As I looked around the Treasure Island ballroom in Las Vegas last weekend for the 20th annual National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Horseplayers Championship, I wondered to myself, “How many others in this room have been to every single NHC like me?”
It’s a short list for sure. Now, attending all 20 NHCs is not an accomplishment. Qualifying for all 20 NHCs would be. Seeing all 20 of them is a matter of longevity and opportunity.
I will say this. The last couple hours of the NHC with the 10 Final Table contestants last Sunday was the most exciting finish that I can remember.
It seemed like with every Final Table race there was a new leader. Of course there wasn’t. But when the dust finally settled, 34-year-old Scott Coles sat atop the 668 entries that made up this year’s tournament. His hard-fought win earned him $800,000.
As Coles told America’s Best Racing, he knew he had to make his move in the second to last race of the tournament in Race 8 at Golden Gate Fields. The reason being that the field for the last race, which was Race 9 at Santa Anita Park, had been decimated by scratches to consist of only four horses. It was originally a turf race that was switched to the main track due to heavy rain in Arcadia, Calif.
Coles selected #11 I Love Romance from top young trainer Jonathan Wong for the race at Golden Gate. The odds on I Love Romance were a juicy 12-1. In an exciting photo finish, the Wong runner edged a dead game #9 Maycee Jo to pay $26.40 to win and $11.80 to place.
The win catapulted Coles into first place. However, two other handicappers right behind Coles, Jim Meeks and Matthew Vagvolgyi, had also used I Love Romance. So the door still remained open for what we sports bettors like to call “a back door cover” should Meeks or Vagvolgyi win the final Santa Anita race and Coles lose it.
Coles slammed that door shut when his Santa Anita selection #9 Fiery Lady won in a rocking chair ride under Mike Smith. You could see turning for home that Smith could have won by any margin he wanted as he sat motionless on his mount.
I have no doubt that Coles will be asked to participate in future horse racing marketing and promotional efforts. At age 34, Coles represents a generation that we would love to get more involved in the sport.
The fact that he won the NHC the very first time he qualified for it potentially could have a mini “Chris Moneymaker” effect. In 2003, Moneymaker won a seat to the World Series of Poker by winning a $40 satellite qualifier. He parlayed that $40 seat into winning the WSOP Main Event and a cool $2.5 million.
The beauty of betting on horse racing is this: there are no walls or boundaries. You can be a man or a woman. Young or old. Rich or not so rich. Any ethnicity is welcome. What it takes is brain power combined with a goodly dose of racing luck.
I see all kinds of gambling in Las Vegas. And I will always believe that horse racing offers the best option to bet a little to win a lot.
Richard Eng is the author of “Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies”, an introductory book for newcomers to the sport of horse racing. For two decades, he was the turf editor and handicapper for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He still handicaps the Southern California tracks and his picks are for sale at www.racedaylasvegas.com. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @richeng4propick and on Facebook.com.