While many horseplayers associate their best day at the races with blazing sunshine, Preston Simms’ most prized race day memory now involves a deluge worthy of Noah. Simms had just bet the last of his bankroll when he made a choice that had his friends in the very dry tournament room questioning his sanity.
“I don’t get to Gulfstream often and I wanted to watch the race live,” said the 36-year-old oil-and-gas service salesman from Oklahoma City. “I wanted to take it in and I didn’t care if I got poured on.”
Despite his age, Simms has been a fan for three decades, since his dad started taking him to Remington Park when he was a kid. As for tournaments, his current boss introduced him and he just started playing in them last year. Simms noticed a pattern right away.
“The first tournament I played in at Del Mar, the guy who won it bet it all in the last race, and I remembered Eddie Olczyk doing the same thing in this tournament,” he said. “I thought, ‘maybe there’s something to that angle.’”
And thus his strategy was born: make sure he had a strong bankroll going to the last. His plan was to have $20,000 to play with and as of the end of day one, he was looking good. He had $12,000 and some good ideas about where to double up. But as Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
Come the Pegasus, Simms had $5,900 left. His main opinion in the race was pro City of Light. He thought Accelerate pretty much had to run in the money on his back class and numbers, but he thought the older male champion of 2018 might regress enough to not use him on the win end. Ironically, had he more money on his bankroll in the end, he may have been tempted to play most of his money in trifecta combos that included Accelerate in second. Since he was relatively strapped for cash, he made the tough decision to use Accelerate only in third and play four horses in the middle of the two chalks in $1,400 tris – Patternrecognition, Bravazo, Audible, and Seeking the Soul. Seeking the Soul, at 30-1, ended up being the key to the whole bet.
“I wasn’t sure,” he admitted, “but I thought maybe the connections were in there just with the idea of making one run, passing horses late, and picking up a piece.”
As the race ran, he stood in the deluge, straining to see the horses along the backside. “Watching them come down the stretch I thought City of Light and Accelerate were going to run one-two and then I saw Seeking the Soul coming up the rail and I thought, ‘Wow, this is how I pictured it in my head. If Seeking the Soul can get by Accelerate this is going to be pretty good.”
Sure enough, that’s how it played out. Simms went to a machine after it became official and saw $157,000 on his betting card – he also caught the second half of a saver double and a small exacta. But at that point Simms wasn’t sure he’d won the contest. Even back in the tournament room, there were rumors another play had crushed the exacta and was up over six figures on his bankroll.
In the end, Simms walked away with a total haul worth over $340,000, including a $50,000 bonus for playing on site from Gulfstream (funny enough, the Oklahoma traveler had no idea there was a bonus in play).
Simms is a big believer in race replays, looking for bad trips and or efforts that were maybe better than they looked for one reason or another. “I keep almost all of the notes in my head,” said Simms, who used the adjective “photographic” when describing his memory.
The next stop for Simms is the National Horseplayers’ Championship, where he’ll look to parlay his success into an even bigger score.
All-in-all the Pegasus contest attracted 190 entries at $12,000 each and awarded over $435,000 in prizes, with all that money put up by The Stronach Group. In total, the field churned $3,465,000. That doesn’t count anything they bet outside the contest (pick bets, out of contest GP wagers, simulcast bets) nor does it count additional handle bet by their guests.
Second-place finisher David Rink of Chicago, a 39 year-old bond trader, walked away with $175,000. After bottoming out in Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge when singling Catalina Cruiser in the Dirt Mile, Rink had a newfound respect for City of Light.
“I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again,” he quipped.
Rink was the player Simms had heard the rumor about. He had a $1,000 exacta and $500 tri keying City of Light to get his bankroll into the six figures. He had $19,000 going into the last and bet nearly all of it. Rink was attracted to play in the contest because there was no entry fee and added money in the prize pool.
“I love the live cash money events,” he said. “I don’t bet that often but when I do I’m going to be betting $500 or $1,000 a race. I’d much rather bet it within the contest and have a better chance of getting multiple times the winnings, especially if there’s no entry fee.”
Ray Arsenault, along with Alan Shaffer, Ross Gallo, and Lorne Weiss, is one of the players’ committee members who was instrumental in getting the Pegasus tournament up and running.
“The group was quite happy with how everything turned out,” said Arsenault, the former NHC Champion. “The only bad thing was the weather, which hurt the handle for us and the track as a whole, but there’s nothing we can do about that.”
Arsenault cited the fact that despite bad weather the field increased more than 50 percent in size from the year, up to 190 from 135 in 2018.
“The plan for this year is to continue to grow,” he said. “I’d like to see more online feeders and qualifiers and have them get started earlier in the year so more people who can’t put up the full buy-in can still win their way in.”
Arsenault was quick to praise The Stronach Group for its vision in hosting the first ever live-bank contests without an entry fee for players.
“On behalf of the players, I’d like to thank The Stronach Group for putting this on,” he said. “Without them, players would never have a chance at a contest format like this.
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