Tournament rookie Barry Northern says of his one fear: ‘I don’t want to see that goose egg up there for too long’

Barry Northern, 60, is a lifelong racing fan who has never lived more than a few miles from Churchill Downs and now works as the Kentucky Derby Museum’s assistant manager of visitor services after spending most of his adult life selling golf equipment. Northern is a first-time qualifier for the $2.9 million DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship Jan. 27-29 at Treasure Island Las Vegas. Northern is sharing his thoughts and experiences throughout tournament handicapping’s biggest competition. Veteran turf journalist Jennie Rees caught up with Northern shortly after he arrived at Treasure Island, in time to catch the tale end of a players’ reception in the ballroom and the beginning of another one sponsored by in the hotel’s Senor Frog’s restaurant and bar.

You’ve been here about an hour. What do you think?

“It’s first class, that’s what I’ve seen so far. I’m looking forward to it. I didn’t get a chance to do too much studying. I picked out a couple of horses I liked in the optional races I have. The mandatory races I haven’t looked at. I’ll probably have a couple drinks here and get back to my room and do a little studying. That’s when I seem to do my best handicapping.

“I started with the NHC and they gave me my packet, everything I need to know for (Friday). Right off the bat, they give you a coupon for a $100 free bet. That’s pretty good. Now we’re here with at Senor Frog. Free food and drink. It’s right up my alley.”

Of course there are people who right now are holed up handicapping for the contest. You say you aren’t one to spend all kind of hours studying.

“On a normal day, I like to get the Daily Racing Form the night before and look at it a little bit. It’s not like hours of studying for me. Sometimes I feel I’m doing my best when you look at a race and something just jumps out at you. I’m hoping when I get back to the room tonight and start looking at that, a few of them will jump out at me.”

Do you feel like you’re playing with house money being the contest?

“Certainly, certainly. My flight and everything else I’ve done here probably has cost me $400. Well, they gave me $1,000 to travel. So I’m $600 to the good, whether I win a dime or not. I only have one fear. All of us as horseplayers have probably gone on a streak where we’ve been 0 for 18. (Friday), with 18 races, I just hope I get off the schneid a little early. I don’t want to see that goose egg up there on the board for too long. I was kind of hoping I could pick a race early, maybe before anybody hit it, and then I’d be on the leader board and I could take that picture – just to see my name on the leader board that one time.”

Paul Matties Jr., last year’s winner, said one of the most difficult things for first-time competitors could be the psychology of dealing with a losing streak.

“That’s right. Then you might try to change your strategy. If you sit in there and you hear some people hootin’ and hollerin’ because they hit a big one, and then you’re behind and change your way of thinking. But, boy, it’s certainly not a sprint. Eighteen races, and 36 races over two days. You have to stick to your gut and just go with it. I guess Saturday if it get down to the last 8-10 races, and you’re behind, then well, you’re strategy is going to have to change. Until then, I’m not going to change too much what I do.”

You said you are partial to 2-year-old grass races. Will you concentrate on them with  your optional races?

“I’m just basically looking for full fields. Santa Anita, like the first six races or so, you have six or seven horses. When you’re looking for prices a little bit, you’ve got to bypass those races. At least my way of thinking. If it’s an optional race, I can’t see betting a 5-2 shot. To me, I want probably 7-1 or more in those races. Your optional races, if you hit, it ought to be at least $20, I’m thinking, (with the mythical $2 bet) win and place. When I get into that (Friday) and start seeing numbers going up on the board, it’s going to be hard to stick to your guns. It will be. But I can’t wait to give it a try. I just don’t want that 0 for 18.”