By Jennie Rees for

LAS VEGAS — Based on this week’s $2.77 million DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, the family that plays together, stays together.

At least three married couples have both qualified, along with others who came up short in making the world’s biggest competition for horse players but are at Treasure Island Casino to cheer on their spouse — and maybe serve as a sounding board for picks.

The family with the most representatives might be the Richards family of Pembroke Pines in south Florida. Karen and Mark Richards both qualified, and Mark’s twin, Myles, also is playing as well as Myles’ son Dylan McIntosh, who at 23 is one of the youngest competitors in the tournament.

That leaves Traci, Myles’ wife and Dylan’s mother with the distinction of being the odd-player out. But Traci, like all the Richardses’ armed with a laptop at their table, is plenty happy pulling for her family, especially Dylan, who started the day in an outstanding 24th place.

“I’m keeping them organized,” Traci said, adding, “I feel more pressure. I’m the backup for everybody. ”

Dylan qualified through on Jan. 9, his birthday. Not surprisingly with two playing parents, he says he’s been handicapping horses as long as he can remember, though his official betting at the track couldn’t start until he turned 18. Players must be 21 to participate in the NHC.

Qualifying was a rite of passage, said Dylan, whose dad, aunt and uncle have qualified nine times apiece, while Traci is a three-time contestant.

“Some people play their whole life and never qualify,” Traci said. “He’s only two years into it being able to do it, and he did it. And he’s in 24th! (Myles) has finished in the top five twice, so he taught Dylan well. But everybody does their own thing.”

“It’s something we can do together,” said Mark, an engineer, said of the contests. “We’re so busy working and we don’t get a chance to get away. She (Karen) needed points for the NHC Tour to qualify, so there was a contest in Texas and it makes it a nice little time together and to get away.”

Asked about intrafamily competition come post time, the Richards don’t call it Family Feud but do suggest a reporter with a recorder might need a bleep button.

Richard Goodall of Las Vegas is the 2008 NHC winner and a veteran of more than 50 years betting horses, while wife Sally has been playing “only” 20 years. Still, Richard estimates Sally has qualified 15 times for NHC. “Whatever the most is, she has,” he said. “I’m one behind her.”

Both are double qualified this year.

“She plays her plays, and I play my plays, but we do consult,” Richard said. “Because there would be times when we we want to avoid the competition (with each other), we want to be smart. If we have the same horse and it makes sense, fine. If not, I usually defer to her and I’ll take another horse.

“I am not getting better,” he said of being a handicapper. “I am what I am. She’s getting better, so if you have a future bet on the races, bet on her. She’s still on the improve.”

Besides betting horses, the Goodalls’ passion is trying to visit every thoroughbred track in the United States, with only six tracks they haven’t been to. “But in that, we’re including bush tracks,” Richard said. “She’s been to places where we had to drive through cornfields to get to tracks. We have a track in Missoula we haven’t been to.”

Lee Geraghty of Mission Viejo, Calif., began betting horses on her first date with husband Kevin, who took her to Los Alamitos for harness racing 23 years ago.

“I got hooked from there,” she said.

The Geraghtys also have two entries apiece at the championship. They also stage an NHC qualifier in Sioux Falls, S.D., that sent six people to Vegas.

“It’s a pretty big part of our marriage, our lives,” Lee said of betting horses and contest play. “My sister plays, so it’s a family thing. Our styles are pretty similar, because he taught me how to handicap. I do turf-to-dirt, and I play different things. I love superfectas and trifectas. He can pick the horse that wins more, and I’m better at picking second place and third place.”

Lee says they make their own picks but do consult each other, like handicappers everywhere.

“We talk about what we like, talk the horses out and the jockeys and trainers, the breeding,” Lee said, adding with a laugh, “He’s definitely the better handicapper, but we won’t tell anyone that. I have a reputation to maintain.”

While Lisa Blevins is playing in the NHC for the first time, husband Jobby is a prior qualifier. Now living in Brookings, Ore., the couple met in high school in Kentucky and regularly went to the races at nearby Latonia Race Course and Cincinnati’s River Downs.

Since both retired from Toyota in Georgetown, Ky., racing has become an even bigger part of their life. Would they have gotten married had both not loved horse racing?

“That’s a good question. I think so,” Jobby said, quipping, “I’d still like her.”

Said Lisa: “But it’s been the greatest source of the most fun we’ve had, other than some of the traveling we’ve done. Some of our best memories are from the track.

“There’s no ‘I want to go play golf. Or I want to do this or that.’ We both love the horses…. We’re very competitive. We root for one another’s horses, of course. But if we have two different horses in the same race, all bets are off.”