Name: Wendy Long

Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia

A horseplayer since the age of nine, Wendy Long brought 45 years of handicapping experience with her to the contest world when she joined the NHC Tour in 2012. She’s qualified for the NHC four years running and already holds one berth to the next renewal of the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping contest – the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas, set for Jan. 27-29, 2017, at Treasure Island – thanks to a March 5 win on NHCQualify.com. 

Coupled with an earlier strong finish, also on NHCQualify, Long’s point total of 6,139 leaves her 38th on the overall leaderboard heading into this weekend. 

A veteran sportswriter – this summer she’ll be inducted into the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame – Long is used to being the one asking questions. Over 22 years at the Vancouver Sun she covered every event imaginable, including seven Olympic Games and even a few Breeders’ Cups. But now, as a regular on the NHC Tour, she’s part of the story and has to answer our questions! 

How did you get off to such a good start this year?

“I took a month off after [NHC 17 in] Las Vegas. I always take a month off to recharge the batteries. And then one of the first tournament I played in after coming back I won. That’s the earliest I’ve ever qualified.

“Sometimes it’s good – if you’re on a string of bad luck or things just aren’t going your way – to stop and take a little vacation. It’s like if your luck’s not going well you put your watch on your other wrist or something like that. And then you come back and things just click.”

How did you win the March contest? Do you remember any key plays you made?

“I was clicking along pretty well and was in fourth or fifth going into the second-to-last race. Then this longshot came in that a whole bunch of people seemed to have except for me. I dropped to 13th place and this has happened to me several times, where I do well early but I end up being the cheap speed and I fade.

“The last race was at Santa Anita and it was Gary Stevens’ only mount of the day with a horse, Ohio, that came up from South America and was making his first start since September. I loved his works – they were just ticking along, ticking along – and I thought this horse was ready to fire first time [off the layoff]. Lo and behold, the horse wins and pays $24. It turned out I went from 13th to first. Nobody else [among the leaders] had this horse and I just loved him.”

How do you like to handicap and what tools do you use?

“I’m old school. I have a cup of coffee in one hand and the Racing Form in the other and those are my basic tools! I like to have the actual newspaper so I can make little notes on the pages. I know a lot of people these days will study online but I’m a tactile person and I need the paper in my hands.

“I use a little bit of everything. I’ll start by glancing at each entry, looking at workouts, trainers. Occasionally there’ll be a horse with bloodlines that I like because I bet one of the mares and that might skew me a little bit. Then I look at who the speed is and whether there’s other speed in the race. And then there are times where I just know I don’t like a horse and I don’t know why exactly but I just know. And similarly there will be horses that on paper I know they don’t look like they’ll be there but they scare me for some reason. Just call it intuition but I do employ it now and then. I get a feeling about a horse and I can’t explain why. I’ve learned over the years to trust that feeling when I get it.”

How were you first introduced to horse racing?

“I was born a horse-crazy little girl. I grew up reading Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books. I remember as a kid, on Saturdays, they used to show the feature race from our local track, Exhibition Park, and I used to watch that. They’d also include the feature from Santa Anita. There was a horse called George Royal who raced up here then and Johnny Longden rode him to win the San Juan Capistrano [in 1966] and that was Longden’s last race. That’s one that’s just cemented in my mind as a great horse racing moment.

“My family weren’t horse people but my mom liked to go to the races and make a $2 bet. On Friday nights my mom and dad and my brother and I would go to Exhibition Park. I discovered early on I had an affinity for picking winners. I picked my first winner at age nine. My brother and I would dumpster dive to gather up soda bottles and beer bottles and cash them in. Then we’d make $2 place bets and we actually did really well. And my mom would bet the quinella in the last race and if she hit it we’d get to go out for pizza afterward. It was fantastic.”

How did you meet your husband and fellow contest regular Steve Nemetz?

“People kept trying to put us together. We kept meeting at the same parties and invariably we’d end up in a corner talking about horses and horse racing. Finally these two good friends of ours got married and they sat Steve and I together at the reception and we’ve been inseparable ever since. That was in 1988.”

“After that wedding we decided we needed to go out on a date. We went out one night and had a great Italian dinner. Normally, if a guy said, ‘Do you want to come up and see my Racing Forms?’ that would not work with most women. But he had a collection from his travels – Sha Tin, Chantilly – so I was like, ‘Of course I want to see your Racing Forms!’ I guess I’m the one-in-a-million woman that line would actually work on.”