At 591st, rookie Northern in consolation tournament, says ‘I’m like everybody in it: I’d love to be back’

Barry Northern 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. It’s been a rough indoctrination, as he hit only one race Saturday to finish the preliminary rounds in 591st place with a $50 bankroll out of 654 entries, of which the top 66 made Sunday morning’s semifinal round. Northern reflected on his experience with veteran turf journalist and communications specialist Jennie Rees.

Tough day.

“I haven’t even looked at the standings. I knew I wasn’t doing well. But it all starts over again (Sunday). My patience wasn’t very good, kind of wanted to get out with my niece (Carrie Stobaugh, coincidentally in Las Vegas). I guess I just didn’t have any luck. I just wasn’t picking any winners. I started shooting for the big bombs, and if you do that, it’s easy to go 0-fer. I think I might have had a second in there somewhere, but that was about it. You’ve got to be patient, and I wasn’t. After I fell behind I started betting nothing but bombs. But (Sunday) we start anew and in the consolation the first prize is $20,000. It’s $10,000, but it also gives you the $10,000 entry fee into the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. And 20th place is $1,000.”

What is your takeaway after two days? Do you have more of an appreciation how difficult it is? Or did you go in with your eyes open?

“I knew it was going to be hard. Everybody goes through days at the races where you can’t pick a winner. That happens. I’m not discouraged at all. It just hasn’t been my two days. But with 10 optional races (Sunday), who knows? I’m still having a blast with the whole experience. It’s been nothing but wonderful so far. I’m like everybody in it: I’d love to be back it in another time.

“The people I’m sitting with at my table, of course Stanley Bavlish. Here’s a guy who’s won it before and finished up high and is in the hunt again this year. Just talking to him about horse racing in general over the years. We’re probably roughly the same age, and we’re talking about Forego, Dr. Fager and Kelso and all these horses. Just to talk to people in love with horse racing like I am makes it a lot of fun. Another fellow beside me, he’s been in the contest three years in a row. Just talking to those guys has been a lot of fun. You have people who are like-minded.”

Did you feel the second day more comfortable that it was OK to talk to your tablemates a little more?

“No question. Once I started talking to Stanley a little bit, I could tell we were on the same wavelength. He didn’t seem to mind — of course I wasn’t asking him his picks or anything like that, just talking horse racing in general. Certain jockeys, certain trainers. We were on the same wave lengths as far as that — now his picking was a lot better than mine. But that just happens.”

Do you feel you now are part of a fraternity?

“Yeah, it’s almost a fraternity. Even up and down the elevators when you saw somebody and they had their badge on, knowing they were in the contest, you felt a little kinship. You could talk to them about different things. We’re all horseplayers.

“As I see, too many people are my age and older. We’ve got to do something to get younger folks into it. I don’t know how that happens, but I kind of think contests might be one of the ways. We met Shea Harrod (Friday) night, young fellow and a great guy to talk to, seeing someone like him who was into it like we are was a good thing. We’ve just got to get more of that. A young kid like that who’s a horse player, that was cool to see.”

You left the site before the competition was over.

“Right about the start of the Kentucky game, probably, a little after 3 o’clock, that’s when I met up with my niece. I just made my bets for the rest of the day, knowing I was probably out of it with no chance to finish in the top. I’m at Harrah’s right now at Toby Keith’s sports bar, knowing Toby Keith is a horseracing guy himself. Just watched the game over here, did a little bit of a gambling, not much, grabbed a bite to eat and probably ready to head back to our hotel.”

How did you play the Pegasus World Cup?

“I had (runner-up) Shaman Ghost. That probably was the only thing I hit.”