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.
Ellis Starr’s Risen Star Stakes (Div 2) analysis
On the heels of tabbing Sole Volante in last week’s Kentucky Derby prep race, the Tampa Bay Derby, I am going with Modernist to post the upset in this year’s Risen Star Stakes. Although Anneau d’Or has higher Equibase Speed Figures of 101 and 106, respectively, in his last two starts, there are a number of factors in favor of Modernist stepping up and winning. First, the son of Uncle Mo has improved nicely in both route starts since his sprint debut last September. Modernist finished third with a 91 figure in December in a one-turn mile in December then in his three year old debut on January 25, he earned a new career-best 93 figure at the mile and one-eighth distance of the Risen Star, making him the only horse in the field to have run this distance. Trainer Bill Mott has proven to be an excellent judge of where to place his horses and knows when to make the big jump from the maiden ranks to stakes. Using the great research tool STATS Race Lens, I note Mott’s record in dirt route stakes with horses which won their maiden races in their previous start is a strong nine-for-38 in the past few years. Included in that list is Tacitus in the 2019 Tampa Bay Derby. Another two horses Mott has felt strongly about when racing in stakes off maiden wins were Hofburg, who was the runner-up in the 2018 Florida Derby and possibly most importantly Country House, who finished second in last year’s Risen Star before winning the Kentucky Derby. Getting the ground saving rail for the Risen Star, Modernist should be in a great spot from start to finish under regular rider Junior Alvarado and hopefully can add to Mott’s Hall-of-Fame career with another graded stakes win.
Anneau d’Or has done little wrong in three races and deserves to be the public betting choice near post time. He debuted last fall in a turf route and easily disposed of the field with an eight length win. Stepping way up into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile a little over one month later, Anneau d’Or gave winner Storm the Court all he could handle when battling head-and-head for the entire length of the stretch before losing by a head and earning a very strong 106 figure. A little over one month later on December 7 Anneau d’Or once again found himself in a stretch long battle, this time with Thousand Words, coming up a neck short on the finish line to earn a 103 figure. Since then the colt has trained regularly at trainer Blaine Wright’s base in Northern California. Adding blinkers for the Risen Star, Anneau d’Or gets the services of Joel Rosario for the first time which can only help his chances to run big in his three year old debut and put his name on everyone’s list of top three year olds.
Mailman Money is one of two colts in the Risen Star trained by Bret Calhoun, the other Mr. Big News (who is not without a chance either). Mailman Money won his debut in late November at six furlongs very nicely in a field of 12, earning a 90 figure in the process. Stretched out to two-turns against allowance company last month at Fair Grounds, Mailman Money ran even better, opening up a four and one-half length lead at the top of the stretch and widening to cross the finish line five and three-quarter lengths in front. Not only does Mailman Money have familiarity with the track, but the 97 figure earned is the second best two-turn last race figure in the field, and within range of the 101 figure Anneau d’Or earned in the Los Alamitos Futurity with logical improvement in the third start of his career.
Major Fed is another recent winner at Fair Grounds with a figure (96) which warrants including him on my contender list. He finished third in his sprint debut near the end of November but when stretched out to two-turns on New Year’s Day (adding blinkers as well), Major Fed proved to be a much better horse. With the only other foal of his dam being Zapperini, who was fifth in the 2016 Risen Star and who went on to earn over a quarter million dollars, Major Fed rounds out a quartet with a shot to take the top honors in this field.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Excession (87), Fame to Famous (94), Finnick the Fierce (91), Liam’s Lucky Charm (104), Lynn’s Map (92), Mr. Big News (91), Ny Traffic (82) and Truculent (82).