David Harrison gives new hope for all the hunch players out there. We’ve all been there: you see a horse with the name of a loved one or a current event and decide to put a few bucks on it.
But it’s not likely that a couple of hunch bets have ever worked out better for anyone more than Harrison – a 63-year-old real estate appraiser/collateral analyst from Webster, N.Y. – who won $725,000 in the National Horseplayers Championship at Bally’s Las Vegas on Sunday and will receive an Eclipse Award as “Handicapper of the Year.”
Harrison is a longtime horseplayer who obviously has some actual handicapping skills as he was playing in his third NHC (which requires contestants to earn their seat during the previous year by winning or finishing high enough in a year-long series of qualifying tournaments) and was in 14th place after Friday and Saturday’s action in which all finalists had to make 18 picks per day (8 mandatory races and 10 optional plays) with the top 65 earning the right to play Sunday morning to try to earn a seat at the “final table” of 10 on Sunday afternoon.
“I use the (Daily) Racing Form,” Harrison said. “I don’t use any other products. I’m not big on analytics; I just go with the flow. I’m a speed player, but today I was a little more flexible.”
But when he was talking to a group of reporters after his victory, he could only remember his hunch plays when asked when he knew he had a chance to win it all.
“Every time I get in a discussion with my wife and I’m trying to interrupt her, she says, ‘Let me finish. Let me finish,’” Harrison said. “That was one of my hunch plays.”
And a very key one it was. Let Me Finish was in Sunday’s first race at Laurel Park and went off at 22-1. The 3-year-old gelding paid $46.60 to Win and $21.20 to Place. Contest plays are capped at $42 to Win and $22 to Place, so Harrison was limited to $63.20, but that was enough to move him from 14th to 2nd place and pave the way to his victory.
By the time the last race of the contest – Race 9, the Baffle Stakes, at Santa Anita – arrived, Harrison was leading with a score of 337.60 while A.J. Benton of Manchester, N.H., was in second with 321 points and Ryan Patrick Scully of Aurora, Ill., was in third at 320.40. Based on the scoring rules, they needed a horse at 5-1 or higher to pass Harrison while the rest of the final table needed longer shots.
When Harrison looked at the past performances for the last race, he saw #6 Don’t Swear Dave and knew he had to play it.
“There were just a few horses that I figured they could use to catch me,” Harrison said. “Don’t Swear Dave went up to 5-1. I’m like, ‘If I don’t have that horse, they could nip me. My name is Dave. I couldn’t justify having that horse beat me.”
Don’t Swear Dave didn’t win the race – it was won by #1 Maglev, the 6-5 favorite that wasn’t worth many contest points – but Don’t Swear Dave did run second to increase Harrison’s winning total to 342 points to clinch his $725,000 win. Scully also used Don’t Swear Dave to move into second place at 324.80 points for a $200,000 payday while Benton settled for third at 321 points to collect $150,000.
Harrison is self-described “middle class, middle income, hard-working guy.” In his NHC bio before the tournament, he wrote that if he won, the $725,000 “would be my retirement fund in addition to charitable causes.” After winning the title, he said, “This is a life-changing score. I can retire earlier than planned.”
We have a hunch he’ll enjoy his retirement.