No one came farther to the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network, Caesars Entertainment and Bally's Las Vegas than Trish Dunell of Auckland, New Zealand. The thoroughbred owner-breeder qualified for the 2020 NHC by winning the top prize in a series handicapping competitions in her country.
“I was lucky enough to win through a crazy bet,” she said. “We were betting on harness racing as well in New Zealand, and the very last race of the whole competition was a trotting race. My son had seen this horse that he liked a lot. I put basically everything I had on this horse to place, which you would call show, because it finished third and paid $11.90 — and I had $2,000 on it. So we jumped to the lead by $800.”
Not only has Dunell had to overcome jet lag — Friday morning in Las Vegas was already Saturday in New Zealand — she's having to learn different racing terminology and style of contest. While the American “place” bet requires a horse to finish in the top two, in New Zealand a place bet is the top three. Dunell also was playing in live-money competitions, while the NHC is based on a mythical $2 win and place wager.
There also is no dirt racing in New Zealand, even for harness racing, with the closest being a track made out of crushed oyster shells, she said.
“It's really scary,” she said cheerfully of facing almost 600 of the best handicappers in the world. “I'm at a huge disadvantage, but that's fine. I know nothing about dirt racing. We don't have that, and apparently most of the racing here is dirt racing. I've just got to liken the dirt racing to all-weather racing (in Singapore)… What's so scary for me is I can't understand the performance lines.”
While New Zealand doesn't yet have an all-weather track (one is being built), she's familiar with such surfaces from Singapore. One of Dunell's top horses to breed and race is 2014 Emirates Singapore Derby winner and Singapore champion Spalato.
Dunell views just earning the trip to the NHC as being a winner. Her goal, she said, “I think just having fun and not being too stressed. At the moment, I'm a little bit stressed. Making sure I don't miss a race is probably my biggest goal. It's very difficult. I don't have access to what a lot of these people already know in their minds. I'm just going to have to have fun.”
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