By Jennie Rees
LAS VEGAS, Nevada (February 4, 2020) – Kevin Kerstein, Churchill Downs’ 30-year-old publicity manager, grew up in Philadelphia before moving to Louisville to attend Bellarmine University. For a guy who didn’t know anything about horse racing until coming to Kentucky, he’s now all-in.
Kerstein is as much a barn rat as any kid born into horse racing. He speaks of his employment at Churchill Downs not in years but in terms of arriving “seven Derbies ago.”
“I really didn’t know what horse racing was until I moved down here,” Kerstein said. “Then the fall meet of 2008, my friend said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to go out to Churchill Downs and see what it’s like.’ We came to the track one day, and I said, ‘Oh man, I can gamble on this? This is really cool.’”
Kerstein will share his thoughts and perspective this week through a video blog as he readies for his first appearance at the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network, Caesars Entertainment and Bally’s to be held at Bally’s Las Vegas February 7-9. The first in the video series can be found here: https://youtu.be/BifzhfOO-jI
Though he is friends with a lot of handicapping contest players, Kerstein said he never participated in a contest until last April at Keeneland’s Grade One Gamble. He finished third to earn a seat at both the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and the NHC.
“It’s a very different world than the regular gambling world that I’m used to,” he said. “But it’s a lot more fun. I think you can use your brain a little bit different in the contest world, which I like.”
Since New Year’s, Kerstein said he’s been working to get in a contest mindset, picking out 18 races a day among Gulfstream Park, Fair Grounds and Aqueduct and making selections based on the NHC format of $2 mythical win and place bets.
“I’d pretend like I was playing in the contest, and use those three tracks as a starting point and keeping track” of how he fares, he said. “And then I’ve been playing a lot on HorseTourneys website and HorsePlayers.com, just some feeder contests, smaller-money contests. It’s interesting to try to retool my brain and get ready for the NHC.”
Kerstein sees the parallels between trainers trying to get their 3-year-olds to the Kentucky Derby and horseplayers trying to qualify for the NHC.
“It’s sort of like I’m going up against the Todd Pletchers and the Bob Bafferts of the world who have a million horses out there qualifying and they’re used to this,” he said. “I’m sort of the new guy. So I’ve got to take (my) strategy and stick to my own guns but make sure you look at those who have done well, the multi-year qualifiers who are out there — to sort of use what they do that gets them out there every year and to do well. But also stick to your own methods that go you there in the first place.
“We’re all horse-racing fans. So being out there at an event like this with 500-plus horseplayers and fans of the sport of horse racing, it’s cool to be with that kind of group, the more passionate gambling fans. That’s what I’m really looking forward to, getting to see some of those guys I don’t know personally but I’ve seen in the social-media worlds and in the contest worlds. I really respect their opinions and their handicapping advice. So it’s really cool to be part of this event, where you get to play in a contest with those guys and see what happens.”
To learn more about Kerstein’s maiden NHC venture, tune into his appearance on Louisville’s ESPN 680 with Drew Deener at 9:40 am ET Wednesday, February 5 at Espnlouisville.com or for data-free audio by calling 605-477-9680.
Draft Kings is the exclusive sponsor of the NHC Final Table. Official Partners of the 2020 NHC include Daily Racing Form, TVG, Insurance Office of America (IOA), and NYRA Bets.
To sign up for the NHC Tour, go to www.ntra.com/membership.