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Woman defies horseplayer stereotypes en route to NHC score

Updated February 13, 2020 - 6:41 pm

It wasn’t hard to spot Ashley Taylor amid the many gray and bald heads gathered at the National Horseplayers Championship at Bally’s last weekend.

The 38-year-old wearing a Golden Knights hat was one of 40 women out of 564 players entered in the NHC.

It’s interesting to me that while many more women are involved in racing — riding, training and working in the barns — today, they are still relatively rare in the ranks of horseplayers.

So in the interest of perhaps changing that equation, let me share the story of Taylor’s fourth-place finish in the prestigious tournament.

Taylor grew up in Henderson and graduated from Green Valley High School before attending Chapman University in Southern California. She returned to Las Vegas after graduating for a few years before moving to the San Diego area about 10 years ago.

The self-described “sports girl,” who is a serious fantasy football player, ended up living in Solano Beach, which is fortuitously close to Del Mar.

“I started going for fun,” she said of her first forays to the track. “I had no idea what handicapping was. I didn’t know what went on behind it. I didn’t know that until over the years.”

Her big break, if you can call it that, was getting laid off from her job in medical device sales.

“I took a year off to work on my life resume instead of my job resume, and one of the things I decided to do was get more into handicapping,” she said.

She read everything she could find and joined the NHC Tour so she could put her knowledge into practice. That enabled her to qualify for the NHC in an online tournament.

If Taylor was intimidated by her rapid rise to the big leagues, she didn’t show it.

She stuck to her strategy of playing only horses at 10-1 or higher and rode a hot hand on the second day of the tournament to finish fourth, good for a $100,000 payday. She also won a paid entry into the Breeders’ Cup Handicapping Challenge, a $10,000 entry “real money” contest with a prize of $300,000 for the winner.

So what’s next for the handicapping wunderkind?

Well, she’s not quitting her day job after landing a new job in medical device sales, but she says she expects that handicapping will remain a potentially profitable avocation.

“I’m going to try to progress,” she said. “I’m not going to call myself a pro handicapper and do this all the time, but it’s always going to be a cool hobby.”

#RJhorseracing featured races

The #RJhorseracing handicappers are seeing double this week, as they tackle the split divisions of the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, Grade 2 races each worth 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner.

In the first division, which appears the tougher of the two 1⅛th-mile races for 3-year-olds, the handicapping crew is looking past 7-2 morning line favorite Enforceable and backing Silver State (4-1). They have Enforceable, winner of the LeComte Stakes (Grade 3) in his last start, to place and Blackberry Wine (5-1) to show.

I think Silver State is an astute pick, given the Steve Asmussen-trained colt encountered trouble in the LeComte, but I’m going further out on a limb with Scabbard (12-1), who also had an eventful trip in the same race. He’ll have to overcome the difficult 11 post, but top rider Joel Rosario climbs aboard to try to help him do it. I’ll go with Silver State to place and Enforceable to show.

In the second division, the crowd ’cappers are supporting 9-5 morning line favorite Anneau d’Or, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. They see Liam’s Lucky Charm (9-2) and Mailman Money (8-1) as his main threats.

I’m going to use one of the more unusual handicapping angles you’ll ever see — playing one-eyed Finnick the Fierce (10-1) as he gets off the rail and into a more comfortable outside post where his good eye will be able to see most of his competitors. I’ll use Anneau d’Or to place and Liam’s Lucky Charm to show.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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