Like people everywhere who bet horses, you certainly hear contestants in the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens™ and Treasure Island Las Vegas snapping their fingers, going to a virtual whip and hollering, “C'mon, Two! C'mon Two! Get up, Twooooo!” But beneath that numerical shorthand for a horse's name, there's great appreciation for the equine athlete providing the gambling opportunity.
Brent Sumja, the 2013 NHC Tour champ who gave up a successful training career to become a professional horseplayer, wrote in his NHC bio form that if he won the $800,000 first-place money much of it would go toward retired racehorse aftercare: “I believe we need to pay back the amazing athletes who give us the opportunity to make a living from their efforts. They do not have IRAs or 401k accounts and I am constantly trying to do all I can by donating on each and every score I make.”
“They're providing entertainment for us,” Sumja (@BSumja on Twitter) said recently. “For some of us they're providing a living, whether training, breeding. The owners and breeders, they're kind of held responsible. Why shouldn't the gambler? If you're having a great day and make $10,000, what's wrong with putting a few hundred in an envelope and sending it to one of the aftercares? You should be paying them back for what they're doing for us. When I make a nice score, I give 10 percent. I'm hoping to set the example. But all I can do is my part and hope others will follow.”
Michael Beychok (@BeychokRacing) won the 2012 NHC tournament thanks to a horse named Glorious Dancer, the nose winner of a $8,000 maiden-claiming race at Golden Gate Fields. He claimed Glorious Dancer two races later.
“I knew when I won the title and I bought that horse that I had missed opportunities for years just not to give back to the horses,” said Beychok, who when receiving the handicapping Eclipse Award spoke about the importance of players contributing toward horses' care once they leave the track. “That horse changed my life, changed my outlook.
“They're not just a number. They're not slot machines. They're athletes, and they put everything they've got on the line and we benefit from them. So we've got to give back. I'm glad the trend is that people are starting to pay attention to that all over the country.”
Mike Maloney (@Silk1900), a professional handicapper and former horse owner from Lexington, Ky., is giving 10 percent of every copy sold from his book Betting with an Edge: A Professional Horseplayer's Life in Thoroughbred Racing (written with Daily Racing Form contest editor Peter Fornatale) to Old Friends equine retirement home and the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance accredits Thoroughbred retirement, retraining and adoption facilities while also raising funds for them. TAA representatives were on hand for the first time during Friday's Day 1 of the NHC, explaining the program and accepting donations from tournament players. One former NHC champion contributed $1,000.
“I think the horseplayer is really generous,” said Stacie Clark, the operations consultant who oversees the TAA. “We've found out lots of ways horseplayers have helped on their own. A couple of our advisory members are horseplayers, and we've gotten help from the NTRA and the AmTote company with the tote machines (giving bettors the option of donating a portion of winnings to TAA). I think horseplayers do care and they've just maybe not had the opportunity or found a way to give back to the horses. Now that we are part of the NHC and with the AmTote thing we've gotten ways to get more communication out to the horseplayers, and we're finding absolutely zero resistance. In fact, it's the opposite. They're really very giving and really interested in helping.”
Two-time NHC runner-up Roger Cettina (@skycraper6193), who builds skyscrapers in Manhattan, said he'd give $10,000 to aftercare causes if he wins and $5,000 if he is second.
“A lot of the horseplayers, guys here are just good people,” said Cettina, who made the top 70 cut to get in Sunday's semifinals. “Being an owner of horses, you really care about them. They're like an extension of your family.”
Paul Matties Jr. (@PaulMattiesJr), the 2016 NHC champ who owns horses, also is a diligent contributor to aftercare causes.
“It's a reflection of how important the animals are to the players,” he said. “It's not just about gambling…. Gambling is so pervasive now throughout the country. You gravitate to what's your interest. And I think the horses are a big part of it when people gravitate toward horse racing.”
Kevin Cox (@brooklyncowboy1), who makes selections for Saratoga Bets and is a Kentucky Downs analyst, is on the advisory board of the TAA and Old Friends at Cabin Creek retirement facility. Cox said that for several years he's committed 10 percent of any potential winnings to those causes. He said he recently raised that to 15 percent and added icareihelp, which rescues horses from slaughter auctions, and Mercy Ships.
“I put it on Twitter a lot,” Cox said. “I feel you get more people to donate if you don't ask them but just show them what you're doing…. We bred horses, so it's incumbent upon us to do the right thing. It's not like you're rescuing a butterfly. You're rescuing something we brought into the world. We took them into our lives…. There are a lot of guys in that room (at the NHC) that you wouldn't think would be active (donating to aftercare) but they really are. It's good to see.”
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