Looking Back at The BIG One

There are some things about The BIG One that, each year, I find myself appreciating (or chucking over) only after a couple of days have passed. Here, in no particular order, are a few:

1. Sound

I had always taken for granted that we potted up the audio of any contest race taking place. Everyplace does this, right?

Well I have played in a lot more onsite contests than I used to and, well, no…everyone does not do that…certainly not for every simulcast race in the contest. And some don’t do it for any of the races. I, for one, always seem to enjoy a race much more when I can hear the call. I definitely don’t enjoy a race that I meant to be but got shut out on because I lost track of the fact that it was coming up.

Now if only someone at Laurel could fit that automatic bathroom hand dryer with a muffler!

2. Print

It used to be a given…but The BIG One was the only contest I’ve attended this year, other than the Horse Player World Series, that supplied copies of DRF to its players. Not the “Daily Racing Program”, not the track program, but the actual racing form. I don’t know about you but I sort of resent not receiving a free copy of the form when I plunk down four figures to play in a tournament. Sure the hard copy of the Form is ridiculously overpriced. Sure a great many of us handicap digitally now. Still, there’s something comforting about seeing the PPs on raceday with the familiar look and feel that we grew up with. I’m not saying that DRF is in any way a prerequisite for handicapping contest success…just that it serves as something of a raceday security blanket for some of us.

3. An uncertain outcome

Reasonable minds may differ on this, but I found this year’s renewal of The BIG One more exciting throughout the balance of the two days than in years past. I think that was because of the tighter-than-typical leaderboards, which were probably a function of the newly-imposed $250-per-race bet maximums. There’s just something demoralizing about being in a tournament and, after an hour or so, seeing that someone has jumped out to a gigantic lead. There’s nothing wrong with playing that way—it’s probably “optimal game strategy” to do so, but it probably detracts from the overall level of excitement. It’s not much different than how attendance for major league teams drops when a team is 10 games out by mid-May.

4. Rising from the dead

Some might have thought that removing the all-in component would have stripped from The BIG One the potential for the kind of crazy comeback that Ed Peters pulled off last year when he dropped down to $50 not once but twice on Day 2 before catapulting himself to victory.

It didn’t.

Going into the last race, Dave Nichols was down to $50 and he and his wife Jen would have been excused if they had felt like just getting a jump on the traffic for their drive back up I-95 to Philadelphia.

They stuck around, in part because Dave had liked a horse in the race, Colonel Canuck. The problem was he was only a 5-2 shot. That’s when Dave, a trained actuary, went to work. He calculated the odds of those that could fill the exacta and get him high enough to have a shot at an NHC seat. He landed on #9, Diamonds and Roses.

Sure enough…Colonel Canuck won and Diamonds and Roses ran second. The exacta paid $48.90 for a deuce or $1,220.50 for $50. That amount was good, by about $150, to land him an NHC seat. Even in the rain, we bet that was one short ride home to Philly.

*-asterisks denote players already double-qualified for the NHC and, thus, ineligible for spots at The BIG One.

5. “I said, ‘place’. PLACE it on Lucky Dan.”

If you don’t get this reference, you really need to watch The Sting—which, for people like us, is only about the greatest movie ever made.

Anyway, I found it somewhat surprising, in the eight or so minutes it took Parx stewards to render their decision, how many people were on each side of the fence as to whether Monomoy Girl should be disqualified in the Cotillion. Some good natured (and in some cases insistent) banter was shared, but not at the Sylvester table, where Mike knew he was a guaranteed winner of the mandatory race. Who cares who gets placed first and who is placed second?

A few moments after the race went official, Sylvester did care, and it was probably a good thing that his wife Rhonda and daughter Reagan had joined him on the trip to Baltimore from North Little Rock, Arkansas, to provide comfort and support. Mike had bet Monomoy Girl to show…which was a problem since the contest only permitted win, place and exacta wagers.

Sylvester wound up having his $2.50 profit plus his $50 wager on the race deleted from his account due to the blunder.

“I was thinking Monomoy Girl would win, but at 1-5 odds, I said ‘If she’s only going to pay $2.60 to win, I might as well play it safer,’” he recalled shortly after the mistake. “I had bet to show at other tournaments, but I forgot that it wasn’t allowed here.”

All was well that ended well for Sylvester. With a final bankroll of $1,093, he finished in 13th place—just high enough to grab the last of 10 available NHC seats.

6. An artistic success

No, we’re not talking about The BIG One, though we’re happy if you think that it was one. We’re talking about Alexa Zepp (a successful contest player in her own right) who accompanied The BIG One contestant Blake Courtney to Laurel.

Zepp was well engaged in the competition (and also the free Pick the Pros football contest) throughout the two days. Between rooting for Courtney and meeting many of her fellow horseplayers, Zepp kept herself plenty busy. But she also found time to devote to one of her other passions: Drawing.

Zepp made candid sketches of several of the contestants at The BIG One. Here’s one—of Tony Calabrese—that I thought was particularly excellent.

They say one of the key attributes of a good artist is the ability to see, and convey, aspects of a subject that most of us might never notice. Here’s one she did of Jonathan “Hurricane” Hurd.

To draw well enough so that people can easily recognize the subject is one thing. But to be able to accurately capture ebullient Jon during a rare moment of pensive solitude…now, that’s talent!

Congratulations again to 2018 winner Joe Pettit…

…and here’s hoping that the 2019 renewal “draws” an equally talented field…and that you’re part of it.