LAS VEGAS, Nevada (February 9, 2020) – Like so many before him, Thomas Goldsmith arrived in Las Vegas this week looking for trouble.
Unlike most who find themselves in the midst of drama on the famous strip, the resident of Montgomery, CA was able to emerge from a heated battle with his life undoubtedly changed for the better.
The 21st edition of the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network, Caesars Entertainment and Bally’s featured a little bit of everything in its 10-person Final Table contest to decide who earns the $800,000 first-place prize and Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year. As the seventh and final mandatory race went official Sunday evening, it was the 57-year-old Goldsmith – playing in the NHC for just the second time – who managed to prevail with a total mythical bankroll of $404.10.
Goldsmith toppled a NHC field that had 694 entries and 564 individual players to record the second highest total ever behind only Ray Arsenault’s winning bankroll of $407.70 in 2017. Fittingly enough, Goldsmith had to turn back Arsenault himself, as well a Final Table that included NHC Hall of Famer Trey Stiles, upstart Ashley Taylor, and Day 2 leader John Vail to claim by far the biggest triumph of his horseplayer career.
“I’m just like in shock,” said Goldsmith, who couldn’t even bring himself to stand in middle stage during the Final Table proceedings. “This is it. I’m never going to top this, right? $800,000? How am I going to top that?
“I was just trying to find something that’s going to win, like anything else. I’m not a numbers guy. I look for horses that are in trouble…whatever. Bad break. Excuse trips. Bad trips. And in this place you’ve got to bet long shots. Most of these are horses I’m not going to easily play. It’s hard. You’ve got to find winners at all different race tracks.”
Video: Goldsmith talks about his NHC win: https://youtu.be/CQiGHazzuss
A longtime handicapper, Goldsmith says he “dabbles” in different types of tournaments and he qualified for this year’s NHC by finishing second in a live money contest at Lone Star Park – on his birthday weekend no less – July 13. After a tepid start on Day 1 of the NHC when he finished with a bankroll of $69, Goldsmith’s plan of taking some swings on less obvious picks began paying off in massive fashion during Day 2 of the tournament.
Backstopped by a fistful of long shot plays coming through – including having 21-1 shot Admiralty Pier in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Downs Stakes – Goldsmith climbed up to sixth overall after Saturday with a total of $272.70. When he began the Final Table in fourth place, that strategy continued to pay off as he had three winners and a 24-1 shot, second-place finisher through his first five plays.
“It didn’t ever change. I wasn’t going to play any first-time starters,” Goldsmith said. “I was looking for horses with trouble. Looking for horses that go to the lead on the turf. And basically that’s it. I wasn’t going to play any long layoff horses.
“Some of it is just searching for and looking…because you’re not going to win this thing betting a chalk. I was feeling good (after cashing the first three at the Final Table) but I was still sweating.”
Holding onto a $19.80 lead over Vail heading into the seventh and final mandatory race – the eighth at Santa Anita Park – Goldsmith finally let himself begin to celebrate as none of his challengers picked either of the top two finishers.
“About halfway down the stretch I said ‘Yes’, and I put my head down,” said Goldsmith, who manages a trucking company. “I got lucky for two, three days. Two big days I got lucky. Those days come.”
Vail finished second with a bankroll of $384.30 to take the $250,000 runner-up prize, closing to within $2 of Goldsmith after the fourth mandatory race only to have the eventual champ draw clear once more when Goldsmith scored with 9-2 shot Misty Blue in the ninth at Oaklawn Park.
“It absolutely is the best second I’ve ever had,” said Vail of Lyndhurst, NJ. “The whole tournament, it was a great tournament. I enjoyed the last three days, and I’m very happy with where I finished. I actually didn’t have any big, big plays today. I had a couple of winners, a few seconds, nothing big to get me along to first place. But I’m very happy with second place.”
Video: Vail talks about his NHC experience: https://youtu.be/hwZyOOFJn90
Though Arsenault fell short of becoming the first two-time NHC winner, he did post the second highest finish for a past champion when he landed in third with $362.
“It would have been nice to have won it twice. Everybody says they’d have like to have seen a repeater,” Arsenault said. “Today, I wasn’t really prepared. I did well with the horses that I won with. I was happy as heck to get to the Final Table and to be second going in. I got no complaints. It was fantastic. To win it would have been special.”
Video: Former champion Arsenault finishes third: https://youtu.be/KSeV-ARZpCI
Taylor, who was playing in her first NHC, completed her stellar run with a fourth-place total of $350.40. Hall of Famer Trey Stiles made his first Final Table in 18 NHC appearances and did himself proud with a fifth-place bankroll of $334.90.
“It was just awesome to get here,” Stiles said. “I’ve wanted to make a Final Table, I’ve never made a Final Table before. I’ve come close and so I was just so happy to make it that far. I certainly wanted to win but this has been awesome. I have no regrets with my plays, it’s just been awesome.
“I just did the same stuff the whole time. It got me here, but it just wasn’t quite enough today. But (Goldsmith) was on fire. There was no catching him today.”
Ralph Magnetti ($334), Eric Bialek ($333.30), Christopher Podratz ($312.40), Michael Odorisio ($312.20), and Mike Goodrich ($296.20) rounded out the top ten.
The 2020 NHC finals awarded cash to the 10 percent overall from a total purse of $2,997,500. Of that total, $50,000 went to the top 20 in today’s Consolation Tournament, which was won by former turf writer Dick Jerardi.
NHC entrants were required to place mythical $2 Win and Place wagers – eight on mandatory races that everyone played and 10 on any of the other races from eight designated racetracks across the country – during the first two days of the tournament. Day 1 bankrolls carried into Day 2 and the top 10 percent of the field after Day 2 continued to the Semifinal round Sunday.
Draft Kings was the exclusive sponsor of the NHC Final Table. Official Partners of the 2020 NHC include STATS Race Lens, TVG, Daily Racing Form, Insurance Office of America (IOA), Racetrack Television Network (RTN), Runhappy, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, and NYRA Bets.
*Note: An earlier edition of this release incorrectly stated that Ray Arsenault had the highest ever finish for a past champion. Steve Wolfson Jr., the 2003 NHC champion, finished second in 2017. We apologize for the error.