Littlemore Takes NHC 2018

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Chris Littlemore | Lucas Marquardt photo

By Lucas Marquardt

On stage in the Treasure Island ballroom, Canadian Chris Littlemore breathed a literal sigh of relief yesterday as War Heroine (Lonhro {Aus}) dug in to take the Sweet Life S. at Santa Anita. The longtime leader, Littlemore had watched his advantage steadily dwindle during the final day of the National Horseplayers Championship in Las Vegas. But Littlemore picked War Heroine at 9-2 in the final mandatory race and, in the process, won the near $3 million NHC in exciting fashion. Littlemore will take home $800,000 for his efforts, as well as an Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year.

“I didn’t like the races that much today, and I got lucky that a lot of chalk came in, and that kept me on top,” said Littlemore, who began the day with a commanding $57 lead over second-placed Keith Fenton. “I didn’t have a good day today, but I just kept picking away.”

After an extended drought in the semi-final round, Littlemore was still on top as the field of 70 was whittled down to 10 at The Final Table. He picked up $5.60 by selecting the place horse in the first of the seven mandatory races in the final, which helped him regain confidence.

“Any time you score, it changes your mindset,” he said. “You feel better about yourself and how you’re looking at the races. As the day wore on, I just kept missing, but did have a place score on a 25-1 that nearly won, which would’ve been huge.”

Still, after six final-round races in the book, Littlemore’s lead had dropped to $16.80. Everything came down to the Sweet Life S., where War Heroine was stepping on to the turf for the first time.

“I was fortunate that no big long shots came in to overtake me,” he said. “I picked the right horse in the last one, and that got me through.”

It wasn’t Littlemore’s first score at Treasure Island, where the NHC is held annually. He won an NHC consolation tournament a few years back. “That tournament gave me the confidence I could be competitive [at the highest levels], and I’m just lucky here, I guess.”

Littlemore became the third Canadian to win the NHC and the second consecutive. Fellow countryman Ray Arsenault won in 2017.

“It’s just something in the water up there,” Littlemore laughed.

Littlemore is a retired autoworker who lives about 30 miles outside of Toronto.

“I was an autoworker for 31 years, and now I just like to play tournaments and bring my son to hockey,” he said. “I’m just a normal guy.”

Fenton also came up with War Heroine in the day’s finale, helping him to regain second-place honors from Garett Skiba.’

The final leaderboard stood as such:

1 Chris Littlemore 348.3

2 Keith Fenton 315.1

3 Garett Skiba 314

4 Tom Noone 287.6

5 Stephanie Schmidt 277.9

6 Scott Carson 267.8

7 Gloria Kahlden 262.5

8 David Watts 260.7

9 John Roe 260.1

10 Daniel Hart 256.1

Paul Matties Jr., the 2016 NHC winner, didn’t make it to the semifinals, but came away with a prize nonetheless. The Ballston Spa, NY, resident won the $50,000 consolation tournament, edging Lawrence Kahlden by the narrowest of margins, 100.8 to 100.6. Matties picked up a check for $10,000 for the win. Kahlden is the husband of Final Table finalist Gloria Kahlden.

Ladies were well-represented on the NHC Final Table. Despite comprising just 6% of the tournament players, two of the 10 finalists, 20%, made it to the final. Stephanie Schmidt, who qualified from a Del Mar tournament, came to the Final Table in fourth. She concluded in fifth with $277.90. Gloria Kahlden of St. Petersburg, FL, who has horses in training with Tom Amoss, finished in seventh with $262.50. Kahlden had a good week in Vegas, and not just at the NHC. She hit for nearly $44,000 on a Treasure Island slot machine, too. For footage of that tremendous celebration, click here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxBNKZvpy6Q).

For the full leaderboard of the NHC, visit www.ntra.com.

Owner Sanders Goes 14th at NHC

A week ago, Ten Strike Racing’s Clay Sanders knew he had a least one entry in the NHC. A second possible entry, meanwhile, was just on the bubble. But a last-minute defection by another player opened the door for Sanders, and that turned out to be a big stroke of luck: it was on that second entry that Sanders advanced into yesterday’s semi-final in Las Vegas.

(If you’re unfamiliar with the NHC, tournament rules allow for players to qualify for two entries, but no more. So there were 702 entries in 2018, but only 568 individual players.)

Sanders started the day in 39th at $189.90, but after cashing the 5-1 Could Be (Candy Ride {Arg}) in the first at Gulfstream, jumped all the way to sixth on the leaderboard. With just two races to play, he slipped out of the Top 10 and checked in at 14th. That’s a big finish for someone making his second appearance at the NHC. His first came in 2015.

Sanders is a Memphis-based financial analyst who, along with fellow NHC qualifier Marshall Gramm, owns Ten Strike Racing. Ten Strike has been on its own hot streak of late. They own the 3-year-old filly Cheponera (Flat Out), who easily won a Churchill maiden claimer in November, then made the big jump into allowance company and cleared off by 3 1/4 lengths in $76,000 event at Oaklawn Feb. 2. Cheponera next targets the

GIII Honeybee S. at Oaklawn.

Sanders says he became a fan of racing and handicapping growing up in Arkansas.

“People probably don’t realize it, but Oaklawn on Saturdays is the place to go,” he said. “There are huge crowds on the weekends. So some of my buddies grew up going there, and I’d go with them sometimes. I’m a numbers guy, so I was quickly hooked. When I graduated college, a lot of people were golfing on the weekends, and I’d go to bet the horses.”

As his career took off, Clay became involved in horse ownership, too.

“I randomly met Marshall at a banquet,” said Sanders. “He’s an economist and a professor at Rhodes College, and we had invited him to speak to our group. He mentioned how he does all his research on sports betting and playing horses, and my eyes lit up. It’s kind of a lonely sport; there aren’t too many people who can speak the language when you’re a hardcore handicapper.”

The two became friends and would meet up for lunch once a month. “We’d talk and bounce ideas off each other,” said Sanders. “We eventually began buying horses together, and now I talk to him 10 times a day. My wife calls him my second wife.”

Ten Strike has won owners titles at Monmouth and several at Parx, and is perennially a leading owner at Oaklawn, too. Sanders has also owned pieces of the Grade I winners Dayatthespa (City Zip), Watsdachances (Ire) (Diamond Green {Fr}), Mind Your Biscuits (Posse) and Desert Blanc (GB) (Desert Style {Ire}).

“The whole game is about diversification and having more bullets.” said Sanders. “We breed, we own pieces of stallions, we do some pinhooking.”

But at the end of the day, Sanders said he and Gramm are handicappers first.

“A lot of people who own horses only handicap on the side,” he said. “But we play the races every day. We both just love the science of figuring out who’s going to win.”

He added of the NHC, “This is basically a horseplayers conference. Even if you don’t have a shot at winning, it’s so much fun because of the camaraderie. Some of our best friends in horse racing, we’ve met here.”

Ten Strike itself was well-represented at the NHC, with a total of six partners competing.

 

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