Canadian Ray Arsenault finds himself in the same lofty company as California Chrome.
The heralded thoroughbred captured a 2016 Eclipse Award as American racing’s horse of the year. Arsenault, of Thornhill, Ont., secured his own Eclipse Award on Sunday after winning the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas.
The event drew a record 654 entrants and with the victory Arsenault, 64, captured the US$800,000 winner’s share after amassing a top score of $407.70 in his seventh appearance at the three-day event.
“It’s pretty special,” Arsenault said via telephone from his winter residence in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “I wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen (winning), I didn’t really even think about it.
“But this is why I play. Last year I went to 13 contests in the U.S. and Canada and it’s my passion, I love it. I was shocked that I won, I am still shocked.”
However, Ray will have to wait until next year’s Eclipse Award ceremony to formally receive his honour.
Tournament players placed 18 hypothetical bets Friday and Saturday from eight different racetracks. The top 10 per cent (66) qualified for the semifinal round Sunday, with the best 10 then advancing to the final table.
The final contestants had seven races they all had to play.
“We knew the races in advance so I was able to prepare before I got to the room that morning,” Arsenault said. “I was ready.”
In fact, Arsenault said preparation was a big key to his success.
“You have to be prepared when you go into that room each day,” he said. “You can’t just show up and expect to look up and say, ‘I like that horse,’ and pick it.
“I was prepared for the races on the final table. I knew what I was doing before it happened. It’s all preparation.”
Last year, Arsenault stood second after the first two days of competition before finishing 26th. He was eager to not let history repeat itself last weekend.
“I had a great feeling going into the last day,” he said. “I knew this year they weren’t going to knock me out of the top-10.”
Arsenault, who operates a transportation brokerage, got involved in horse-racing as a youth, going to Greenwood Racetrack with his father. He heads to the track in Fort Lauderdale two or three times a week, and upon returning to Ontario visits Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack twice weekly over the summer.
He reserves each Sunday to take his mother, Frances, 92, to the Toronto oval.
“She picks more winners than I do most times,” Arsenault said with a chuckle.
After winning the tournament crown Sunday, Arsenault made sure to call his mother with the news.
“Some emotions kicked in when I called her,” he said. “It’s amazing to be called the handicapper of the year.”
Arsenault said his style of betting doesn’t usually translate into many wins.
“The way I play I have more bad days than good because I’m not a favourite player,” he said. “I don’t play anything that’s under 5-1. I’m a longshot player so I can go a lot of days and weeks without hitting but when I do it makes up for the days I’ve lost.”
Arsenault took a major hit to his winner’s prize, with the Internal Revenue Service taking its share right off the top. Then he also had to pay percentages to his partners.
And that’s all fine with Arsenault.
“It’s not about the money,” he said. “A lot of guys who go to the track need to win, but I don’t.
“This is my passion, I enjoy it. I went to 13 contests last year and probably didn’t make a penny but it didn’t bother me because I love it and I will continue to.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press