Welcome to this week’s edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track. Each week in this space we spotlight the most meaningful story of the past seven days, detailing a story that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.
Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next week’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.
In this week’s feature we’ll look at the clinching of an Eclipse Award.
It’s February. Not even mid-February yet, and a 2018 Eclipse Award has already been signed and sealed and tucked away for delivery in January.
And no, it’s not because Gun Runner should be proclaimed champion based on one race in 2018.
On Sunday, Canada’s Chris Littlemore secured the first piece of 2018 post-season hardware, along with a rather ritzy check for $800,000, by winning the 19th National Horseplayers Championship tournament.
His victory in Las Vegas over a field of 702 entrees with a record $2.2 million on the line earned the 58-year-old Littlemore the title of Horseplayer of the Year and a spot among racing’s top honorees at the next bestowing of Eclipse Awards.
For Littlemore, the victory was the culmination of a grueling three-day tournament in which he forged to the front during Day 2 and stayed on top the rest of the way, holding off challenges through the very last race of the event.
“I didn’t feel that confident,” Littlemore said. “I didn’t like the card that well. I didn’t like the races. I got lucky that a lot of chalk came in and kept me on top. I kept my distance. As the day wore on, I wasn’t having a good day, so I just kept picking away, picking away. I was fortunate enough that no big long shots came in to overtake me, and I picked the right horse in the last and it got me through.”
While the day belonged to Littlemore, it also underscored the importance and growing respect for gamblers. As much as gambling is the lifeblood of the sport, for many years gambling was the elephant in the room that no one wanted to discuss. Now, in era of expanded casino wagering and lotteries in every shape and form, the rise in popularity of tournaments has brought handicapping and wagering to the forefront.
As illustrated by Pegasus World Cup Day or the Breeders’ Cup, it’s hardly unusual for a track to offer a big money handicapping contest on a major day to stimulate wagering on the card.
The best part is that while tournaments are not for everyone, they come in enough different forms that even a $2 player can find one to his or her liking and be successful.
Yes, tournaments like the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge with a $10,000 buy-in are for the sharks of the gambling world and sharks alone. Yet there are some tournaments with much more meager entry fees that award spots in the NHC to their top finishers.
Handicappers who wager modest amounts of money and want to test the waters of a tournament would be wise to find one in which the scores are based on win or win and place bets as opposed to the use of a bankroll in which large individual bets or exotic wagers are permitted. Tournaments with bankrolls can be won or lost on wagering strategy and the nerves of steel to risk an entire bankroll on a single bet, and both of those factors favor experienced gamblers over novices.
Yet in a tournament where the name of the game is picking winners, even a small fish can get lucky over the course of 10 or 15 races, and with some help from a lot of favorites can hold their own with the big fish or even beat them at their own game.
It’s not easy, but under the right conditions someone with a light bankroll stands a better chance of grabbing a top placing at a tournament than hitting a Rainbow Pick 6 Jackpot.
Most of all, they can be a fun experience, especially if you hit a few winners.
And with some great handicapping skill, you might even win an Eclipse Award.
The Also-Eligible List
Here are some of the other noteworthy stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry: