At our broadcast position in the ballroom, former champion (and horseplaying legend) Paul Matties said to Steve Byk and me, “Hopefully one of these players at the Final Table can do something special.”
That’s just what happened when Thomas Goldsmith made a furious run, cashing in four straight races and playing his strategy to perfection at the 21st National Horseplayers Championship. For his trouble, Goldsmith nets $800,000 and an Eclipse Award for Horseplayer of the Year.
Goldsmith, the 57-year-old resident of Montgomery, Calif., qualified twice in Texas, once at Lone Star and once at Sam Houston. Playing in his second NHC, he rode a hot Day 3 to win with a total mythical bankroll of $404.10.
Goldsmith toppled a NHC field that had 694 entries and 564 individual players to record the second highest total ever behind only Ray Arsenault’s winning bankroll of $407.70 in 2017. Fittingly enough, Goldsmith had to turn back Arsenault himself, as well a Final Table that included NHC Hall of Famer Trey Stiles, upstart Eric Bialek, and Day 2 leader John Vail to claim by far the biggest triumph of his horseplayer career.
“I’m just in shock,” said Goldsmith. “This is life changing for me, and it hasn’t set in yet. Maybe tomorrow it will set in.”
Goldsmith is a trip handicapper who tried not to overcomplicate his strategy for the NHC.
“I was just trying to find something that’s going to win, like anything else,” he said. “I’m not a numbers guy. I look for horses that are in trouble. And [at the NHC] you’ve got to bet long shots. It’s hard. You’ve got to find winners at all different race tracks.”
A horseplayer for four decades, like so many here at the NHC, Goldsmith was introduced to the game by his father and was a regular for many years at Bay Meadows.
Goldsmith began a run on day that included 21-1 winner Admiralty Pier in the Tampa Bay Stakes and climbed up to sixth overall after Saturday with a total of $272.70. When he began the Final Table in fourth place, that strategy continued to pay off as he had three winners and a 24-1 shot, second-place finisher through his first five plays.
“It didn’t ever change. I wasn’t going to play any first-time starters,” Goldsmith said. “I was looking for horses with trouble. Looking for horses that go to the lead on the turf. And basically that’s it. I wasn’t going to play any long layoff horses.”
That worked well at the final table, where he quickly closed the gap between himself and the longtime leader before surging to the front. Holding onto a $19.80 lead over Vail heading into the seventh and final mandatory race – the eighth at Santa Anita Park – Goldsmith finally let himself begin to celebrate as none of his challengers picked either of the top two finishers.
Vail finished second with a bankroll of $384.30 to take the $250,000 runner-up prize, closing to within $2 of Goldsmith after the fourth mandatory race only to have the eventual champ draw clear once more when Goldsmith scored with 9-2 shot Misty Blue in the ninth at Oaklawn Park.
“It absolutely is the best second I’ve ever had,” said Vail of Lyndhurst, NJ. “The whole tournament, it was a great tournament. I enjoyed the last three days, and I’m very happy with where I finished. I actually didn’t have any big, big plays today. I had a couple of winners, a few seconds, nothing big to get me along to first place. But I’m very happy with second place.”
Though Arsenault fell short of becoming the first two-time NHC winner, he did post the highest ever finish for a past champion when he finished third with $362.
“It would have been nice to have won it twice. Everybody says they’d have like to have seen a repeater,” Arsenault said. “Today, I wasn’t really prepared. I did well with the horses that I won with. I was happy as heck to get to the Final Table and to be second going in. I got no complaints. It was fantastic. To win it would have been special.”
Taylor, who was playing in her first NHC, completed her run with a fourth-place total of $350.40. Hall of Famer Trey Stiles made his first Final Table in 18 NHC appearances and did himself proud with a fifth-place bankroll of $334.90.
“It was just awesome to get here,” Stiles said. “I’ve wanted to make a Final Table, I’ve never made a Final Table before. I’ve come close and so I was just so happy to make it that far. I certainly wanted to win but this has been awesome. I have no regrets with my plays, it’s just been awesome.
“I just did the same stuff the whole time. It got me here, but it just wasn’t quite enough today. But (Goldsmith) was on fire. There was no catching him today.”
Ralph Magnetti ($334), Eric Bialek ($333.30), Christopher Podratz ($312.40), Michael Odorisio ($312.20), and Mike Goodrich ($296.20) rounded out the top ten.
The 2020 NHC finals awarded cash to the 10 percent overall from a total purse of $2,997,500. Of that total, $50,000 went to the top 20 in today’s Consolation Tournament, which was won by former turf writer Dick Jerardi.
NHC entrants were required to place mythical $2 Win and Place wagers – eight on mandatory races that everyone played and 10 on any of the other races from eight designated racetracks across the country – during the first two days of the tournament. Day 1 bankrolls carried into Day 2 and the top 10 percent of the field after Day 2 continued to the Semifinal round Sunday.
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