LEXINGTON, Ky. (February 5, 2019) – He had done all he could to put himself at the mercy of fate, using his most trusted figures and knowledge to land on the horse who would carry life-changing circumstances on her shoulders in addition to the 122 pounds on her back. So as the field for the ninth race at Golden Gates Field broke forth that January evening in 2012 and all heck began breaking out around him, Michael Beychok made a point to remind himself to enjoy what was about to become the most memorable outcome in the now 20-year history of the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship.
As fists pumped and voices raised inside the Treasure Island Las Vegas casino, the only outward crack in Beychok’s cool demeanor was the grin stretching across his face. His pick, a bay mare named Glorious Dancer, had the vocal urging of his comrades willing her forward as she commenced her last-to-first rally. She had never won a race in her five prior starts but when the daughter of Roman Dancer got her nose down over Greeley’s Agenda in the final stride, darn it if she didn’t spark a celebration that would dwarf most Grade 1 festivities.
A million-dollar prize, the largest in NHC history, was Beychok’s, earned by what remains the tournament’s smallest win margin as his bankroll of $238.60 bested Dave Flanzbaum by only $1.00. Seven years after the fact, the sight of his arms raised in jubilation as a sea revelry engulfed him remains the signature clip in the annals of great NHC moments.
That Beychok still counts that day as one which redefined his life beyond the obvious still resonates as the most powerful testament to the event’s impact.
“People talk about life-changing scores, but….it was a life-changing moment,” Beychok recalled. “It propelled me into some sort of different space in the horse racing industry.”
WATCH: Beychok takes the 2012 NHC to become first million-dollar winner
Heading into what will be his tenth appearance at the NHC, Beychok will steel himself this week to try and recreate the handicapping magic that allowed him to become the tournament’s 2012 champion and Eclipse Award winner. Since becoming the NHC’s only ‘Million-dollar man’ seven years ago, however, how Beychok’s views the equine athletes he studies has been irrevocably shifted as he has become a leading advocate for Thoroughbred aftercare.
Prior to his NHC triumph, Beychok admittedly was the kind of horseplayer who didn’t give a whole lot of thought as to what happened to the game’s runners once they left the track. While Glorious Dancer provided Beychok with the monetary return of a lifetime with her maiden win, she also made the Louisiana native take notice of a bigger industry picture he has been determined to help change for the better.
Not wanting the horse who had delivered for him to be at risk of falling through industry cracks, Beychok famously ended up claiming Glorious Dancer in March 2012 and later retired the California-bred to the Louisiana Horse Rescue Association. He has continued to support aftercare causes with both his time and money while urging his fellow horseplayers to adapt a broader appreciation for the athletes they pin their financial aspirations on.
“The real way (the NHC win) changed me is it got me, and I still am, heavily involved in the aftercare of horses,” Beychok said. “I didn’t really know anything or care about what happened to them after they left the racetrack. We all hear the stories ….I thought ‘Well this is not going to happen for this horse.’ I can at least affect this horse. And I did. And when I got up to the Eclipse Awards, I made that the main part of my speech.”
Having the platform to deliver a message can be as crucial as the directive itself. How Beychok earned his elevated standing among his NHC peers is something he still recalls as vividly as the celebration that broke out in the aftermath.
Trailing Flanzbaum heading into his final wager, Beychok knew he needed a horse who offered a fair amount of value if he had any hope of closing the gap. The Thoro-Graph sheets told him the No. 6 horse in that ninth race at Golden Gate had the fastest number in the field and with her odds hovering around 3-1 and 7-2, Beychok made his first major commitment to Glorious Dancer.
“I knew I had to have a horse who was 3-1 or higher so that kind of gave me some freedom to eliminate horses who were shorter odds,” Beychok said. “It was almost a default – there was no way I was going to let the horse with the fastest Thoro-Graph number beat me because then I would never be able to live with myself. It was kind of an easy decision.
“I went to the terminal and I was making the bet and …my son comes flying out of the back room where we were sitting and he was like ‘No, no no!’ because he had seen that the horse had dropped to 5-2. At that point, I was locked in. And as they went off out of the gate, as you can see in the video, I’m in this other world. It was in almost this out of body experience. Literally, the last thing I told myself before they went into the gate was just to enjoy this moment. It was all out of my hands at that point.”
Once he had Glorious Dancer’s fate in his own hands months later, Beychok vowed that if she couldn’t find a second career, she would live out the rest of her days on his dime. Fortunately, the same determination that carried to her to that memorable surge seven years ago is still being put to ample use as she is now a polo pony on the Florida circuit and beyond.
“I donated her to Louisiana Horse Rescue and they placed her with a neurosurgeon who plays polo,” Beychok said. “And so she’s become a world class polo pony. She goes to Florida and Argentina. I don’t know exactly how good she is but she travels the world but she’s pretty good I guess. She’s doing great.”
Time has done little to dull the memory of Beychok’s NHC triumph and thanks to YouTube, he can visually transport himself back to that surreal moment anytime he pleases. Indelible as the imagery from his biggest score is, it pales in comparison to its enduring emotional impact.
“I hope that what I said and what I continue to say has changed the minds of a lot of horseplayers out there to pay attention to the animals that give us our pleasure and entertainment because we don’t pay enough attention to them,” he said.