Blaise Brucato, 60, of Cleveland pulled off one of the more astounding feats in handicapping contest history last weekend, winning both of Keeneland’s prestigious April contests – Saturday’s inaugural Spring Challenge and Sunday’s Grade One Gamble – over fields packed with many of the nation’s top horseplayers. More amazingly, Brucato clinched both tournaments with winning wagers in the day’s final eligible race. Now he’s earned a berth for his fifth appearance in 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, as well as two entries to November’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

 So what was it like the moment you realized you had won the second contest and beat everyone two days in a row? 

“I guess the only word I’ve been able to come up with is mind-boggling. I truly was almost shaken by it. I couldn’t believe that it had happened again. The joke I made walking in the room the second day was that lightning couldn’t strike twice. But it did! It caught me totally off guard.”

Did you have a sense, though, that maybe you were locked in after the first day? A lot of horseplayers can be streaky and sometimes they’re just feeling it.

“You clearly hope for that to be the case. And, having played enough of these contests, you know that late in the day tends to be critical. Lately that’s been falling in place – I’ve been struggling early and doing well late in the day. So from that standpoint, yes. But to ever think that you could beat a room full of those kind of players twice would be almost arrogant.”

On both days you won with your last play of the contest. Can you tell me specifically about each of those plays and what you liked about those horses?

“On Saturday, I was absolutely in love with the horse that turned out to be the winner (Awestruck in Keeneland’s 10th race). I also knew she was probably going to be even money. It just looked to me that she was – I won’t call it a walkover – but that she was a standout. The second place in the race I also though was clear. And I tend to come at these contests differently than most others – I have no problem trying to get value out of chalk. Most of the players in tournaments always look for mid to upper-level price horses.

“I went into that race with only a $600 bankroll and I bet a $500 cold exacta. It only paid $12.40 for two dollars (or $3,100 for $500).

“Sunday became chaotic. They had two scratches in the last race post-parade. A longshot ran off first with about five minutes to post, followed two minutes later by the probable favorite or second choice in the race losing a rider and running off. That horse was my second choice. I usually play exactas so with two minutes to post it sent me scrambling to my third and fourth choices, trying to figure how to get enough value out of them. The winner (Dark Arden in Keeneland’s ninth) was my horse in that race and I bet him boxed to the other two horses I liked.

“The one that hit was a $250 box and that exacta came back $57.80 for two dollars (or $7,225 for $250).”

How did you get into betting horses?

“I was brought up in the industry. It was my father’s hobby, from long before I was born. He was police chief in North Randall, Ohio, which is where Thistledown is located. The track was a mile and a half from my house. From the time shortly after I was born all the way through my teens and later we kept a stable of 20 to 25 horses. I started from the ground up. I’ve been a groom and I’ve held so many different licenses. I could read a Racing Form before I could read Dr. Seuss. Everybody in the family has owned or trained or both. I even met my wife, Cindy, at the racetrack.”

Which contests will you be targeting next?

“That’s a good question. I just don’t know how much travel I’m going to be able to do through this summer. I would have gone to the Del Mar tournament had I not won the BCBC entries because I’ve never been to Del Mar. Now I can save that for the Breeders’ Cup.”