Bryan and Judy Wagner at 2018 Eclipse Awards, Gulfstream Park, FL 1.25.2018
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Wednesday, August 1, 2018) – Bryan Wagner, a 12-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) and the 2009 NHC Tour winner, passed away Sunday in Atlanta. He was 75. His wife, Judy Wagner, was at his side at the time of his death.
The Wagners have been a constant and popular presence at the NHC and NHC qualifiers around the country since the event’s inception in 1999. Bryan introduced Judy to the art of handicapping on a date at Fair Grounds Race Course in 1994. They were married the following year and the pursuit of winning horses was a shared passion ever since. Judy, a member of the NTRA Board of Directors, won the 2001 NHC and is a 13-time NHC qualifier. (Bryan would have been a 14-time NHC qualifier if not for two years, 2015 and 2016, when he was ineligible to compete due to Judy’s position on the NTRA board.)
Bryan Wagner earned $101,110 at the annual NHC finals in Las Vegas and thousands more at other NHC sanctioned events and contests. In 2009, Bryan and Judy finished one-two on the NHC Tour.
Bryan Wagner owned and operated a successful insurance company in New Orleans but was perhaps best known as a politician and political operative. He was a member of the New Orleans City Council from 1980-86 and the Council’s first elected Republican in more than 100 years. He was a Louisiana delegate to seven Republican National Conventions and led the delegation in 2008, the same year he masterminded one of the greatest political upsets in the state’s history, helping lawyer Joseph Cao to become the first Vietnamese-American elected to U.S. Congress. With scandals plaguing the incumbent, Wagner saw an opportunity and convinced Cao to switch parties and run as a Republican in a district that traditionally voted overwhelmingly for Democrats.
Wagner, a graduate of Tulane University, was a genuine “only-in-New Orleans” personality, once described in a Rolling Stone feature on the NHC as a gentleman “who holds court like a John Grisham character.” He liked to boast that due to arcane line-of-succession laws, he had technically served as Mayor of New Orleans for a day on three separate occasions. He was a minority shareholder in the New Orleans Saints in the 1980s.
James Bryan Wagner was born March 2, 1943, in New Orleans, to Wiltz Wagner, manager of Municipal Auditorium and president of a bakery supply firm, and Helen Wagner, an English professor at the University of New Orleans. In addition to Judy he is survived by three children – Leslie, Bryan Eustis, and Amanda – six grandchildren, and a brother, Dr. Wiltz Wagner Jr. Visitation (2 p.m. CT) and services (3 p.m. CT) are scheduled for Monday at Christ Church Cathedral Episcopal on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans.