If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of 2022 HorseTourneys Handicapper of the Year Travis Pearson playing the horses, you’d be well served to head to a casino, but you’d be unlikely to find him in the race book. A better bet would be the poker room.
“Poker is my main form of gambling,” said the 41-year-old resident of Paradise Valley, Ariz. “Horse racing is a distant second. Lots of days I’m sweating the races from the poker room.”
Pearson’s priorities are not misplaced. He had enjoyed several six-figure cashes at the tables, according to the Hendon Mob poker database, including one at the 2021 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
So while poker may be Pearson’s primary pursuit, the races are important to him too. For Pearson, they are something of a first love…maybe even a very first love.
I grew up in St. Cloud, Minn., and my dad really got into horse racing when Canterbury opened in the mid-80s,” Pearson recalled. “By the time I was 10, I was helping make speed figures and firing away. Then a 15-year-old me bet every dollar I could get my hands on to win on Siphon in the 1996 Hollywood Gold Cup.”
When Siphon wired the field in the Gold Cup, hanging on by a length under David Flores over favored Geri, and the Richard Mandella trainee returned $20.60 for every $2 win bet, Pearson knew his young life was suddenly at a turning point.
“I was hooked,” he admitted.
Well schooled by his father in the fundamentals of handicapping, Pearson’s approach to picking horses was never all that revolutionary…and it still isn’t.
“Replays, figures/patterns, connections/intentions…I look at it all,” he said. “I see what’s working and/or what makes sense for that race’s conditions.”
What WAS a little bit out of the ordinary on Pearson’s part—at least relative to many horseplayers—was his preoccupation with value or, as they sometimes say around the felt, getting his money “in good.”
For a long time, Pearson focused his horse racing play on online head-to-head games. He felt it was a good way to play for a lot of money and with a fair rake.
At the beginning of 2022, though, he decided to take a step back from the one-on-one matchups. At roughly the same time, he took a look at the bigger field-games at HorseTourneys, including those that were part of the relatively new HT Tour. The “juice” in those seemed very reasonable to him, and now there was suddenly an added attraction for him.
“On Pick & Pray days, I wasn’t worried about showing my picks since I wasn’t playing live head-to-head games.”
Pearson just dabbled a bit at first, but a couple of months into the year, he looked at the HT Tour leaderboard, and his attitude changed.
“I got very invested in winning it,” he said.
That was bad news for the rest of the competitors, including early leader Anthony Trezza. Pearson caught up to Trezza in mid-year, then kept adding victory after victory, finishing with six on the year, twice as many as anyone else. His margin of victory in the Tour standings was nearly eight points—an almost shocking amount compared to the narrow gaps that existed between others on the leaderboard.
For sure, Pearson’s Tour triumph turned out to be more Flightline than Siphon. However, he kept playing through right to the end—not simply to run up the score…but for a variety of other reasons.
“With Anthony Trezza chasing you, I don’t think I was sure [of victory] until I won the sixth,” Pearson said in deference to the runner up in the 2022 Tour standings.
There were other reasons, though.
“The $1,000 bonus I would have gotten for each additional win was plenty of motivation,” Pearson added.
Here, Pearson is indirectly referring to his one “mistake” during the year.
Per HT Tour rules, players get a $500 bonus for a second HT Tour victory on Friday, a $500 bonus for a second on Saturday, and $500 for a second Sunday tally. Subsequent day-of-the-week wins beyond two are rewarded with $1,000 bonuses.
Pearson’s mistake? His six wins were evenly divided across the three days of the week. Had he been a little more top-heavy on one day or the other, his bonuses would have been bigger!
Much to his surprise, however, Pearson’s HT Tour “rewards” extended beyond the mere prize amounts or his internal calculations of things like ROI, EV and other acronyms that smart gamblers hold dear.
There was definitely a lot of satisfaction beyond the money—which is unusual for me,” he said. “I’m a pretty hardened, unemotional gambler at this point in my life.”
Perhaps Pearson can tap back into his unemotional side when he takes to the bank the $20,000 check he received for winning the Tour…or when he sits down next August to play his free entry in The BIG One, another perk of finishing first on the Tour.
In the meantime, Pearson will continue moving from challenge to challenge, weathering the ups and downs that go with being a gambler—and even trying to enjoy them.
“The sweat!” he said when asked about what he liked most about playing the HorseTourneys Tour and contests in general. “I love having action on lots of races. For me to win in parimutuel races, I have to be super-disciplined—which gets tough and boring. On HT, you get a sweat in every race.”
In 2022, it seems safe to say that no one did a better job of making OTHER players sweat…than Travis Pearson.