“Man, if anybody comes by here they are gonna call the cops.”
Chris Williams, 40, a regular at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., uncovered four longshot winners in Saturday’s free online NHC qualifier on HorsePlayers.com to help him best a field of more than 2,100 players. The top five earned berths (including airfare and four hotel nights) 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. This will be the third NHC appearance for Williams, who has been longing for a return trip since qualifying back-to-back in his first two years on the contest scene, 2013 and 2014.
HorsePlayers.com is the official online qualifying site of both the NHC and the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and is the exclusive host site for all five annual free qualifiers presented by the NTRA. This weekend’s contest offerings on HorsePlayers.com include a NHC/BCBC Combo Qualifier with entries to both tournaments as the top prizes (one combo set of berths per every 65 entries); a Preakness Day NHC qualifier ($165 per entry with one NHC berth prize per 65 entries); a “Free Roll” contest (100% free to play) for a $10,000 BCBC seat Saturday; and a BCBC qualifier ($179 per entry with one BCBC berth prize per 65 entries) on Sunday.
Williams helps to run his family’s sporting goods store and was there working Saturday as he followed the online qualifier.
Winning the free qualifier is a huge accomplishment because there are so many entries. You have to have an incredible day to beat a field that large. How did you do it?
“Those are always so tough because there are so many people in them. I finally had one of those days where things seem to go right.
“Of course the big one was the bomb at Gulfstream (30-1 longshot Zhukov in Race 8). I really liked that horse. His last outing was on the turf and he had some trouble and I like playing that kind. He had a couple previous turf starts where he did decent, and then he started on the dirt, and then the last out was on the turf and he ran into trouble. I liked that the trainer had the confidence to put him back on the turf and thought there might be something there. That was the bomb that kind of opened it up.
“I had a couple of other pretty good prices in there so I felt pretty good. I had four winners and a couple places, one of which paid $11.60.”
What are your favorite handicapping tools or methods?
“I’ve tried it all but mostly I just use the past performances. None of these computer programs seem to work for me. I prefer the Brisnet PP’s; I seem to do well with those. That’s really it. I like some back class and look for some trouble, nothing too scientific.”
Are you excited to make it back to Las Vegas after missing a few years?
“I didn’t make it the last two years and, man, I have been so upset. So many times I have just missed and it was frustrating.
“The first year I went I had only played in two or three tournaments and qualified and I was like, ‘Oh man, this is awesome.’ I really didn’t appreciate it as much because it was just luck that I got there.
“I didn’t know anybody at the thing. I’m sitting at my table and some guy comes and sits by me. We get to talking and he encouraged me a lot. Ends up it was [inaugural NHC Hall of Fame inductee and longtime Players’ Committee chairman] Mike Mayo. All these people were coming up to him and talking to him and I could tell a lot of people respected this guy. He told me, ‘Hey man, you did good, you’ve got to do this more.’ So that gave me a lot of confidence. The next year that I qualified it took me a little bit longer and that helped me to appreciate it more because I had a hard time getting there.”
How did you get introduced to horseracing and how did you find the handicapping contest world?
“I live out in the country, outside of Shreveport-Bossier City. Anytime you’ve got to do something you’ve got to go to Bossier and you pass Louisiana Down on the interstate. When I was a kid, any time we would drive by there I would look and go, ‘Man, that place looks really cool.’ I always wanted to go by and watch the horses run. But nobody in my family was into it. So I finally got a little older and I had a couple buddies and they would go every once in a while. About eight years ago or so I finally was just like, ‘Hey man, let me go there with you one day.’ So they kind of taught me a little bit and I just learned on the go.
“Then about five years ago there was an ad in the Racing Form for a contest. I was like, ‘What in the world is this?’ I’m a competitive guy and I like that kind of stuff. I just got online and started doing a little research and found it. That’s where I started. The first time I qualified was over there at Louisiana Downs.”
After you went two years without qualifying for the NHC did you ever consider giving up?
“Just last week I went over to Louisiana Downs and had my worst day ever. I have never left early but the Kentucky Derby was a disaster for me and I just walked out of there thinking, ‘This is awful’ and ‘I am the worst person here.’
“I had people calling me left and right asking who they should bet. And, golly, I thought I was halfway decent at this but my daughter that doesn’t know nothing about it could have done better than I did. I walked out of there with my head tucked and I couldn’t talk to anybody.
“I got home and I was thinking, ‘There has got to be a better sport for me than this.’ But I read this little blog by Eric Wing (“Picking up the pieces after a difficult Derby weekend”) about how those big days hurt even worse and it made so much sense. After I read that it gave me a little bit of inspiration. Everybody has those days and you’ve just got to get back on it. Everything went wrong and then to come back and win a huge tournament like that, I was pretty overwhelmed.”
What was your reaction when you realized you had won?
“I was actually up here at work, by myself, getting ready to close. I was screaming and hollering and at one point I realized, ‘Man, if anybody comes by here they are gonna call the cops.’”