By Noel Michaels
This February, at the age of 34 years old, Scott Coles became the youngest winner in the history of the National Horseplayers Championship [NHC] when he prevailed versus a field of 668 entries in his very first trip to the NHC finals in Las Vegas. Coles earned a grand prize of $800,000 and won the Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year for 2019.
Coles, a financial industry trader from the Chicagoland area, received his Eclipse Award in a winner’s circle ceremony at Arlington on Saturday, July 13 after the day’s first race, which was named in his honor. Coles was joined at his “home track” by a large group of family and friends who celebrated his accomplishment along with him.
“I only had a small group of people out in Vegas with me when I won, so this was a chance for a lot of friends and family and my girlfriend to celebrate together with me at the track that I have been to the most in my life. The turnout and support was amazing and very humbling,” Coles Said. “It was a really cool day and everyone at Arlington involved with the event was great. It is such a great racetrack. it was a great time playing the races with a lot of my family and friends that don’t really play a whole lot. I loved every minute of it.”
Coles’ NHC victory is widely regarded as a major underdog success story. Not only was Coles the youngest person ever to win the NHC championship, but he was also one of the few to do so in his rookie NHC finals appearance. Additionally, Coles was not a lifelong racing fan and handicapper. He only became involved as a serious horseplayer as recently as 2015, the year American Pharoah won the Triple Crown.
When asked on the Arlington TV feed if he could have imagined that he’d ever have a score like winning the NHC, Coles replied, “that was the goal, but I didn’t imagine it would happen this soon. To do it that quickly, that was insane.
“Winning arguably the most prestigious tournament in the sport that I love is a dream come true and something that will stick with me forever. I have a long way to go to get to the level of the top players on the NHC tour, but that was a huge stepping stone for me. It has opened up some doors for me. So many big names and legends in horse racing have reached out and been extremely supportive and congratulatory. I have contacts in my phone who I had only read about, listened to, watched, or seen on leader boards before winning that event. It has been a surreal experience that I am so grateful for. I still can’t fully put into words.”
Now Coles has actual hardware – an Eclipse Award trophy on his mantle – to go along with his $800,000 cash prize he won in Las Vegas. While the trophy and the Horseplayer of the Year title that goes with it is great, it is the prize money that has done the most to change Coles’ life.
“The money is amazing, obviously. I used a large chunk of it to pay off my law school loans which was a huge relief. It will allow me to takes some trips with my girlfriend, Courtney, and see a lot of the racetracks that I haven’t been to before,” Coles said. “It will also allow me to save a lot more money than I had been and use the money I make from my job as a trader much more efficiently instead of the vicious cycle of paying mostly interest that I was in. I have also donated to some charities, and plan to do a lot more.”
In addition to his Eclipse Award honor, Coles was also at Arlington to play in the track’s NHC qualifying tournament that same day. The contest cost $2000 to enter, which served as the players’ live-money bankrolls. The winner of the tournament was Joseph Whitacre of Springfield, Ohio, who earned a BCBC entry. The second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers, Philip Webber, Pat Gianforte, and Henry Wessel, each earned NHC qualifying berths. Coles tallied a solid 11th-place finish with a final real-money total of $3,026.
“I did alright in the Arlington tournament. I wasn’t as focused as I could/should have been with everything else I had going on,” Coles said. “I look forward to giving that tourney another shot next year. I learned a lot from it,”
So what’s next for Scott Coles, who has already accomplished so much at such an early stage of his horse playing career?
“I feel a lot more comfortable in mythical win/place tournaments, but I am trying to get a lot better with live bankroll tourneys like Arlington’s. I have a lot more I want to play to prep for my first ever BCBC this November,” Coles said.
No matter what happens at the BCBC tournament and beyond, Scott Coles has already made his mark on the tournament world and has had the time of his life doing so. Congratulations to Coles on being Thoroughbred racing’s newest Eclipse Award recipient.