NHC Q&A: Bill Wussow

Bill Wussow, a resident of San Gabriel, Calif. – conveniently (and not the least bit coincidentally) located next door to Santa Anita Park – is best described as a lifelong horseplayer. He’s always done well enough betting horses that he’s never needed to hold a traditional job. On Sunday the 63-year-old bested a field of nearly 2,000 players in the year’s first of five free online qualifiers offering berths to the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping contest, the $2.5 million (estimated) NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) presented by Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens™ and Treasure Island Las Vegas, set for Feb. 9-11, 2018, at Treasure Island.


In a contest with more than 1,900 players it often seems like you have to have a near-perfect day to come out on top. How did you do it?

“I got lucky, right?”


Everybody says that but I’ve been following these long enough to know it’s far more skill than luck. Can you break it down for me?

“I had all three winners [from the mandatory contest races] at Oaklawn. My biggest winner was an $18 horse at Laurel. And I had a winner at Keeneland. I just kind of got on a roll but I think going three-for-three at Oaklawn was probably the most important.”


How did you come up with that longest one – Danny My Boy ($18.60) in Race 8 at Laurel?

“It was a race shape pick. It looked like it was a pretty live pace and he had a good, cozy outside draw that would let him settle and I thought he could grind one out with that long stretch there. He had a pretty rough trip in the stretch. There were three of them kind of bumping around, like seems to happen at Laurel quite a bit, but he survived it and put together the best final 70 yards and got the job done. It was basic trip handicapping, that’s all.”


Do you recall the logic behind any of your other key winners from Sunday?

“There was the $9 winner at Oaklawn (Nelson’s El Camino in Race 6). When I watched him, I liked that play quite a bit. I thought he could steal it wire-to-wire. The race looked like it was really devoid of any tactical speed and he took the field all the way. I was quite amazed because of all the races I handicapped, that one took me the least time to come up with my horse. It turned out there were only, like, three people in the top 25 that played that horse. I found that amazing because it really was quite an easy race to handicap, I thought.”


How would you describe your handicapping philosophy and methods in general?

“I’m pretty much an old-schooler. I read the Form and I watch some tapes. I’m pretty much a trip handicapper. I try to find a hole in a race and fill it with the type of race that can produce a winner; the odds are irrelevant.”


How long have you been a horseplayer?

“I’ve got a lot of years in it. I’ve been doing this since I was 15. I’ve seen a lot and experienced a lot. Handicapping is a tool that you hone and you try to make it better constantly.

“We moved to California when I was a young man and my father enjoyed the races so we started when I was very young. On Saturdays he would take me to Santa Anita and I enjoyed the horses and it was a lot of fun. One of my earliest memories was going there in 1968 for Charles H. Strub Day and Damascus was in town. He was Horse of the Year and my father was saying how he was such a great horse, but he also told me, ‘We can beat this horse in the rain.’ He bet on an old gray from California, Most Host, and lo and behold, that old, funny-looking gray horse beat that Horse of the Year and we were so happy. I remember making the money and I learned a really valuable lesson that day, which was that the way to true happiness is beating a favorite at the racetrack.”


When did you get into the handicapping contest scene?

“I played tournaments in my younger days. I used to go to Las Vegas, to Circus Circus and places like that, but I hadn’t done it in quite a long time. Last year, my brother, Bruce Wussow – he works at Los Alamitos and I think a lot of people know him – and a friend of mine, Leo Vukmanovich, we were just talking about doing it and we entered the Los Alamitos contest. We finished third and we qualified for the NHC. So we went to Las Vegas and it was fun; we had an experience.”


What do you do away from the racetrack?

“My most recent job was building models, mostly military models. Me and my brother, Bradley, had a business selling on eBay but he passed away last year and it’s left kind of a hole in my life because I shared it so deeply with him. I still do it a bit and it’s good because it takes me away from the races and I can concentrate on other things. But I haven’t held a regular paying job for quite some time.”


Because you are able to make a profit playing horses?

“Well, yes, I’ve done that basically my whole life. I’ve seen a lot of things and experienced a lot of things. After I graduated, I went right to work at the racetrack at the age of 18. I learned some things there. I went and traveled to New York at a very young age to experience horse racing and travel and things like that. There was a string of 10 years, maybe longer, where I never missed a day at Santa Anita. I have that background as far as looking at horses and understanding what I’m seeing. That helps. You learn a lot of things sitting and watching.”


Now that you’ve had this success in the contest world do you think you’ll get more into it and maybe chase a second NHC entry?

“Yeah, I think I will. The thing I enjoy most about the tournaments is the camaraderie, but I also enjoy the competition. I’ve always been pretty sure of myself at picking horses, although I’m not looking to impress people; I’m not that type of personality. It’s just that I know what I know and what I can do. It’s fun to share that with people.”