I’ve referenced my Dad many times when discussing horse racing. He’s the man that introduced me to this amazing sport. He taught me how to read the Daily Racing Form. I grew up going to Del Mar. Growing up in the suburbs of San Diego, California (Santee to be specific) going to Del Mar was just part of our summer routine. I always remember that if Dad had a good day at the track we always headed to a nice dinner with my Mom after. Anthony’s Fish Grotto was always a top choice if the day was exceptionally good. A few bad beats and we’d order a Little Caesars pizza and pick it up on the way home. The funny thing is that as a kid I HATED going to the track. Despise might be a better word. As time passed my dislike of the track turned into tolerance. By the time I was 14 and in High School that despise turned into tolerance. When I turned 18 that tolerance turned into interest. Then everything changed….
At 18 I was a year removed from High School attending Junior College, working part time at a bowling alley, and in the process of getting ready to relocate to Las Vegas. I had been accepted for the fall semester at UNLV. My parents were both retired and having no ties to San Diego they decided to follow me to Vegas. It made things easy since I wouldn’t have to figure out living accommodations, I could get settled in, find a job, start attending UNLV, and so on.
Let’s rewind a bit though. The year is 2002 and by May of that year I had really started to take an interest in handicapping. I bet the 2001 Breeders Cup through my Dad since I was out of town that weekend. I watched all of the races in bar at a bowling alley in Lake Havasu, Arizona. I spent $22, had action in every race, and cashed no tickets. I was fascinated with the Breeders Cup from that moment on. Johannesburg won the BC Juvi in 2001 and when he came into Kentucky I was sure he would winner the Derby because, you know, he had already beaten all these American horses. When War Emblem scored at 20-1 I was deflated, but only for a minute. I wanted…no I NEEDED to figure out how this crazy longshot could win the Derby. I think that was the turning point for me. I remember going into my shift that night at the bowling alley, having lost around $40 (big money then for me) but not concerned about the money I lost, but more interested in what I missed on this horse. I started handicapping on a more frequent basis. By the time two weeks had passed I was ready for the Preakness and was convinced War Emblem would win again. I won a little money that day I think, that wasn’t what got me, what I cared about is that I was right. I handicapped the race, came up with sound reasoning, and I was right.
So fast forward a few months and I’m now living in Vegas. I know no one. I have no job. I’m helping out my godfather with random errands who was running numbers for a bookie and in return he’s paying me a few bucks. With no friends and no real job I decide to start handicapping more and read about racing online. I visited the old AOL horse racing message board on a regular basis. In early August of 2002 I headed out to San Diego to meet up with some friends and we decide to spend the day at Del Mar. As we walk through the gates we get a slip saying they are running a handicapping contest. I tell my friends that I’ve started following the horses and that I want to do the picks. To compete you had to be 21. One of the girls who joined us had turned 21 that year so we entered the pick in her name. All you had to do was give them one selection for one race, but in order to make it to the next part of the contest that one selection had to win. I picked the winner of the selected race and we qualified.
We got word that the format of the next part of the contest was $4 per race, win/place/show and exactas and you could select 5 races on the card. You had one race you could designate as your double points race. For this part of the contest I was back in Las Vegas. I started handicapping the night before the contest the night before and had formed some strong opinions on the card. I can’t recall exactly what races I picked, but I remember I had a 3-1 winner to start and followed that up with a 5-1 horse. I advised this girl to use the double points selection on my best bet that scored at 5/2. We whiffed with the second to last bet. The last bet was where we were going to score I thought. I wanted to bet a straight $4 exacta keying the favorite over an 8-1 shot. It came and and paid around $22. It was enough to secure 2nd place in the contest, an all expense paid trip to Vegas for a seat in the NHC, and $1500 cash.
From that day forward I knew I could handicap….I would just have to wait two more years to legally do it in Las Vegas.
There was unfortunately no fairy tell ending to the story. My friend decided she didn’t want to split the prize money (despite a 50/50 agreement) and wanted to go at the NHC alone. If you read any articles about that years contest she will be noted as the youngest participant at the event. Little did they know that an even younger horse player got her there. She picked no winners, won no money, but rumor has it she enjoyed the trip I won for her :).