victory Lane the following year. Little did that person know — with the exception of 1947 to 1955 — the tradition would continue for the next 87 years and counting.

However, every year the milk poll comes around, there are always a few drivers — this year, it’s Ed Carpenter and Felix Rosenqvist — who’d like to keep the milk tradition extra traditional and write in buttermilk, which isn’t an option.

“We just tried to educate them on the buttermilk,” Haynes said. “Buttermilk nowadays is totally different from buttermilk back when they drank it. Buttermilk nowadays is more for baking and stuff. If you ever drank it, it doesn’t taste very good.”

‘Magic’ milk

Ask just about any Indy 500 winner, and they’ll probably tell you how special the milk tradition is. But they’re not necessarily craving the bottle on what’s often a scorching Indiana day after racing at 200 miles an hour all afternoon.

“The milk thing is weird, I’m gonna be honest with you,” said Alexander Rossi, who won the 2016 Indy 500 as a rookie. “But so much of the 500 is about tradition, and it’s about the legacy of that race and what the people did before us. … I think just the sheer magnitude of the event is what’s kept all of these traditions alive for so many years.”

Alexander Rossi after winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Even if drivers aren’t big fans of milk or dairy in general, Vansickle said they still appreciate the history behind the milk tradition. It’s akin to another Indy 500 accolade.

Several drivers said they treat their bottles like trophies and have them on display at their homes or offices, some next to their Baby Borgs — the miniature version of the Borg-Warner Trophy the drivers actually get to keep.

One driver, now-four-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves, amended the celebratory milk tradition slightly — and it stuck. After his first victory in 2001, Castroneves became the first driver to take some sips and then dump the bottle on his head, Vansickle said. Not every driver has done this since, he added, but certainly most of them.

“I didn’t know what to do anymore,” Castroneves said looking back. “I took the milk, I chugged it and I’m like, ‘Ahhh, I wanted this so bad and finally got it!’ And then I started pouring [it] down my head.”

Hélio Castroneves after winning the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2021. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Of course, the only issue with adding milk to an already sweaty fire suit is the subsequent smell — exacerbated by the drivers often keeping their suits on while they do media for several hours after the checkered flag.

Rossi said he felt “disgusting” after keeping his suit on for more than four hours after the race. Castroneves said the stench is also part of the tradition.

But Pagenaud and Sato, who called it “magic” milk, insist they didn’t smell.

“It was sweet, it was cold and it didn’t smell bad,” Pagenaud said. “The weirdest thing is it didn’t have a big effect on my suit. I didn’t smell bad after. I don’t know. They have special milk, I can tell you that.”

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A beginner’s guide to the 2022 Indy 500, one of the biggest races in the world

If you’re new to the Indy 500 or want a little refresher, we’ve got you covered.

The Indianapolis 500 is one of the biggest — and this writer would argue the best — motor sports events in the world. And the 106th running of it is Sunday, May 29.

But with all the drivers and teams and traditions and rules and stats, there’s a lot to keep track of, and that can be especially challenging for casual or novel fans trying to keep pace with diehard ones on race day.

That’s OK because we’re here to help with a guide to the 2022 Indy 500, which could be useful if you’re trying to brush up on what’s going on before Sunday’s race or if you’re totally new to this and are just trying to sound like you know what you’re talking about among people who do.

So here’s everything you need to know ahead of the 2022 Indy 500.

RELATED: What does it feel like to win the Indy 500, one of the world’s biggest races? We asked the 5 most recent winners

5 Indianapolis 500 prop bets you can make with little-to-no racing knowledge

New to IndyCar? Don’t let that stop you from cashing in.

You don’t need to be a die-hard open-wheel racing fan to find yourself glued to the Indianapolis 500 every year. And you don’t need to know the ins-and-outs of IndyCar to bet on the sport’s marquee event each May.

While watching qualifying times and practice runs can certainly help you gain an edge, there are a number of prop bets and methods of wagering that require very little insight while still providing a ton of fun.

Much like the Super Bowl, plenty of non-racing fans across the world will turn their attention toward Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Memorial Day Weekend and find themselves awed by the pomp and circumstance of the event as much as the race itself.

Here’s how you can get a little bit of action on the race without knowing much at about it at all.

Just looking to bet on a few outright winners? We’ve got those odds right here.

All odds via Tipico.

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