Scott Coles, a 34-year-old first-time qualifier from Grayslake, Illinois, became the youngest handicapper to capture the National Horseplayers Championship at Treasure Island Las Vegas Sunday.
A futures trader by profession, Coles applied his skills to handicapping to take down the $800,000 grand prize and the Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year. He compiled a $367 mythical bankroll over the three-day tournament, edging Jim Meeks ($356.60) and Matthew Vagvolgyi ($354) in a climactic Final Table. J. Randy Gallo ($337.40) and Steven Simonovic ($327.20), who had been one-two earlier Sunday, rounded out the top five.
“I started playing the (NHC) tour at the very end of 2016,” Coles said in the NTRA release. “Didn’t qualify. Tried last year on and off, didn’t get there. This year I was fortunate to get double qualified. Navigating through (the NHC) was interesting. There were a lot of nerve-wracking moments.
“I was trying not to watch the odds as much and just pick winners and just keep moving up knowing that if you get to the Final Table with how close the pack was, anybody had a chance. All in all I was just trying to grind out winners rather than worrying about finding 20-1 shots.
“There are so many amazing handicappers here and I feel like I had a good strategy, because I knew I wasn’t going to be the best handicapper here. There are legends here, people who have been doing it forever. I had to come up with a different game plan.”
Coles came up with a 12-1 winner, I Love Romance, in the penultimate mandatory race, the 8TH at Golden Gate Fields, to jump to the top of the leaderboard. He polished off the win when 7-5 second choice Fiery Lady, his selection in the last mandatory race, scored in the 9TH at Santa Anita.
Now in its 20th year, the 2019 NHC field comprised 522 individual players and 668 entries in total.
Coles will be feted with the other 2019 Eclipse Award winners at the annual gala next January.