During the week, David Harrison is a real estate appraiser. On the weekends, however, he appraises Thoroughbreds as an old-school handicapper. This weekend, he proved himself as the best appraiser of horseflesh in the world.
Harrison bested a field of 643 entries at Bally’s Las Vegas, capturing the 23rd annual National Horseplayers Championship (NHC). Along with that came $725,000, the Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year at next year’s Eclipse Awards, and a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.
“This is an absolute, life-changing score,” Harrison said in a release. “I’m a middle-class, middle-income, hard-working guy. This is going to help me hopefully retire a little bit earlier than I planned. I’m totally overwhelmed and don’t even know what to say.”
Harrison, from Webster, New York, racked up a winning score of $342 through 53 mythical $2 Win and Place bets over the three-day tournament. Largely behind 22/1 Let Me Finish, who won Sunday’s opening race at Laurel Park, Harrison vaulted from 14th coming into Sunday morning to first place.
Let Me Finish provides a memorable NHC discussion topic
“My goal was to creep up and I hit my first couple of races,” Harrison said. “Then the one that really got my confidence up was the horse at Laurel – Let Me Finish. Every time I get into a discussion with my wife, she’s always telling me that – let me finish. That was one of my hunch plays and that’s probably the reason I won.”
Harrison brought a $30.30 edge into Sunday’s 10-person, seven-race final table. Despite not hitting any winners in those seven races, Harrison did pick three runners-up.
The final of those came in the last race, the Baffle Stakes at Santa Anita. Harrison held a $16.60 lead over A.J. Benton and a $17.20 edge over Ryan Patrick Scully. Those were the only two players who could realistically catch Harrison. To prevent that, Harrison used a little internal psychology.
Baffle Stakes didn’t befuddle Harrison
“The guys in second and third only had a few options,” Harrison said about the 6 ½-furlong turf sprint for 3-year-olds. “Don’t Swear Dave went up to 4/1 and I thought, ‘If I don’t have that horse, they could nip me. And my name’s Dave! I can’t let that horse beat me.’”
He didn’t. Don’t Swear Dave couldn’t catch 6/5 favorite Maglev, who took the lead at the top of the stretch and pulled away for a 3 ¾-length victory. But Don’t Swear Dave finished second, paying $4.40 and clinching Harrison’s victory. Maglev paid the same $4.40 to win, meaning he was uncatchable.
The 63-year-old Harrison is a self-described “old-school guy.” He began handicapping in the late 1970s at Belmont Park, crediting late New York Racing Association broadcaster and handicapper Harvey Pack as his handicapping guru. Pack’s signature sign-off moment was tossing the Daily Racing Form into the air – a gesture Harrison repeated after the trophy presentation.
One player reached semifinals with both entries
Scully wound up second ($324.80), earning $200,000. Benton won $150,000 for his third-place $321 total. Last year’s winner, Justin Mustari, finished 108th ($137.20).
Kevin Costello, who won the NHC Tour, a series of handicapping tournaments, reached the semifinals with both of his entries. He was the only player to send two entries into the semifinals. Costello finished 19th with his first ($206) and 53rd with his second ($173.60). While he cashed with both entries, had his second entry won the NHC, he would have received a $5 million bonus.
Sponsored by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the full NHC and Consolation Tournament standings can be accessed at NTRA.com.