Nelson, BC native Brad Auger, a 30-year-old operations manager in the aviation game, hopes to soar high above his competitors in the $1,000,000 National Thoroughbred Racing Association Handicapping Challenge this weekend at the Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas. Some 305 handicappers will answer the call to post having earned their way in by qualifying at a series of 110 tournaments held in the past year or via a points system on the NHC Tour.
Can Auger reach the top of the mountain this weekend?
It’s the second time Auger has qualified for the tournament and he’ll be the first to tell you that ‘playing’ the ponies is hard work.
“I spend a minimum fifty hours a week on horse racing,” advises Auger. “I go through the auctions and follow a hundred two-year-olds every year. I’m in my second year now. It’s a good way to follow horses and get some prices. It’s how I got in the NHC last year. I caught a two-year-old I was following at 23-1.”
With a rustle of papers, Auger quickly spits out the details from his files.
“The horse’s name was Canonize,” recalls Auger. “Fifth race at Santa Anita on Saturday April 4th, 2009. It was a capped horse. You could only get 20-1 to win and 10-1 for place.”
This weekend, Auger will be asked to make fifteen mythical $2 win-and-place wagers with eight races being mandatory and the other seven chosen from designated contest tracks of Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Tampa Bay, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn, Turf Paradise, Golden Gate, and Santa Anita. Prices are capped at $42 to win and $22 to place. There’s a lot of strategy involved in the contest where picking winners obviously matters - - but price matters more.
“With these contests it’s tough, you can’t just play long shots. You have to pick winners,” states Auger. “The last one I just qualified for I snuck in. I hit seven winners out of ten and the last race at Calder was a huge Martin Wolfson long shot that hadn’t raced in eighteen months and that horse won and knocked me to tenth place. Only the top nine would qualify. I was devastated because the person ahead of me had $80.20 and I had $80.”
The race that caused the ‘capping Canuck so much heartache was the Tropical Turf Handicap where a pair of Ontario-breds, Twilight Meteor and Rahy’s Attorney, hit the wire together separated by only a neck.
“I was third going into that and that big bomb got me,” laughs Auger. “It hurt even more because I’m a big Woodbine player and I love Rahy’s Attorney but that horse came from the twelve hole and I came off it. I over thought it.”
Rahy's Attorney streches out at Woodbine
Fortunately for Auger, two people ahead of him in the standings had already qualified and the NHC moved Auger into the money. Which, evidently, Auger is having no trouble making as a regular player.
“I’m almost at the point that I could do it as a job. I am making cash at it but I’ve got some expensive hobbies so I can’t really bail out on managing airplanes yet,” jokes Auger. “But by the time I’m 34 or 35 I’d like to be a pro horseplayer.”
That Auger so easily uses the term ‘pro horseplayer’ is an interesting angle. It would be near impossible to find a single person outside the racing game who could pick Brian Troop - last year’s NHC Champ, and also a Canadian - out of a lineup. However, a fellow Canadian, such as four-time World Series of Poker champ Daniel Negreanu has fast become an easily recognizable brand for the popular card game.
“Horse racing is so much better than poker,” says Auger. “It’s intellectual. You have to think more, and don’t get me wrong, I like poker but if you asked me if I prefer to bet on a race or play poker there’s no doubt in my mind it’s horse racing. Horse racing needs more young people, regular people that aren’t crazy wealthy, to pursue it as a hobby. I wish horse racing was marketed like poker was.”
His enthusiasm for the sport is palpable and his interest in the game reaches far beyond just making a wager.
“I’ve owned a couple horses as well,” says Auger. “The first one I got was with Glen Todd, who is the biggest owner at Hastings. He’s one of the biggest owners out there and has about 60 horses. If there were more folks like that guy, horse racing would be more popular. He approached me about going to the auction and my wife and I went together. We bought a horse named Critical Choice.”
The filly did not live up to her name but Auger did manage to get into the winner’s circle.
“She’s still racing now. A hard knocking claimer with about 31 starts under her belt. We sent her down to Portland Meadows and she broke her maiden for about $2500 and we lost her as somebody claimed her,” states Auger, and with a bit of a laugh adds, “We bought her for $25,000 so it wasn’t a winning proposition but it was well worth it for the experience and fun my wife and I got out of it.”
The sun will come up tomorrow
Fortunately, the easy going Auger has a baseball closer’s mentality and shook off the loss and is now preparing to make another investment into the game. It’s an investment bankrolled by the $25,000 he earned capturing the recent HPI Challenge tournament and a lot of homework studying pedigree.
“I don’t look at any nick,” starts Auger. “I think it’s hurting breeding a bit. You go to an auction and people will say its not an A+ horse. These programs, all the grades change based on wins. A horse can start out as a D- and if it wins a couple races all of a sudden it an A+ nick. I look for a certain group of sires that I like and broodmare sires that I like. I’ve made up my own Excel chart of horses I like and usually they’re way out of my price range. With the purses the way they are I would never spend more than $40,000 or $50,000, but I’ll keep working hard at it and wait for the right one to come along. ”
Ultimately, Auger is after a good-looking filly.
“It gives me options,” suggests Auger. “I can race her or if she doesn’t race she could also be a broodmare prospect. If you get a colt that doesn’t win you’re not going to be able to use him as a stallion prospect. With a well bred filly you have some outs if the racetrack doest work out.”
Off the track, Auger certainly seems to have found the right lady. In the midst of playing last year’s NHC Championship, he married his wife, Danielle, a primary school teacher.
“It wasn’t a Vegas wedding, we’ve been together four years…it’s not like I met a blackjack dealer and got married the next day, ” laughs Auger. “All our family was down there. It was challenging. This year we’re staying at the Bellagio for a week before and studying the horses. My wife’s wicked. She’s into horse racing and it’s nice to have a partner that supports.”
It's always a good day to place a wager
This weekend Auger will be supporting a few horses with his mythical dollars and offers up the following tip for aspiring horseplayers.
“I don’t bet favourites,” declares Auger. “I have to have my price. I don’t like horses off of a layoff unless there’s steady workouts or a trainer that I like. But by far the biggest rule is I have to have my price.”
Even though Auger might have to consider a few short prices this weekend, the $500,000 payoff has never been better.
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According to this WEG Report, Auger is one of A dozen Canadian horseplayers competing for a $1-million purse. Good luck, eh!
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