Horse racing’s first champion of 2018 was crowned over the weekend. And the champion is not equine – he is human.
The National Horseplayer Championships conducted last Friday through Sunday at the Treasure Island Hotel in Las Vegas determined the Eclipse Award winner and Handicapper of the Year. Players could not buy into the championship event – they had to qualify through tournaments held across North America at tracks, satellite wagering facilities, and online.
Chris Littlemore, a retired autoworker from Whitby, Ontario, took over midway through the contest on Saturday to best 703 rivals and become the second straight Canadian to win the NHC, succeeding Ray Arsenault of Thornhill, Ontario.
Littlemore tallied $348.30 from 53 $2 win/place bets over the three day tourney. He earned $800,000 from the record purse of over $2.9 million, plus a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (to be held later this year at Churchill Downs) as well as a spot in the Pegasus World Betting Challenge next January on Pegasus World Cup Day at Gulfstream Park.
Contrary to popular belief, handicapping is not just a man’s game. Two women – fifth place finisher Stephanie Schmidt ($75,000) and seventh place Gloria Kahlden ($58,500), marked the first time multiple women sat at the final of table of 10 players.
Kahlden in particular was on a roll – she also won a $40,000 jackpot on a slot machine Saturday night.
A Happy Also-Ran
On a personal note, I was eligible for the first time to try and qualify for the NHC in 2017 and did so on Dec. 31. After ending up in 422nd place after Day 1, I managed to work my way to the semi-finals by moving into 28th place after Saturday and cashed in 19th when all was said and done.
I thank GamingToday contributors Dave “The Track Phantom” Valento and Richie Saber for their help.
Great local handicapping products like Jerry Jacovitz’s “Jerry J’s Power Plays” at the Station Casinos and in-house handicapper Patrick McQuiggan’s selections at the South Point as well as my Lindo Report at the Boyd Gaming Hotels are provided to the players for free to help each racing day. All three plus Richard Eng are regulars on Ralph Siraco’s “Race Day Las Vegas” radio show on AM 1400 KSHP heard from 7 to 8 in the morning Wednesday through Friday and 8-9 a.m. on weekends.
I suggest you take advantage of these valuable information sources before heading to the windows next time. I did.
What’s Too Much?
Starting this week, Gulfstream Park in Florida will expand to 11-race cards on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with 12 likely on Fridays and 13 the new normal each Saturday and Sunday beginning this weekend.
Thirteen race cards means six and one-half hours of racing, and that is not factoring in the inevitable delays at Gulfstream Park as they refuse to start any race at the listed post time.
Sister track Santa Anita announced that when Daylight Savings Time starts in March, the plan is to expand to 11-race cards at that Arcadia track.
Where does the money for all of the extra races come from? Handle is the main source, of course, but here is another reason to consider from a horse owner’s standpoint.
Gulfstream Park’s winter meet is known as their Champions meet, while the Santa Anita winter meet is also known for top quality racing and the ability to lure shippers from bad weather tracks back east to compete.
What we are seeing at both tracks this year instead are many more restricted claiming races, lower level Maiden-Claiming races and lower priced claiming races overall.
It is true to a point that the current horse population at both tracks demands those types of races. However, races at that level carry far less purse money than the high-level Allowance races and Stakes races that for years dominated the weekend cards during the winter.
Are the tracks conducting more races because they have to pay out less purse money on a per race basis?
After all, an extra race on the card drives up handle and plenty of additional wagering options, both for rolling bets like an extra Pick Four at Gulfstream Park or the new late Pick Five at Santa Anita.
Whatever the reason for the expanded cards, it is a good idea not only to pack a lunch when headed to the track but also a snack since you may be home late for dinner.
Customer response to Keeneland’s takeout increases for the 2017 fall meet did not fall on deaf ears.
Players complained that raising the takeout from 16% to 17.5% in the win, place, and show pools would hurt the track most by preventing “churn” – the availability for the horseplayer of put back in play winnings generated by those simple pools. Those wagers don’t tie up funds for prolonged periods like Pick Six, Pick Five, and Pick Four wagers do.
Give kudos to Keeneland for announcing last week they will reduce the takeout on win, place, and show wagers back to 16% for their Spring meeting that starts in April.
Keeneland’s Pick Five also has a player friendly rate of 15%. The best thing horseplayers can do is to support these type of decisions by going to the windows.
Play of the Week
Santa Anita, Thursday, Race 3, Out of Patience (#5): Santa Anita course specialist looks like the controlling speed and is back in form after being re-claimed by trainer Kristen Mulhall in November. He looks like a single to start the Pick Six.