SWEENEY HITS 64-1 CAPPER — One of the biggest scores in Friday’s opening competition at the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championships came when Mike Sweeney bet first-time starter True Emperor, the front-running winner of the Fair Grounds’ ninth race at 64-1 odds.


“Yes, it’s true! Yes it’s true!” Sweeney proclaimed, hollering what also is the name of True Emperor’s sire throughout the stretch, the New Yorker simultaneously doing a good imitation of calisthenics in the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino ballroom. 


This is also true: Sweeney had a “cap” horse, meaning he got only a 20-1 win payoff ($42) and 10-1 place payoff ($22) on True Emperor under the contest rules. That moved him from 596th (when he had a $7 bankroll) to a tie for 217th out of 653 entries at $71 when the day’s competition ended.


“That’s all right, part of the contest,” Sweeney said of the cap. “The rules are the rules. It keeps it fair, keeps it interesting for everybody.”


Sweeney, who qualified two weeks ago at Gulfstream Park, had not intended to use the Fair Grounds race for one of his 10 optional races. 


“It was late in the day and I had four bets left that I had to make,” he said of the races that players can choose to play in addition to eight mandatory ones. “So I was scouring the back of the cards to see if there was anything to play… I was running out of time, there were not many races left, and he looked like a good price.”


Sweeney liked True Emperor because of his half-mile work out of the gate in 48 seconds. “First-time starters, that’s what we bet,” he said.


Unfortunately, Sweeney did not bet the horse on the side through the mutuel windows. “I rushed up to get down the bet on the contest,” he said.


Asked if he now was the biggest fan of Lee Thomas, Sweeney said, “I guess so. Who’s Lee Thomas?”


Told that’s the trainer of True Emperor, he said with a laugh, “I don’t know. But I know Yes It’s True. Forty-eight from the gate!”