Oscar winner tries to claim elusive prize betting horses

By Ron Flatter  (VSiN.com) 

Roth_NHC
Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth was 60th of 563 entries after one day of the National Horseplayers Championship. (Ron Flatter photo)

Las Vegas

He is responsible for lines like “life is like a bunch of chocolates” and “stupid is as stupid does.”

Eric Roth won a screenplay Oscar for “Forrest Gump.” He has been nominated for four more for writing “The Insider,” “Munich,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and, just three years ago, “A Star Is Born.”

Now he is trying to win a more elusive prize. First place in this weekend’s National Horseplayers Championship.

“I can’t say I’m a great handicapper,” said Roth, who stood 60th among 563 entries Friday after the first day of competition. “I mean I’m pretty good. I’m a pretty good speed handicapper.”

This is his 10th time making into the NHC, no small feat. Just like his professional work is no flash in the pan, neither is his handicapping skills. Sometimes his two worlds collide – and he finds himself using something he heard at the racetrack in one of his movies.

“All the time,” he said. “We’re just old men now. Nobody cares what I do. They’re happy I’m successful, but they’re more interested if their horses win or lose.”

Now 76, Roth is still very active in Hollywood. He had a role in writing the soon-to-be-released “Dune: Part One” and “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

He is also very active playing the horses. The pandemic might have forced him away from racetracks like Santa Anita, but that has not stopped him from playing online. An Xpressbet money tournament last year was his conduit to this week’s NHC at the Bally’s Event Center.

“I was way behind,” Roth said, “and I hit some trifecta that came back like $10,000. It was some crazy, crazy price. That’s how I’ve usually qualified in the money tournaments. We’ve won few over the years or come in second or third. I’ve been doing this since my grandfather would take me (to the track) when I was eight years old.”

Growing up in Brooklyn, Roth said those trips were to Aqueduct and Belmont Park. After he moved west, he lived for a while near Del Mar. Now he calls Santa Monica his home. When he is not there, he might be found fishing in Montana near his summer house. And of course, playing the horses, sometimes with both fists.

“I don’t mind betting pretty good,” said Roth, who finds the NHC’s mythical-wagering format a very different challenge. “I’m not good at this. I don’t have any computer algorithms or anything like that. I won’t play anything under 7-1. Until you’re close. Then you can start playing 7-2 shots and that kind of thing.”

But back to what Roth said about racetrack language creeping into his film work. He could not resist taking note of something he heard Wednesday from one of his horseplayer buddies.

“After we left here, we went to the Caesars Palace just to bet a couple of more races,” Roth said. “There’s an old, old friend of ours who is in his late 80s, and he used to be kind of a womanizer. We said, ‘So how are you doing with the women, John?’ And he says, ‘I still have a lot of lead my pencil, but I have nobody to write to.’ Right away I wrote that down, because that will appear in one of my movies.”

If Roth can hold his ground Saturday in the NHC, he will be contending for a spot in the semifinals Sunday. The top 57 players will advance with each guaranteed $10,000.

Colin Cummings, a hedge-fund recruiter from Brooklyn, and Sean O'Malley, a retired merchant marine from Artesia, Calif., shared the lead through Day 1 on Friday. Each netted $165.10 from 17 sets of mythical $2 win-place bets.

The eventual winner will earn $700,000 plus the Eclipse Award as the champion horseplayer of 2020.

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