Detroit Race Course started her path toward TSOHS win
by Ed DeRosa
Betty Christian's path toward winning the TwinSpires Online Handicapping Series and earning a seat at the National Handicapping Championship began at age 11 when her family moved from Tennessee to suburban Detroit.
Following that 500-mile journey it took another15 years before Christian discovered horse racing, but one trip to Detroit Race Course with her brothers soon led to many others, including visits to Hazel and Raceway Parks. None of those three venues conduct Thoroughbred racing anymore.
The wagering did not begin in earnest until she retired from General Motors following 33 years of service, but even at work she found a way to enjoy the races.
"I used to take my breaks in the back because I would be able to hear the race call from DRC," Christian said referring to Detroit Race Course by its acronym. "I have three brothers, and we all like to play the horses."
Christian, 74, qualified for the TSOHS final in July, but four months of anticipation turned to melancholy after just seven races when she had $6.20 following a winner in the opener but nothing since.
The Golden Rod Stakes was the eighth race up, which meant the contest would be more than half over following this race, and Christian was ready to make her move by selecting 31-to-1 longshot Seaneen Girl. The Spring At Last filly went on to win by a half-length from favored Gal About Town to give Christian $85.60 and a big boost in the standings.
"I just wasn't doing too well, but once I hit that longshot things really seemed to start clicking," Christian said, adding that her strategy is to look for longshots competitive at the current class coupled with top jockeys. Miguel Mena, who ranked third by earnings and fourth by wins at the recently concluded Churchill meeting, was aboard Seaneen Girl for new trainer Bernie Flint following a runner-up finish behind Spring Venture in the Grade 3 Mazarine at Woodbine.
"Hitting that one in the Golden Rod gave me some confidence, and then I started making all the right moves," said Christian, who scored in four of the final five races, including the last three, to take over the lead.
She used Tap To Magic, a dead-heat winner of contest race 13 who paid more to place ($6.80) than to win because of the dead heat. She then landed on Dancing to the Stars, a 9.8-to-1 winner of contest race 14. Pussycat Lips' rally fell short to gate-to-wire winner Travesura in the final contest race, but her furious rally was good enough for second and generous place money of $10.20 thanks to 9-to-10 favorite Premier Steps finishing off the board.
"Garrett Gomez is one of the jockeys I like to play, and he finished second in the last race," Christian said. "The favorite was overbet, so I was thinking a longshot in the top two would be enough for me, and it was. I was so excited when I saw my name on top at the end."
Christian is not the first person in her family to qualify for the NHC. One of her brother's sons has competed, and she said she'll be relying on his experience to help her prepare for a shot at the $750,000 top prize. Christian said that one of her biggest adjustments will be placing contest selections with a live teller after using TwinSpires.com for the past five-six years.
"I do almost all of my playing on the internet now," Christian said. "I have to keep my mind busy in retirement, and this is something I enjoy."
She will also have to get accustomed to selecting optional races since the TwinSpires Online Handicapping series uses a model of all mandatory races. However, Michael Beychok did not have a problem making that adjustment last year when finishing third in the 2011 TSOHS final and first in the NHC.
Christian said her favorite horse is Zenyatta even though the certain future Racing Hall of Fame inductee cost her a contest win in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic -- but not because Christian needed her to win but because she bet against her!
"She was the even money favorite, and I thought I'd need a bigger price than that, so I picked against her," Christian said. "As it turns out, I only lost by $3."
Zenyatta was the even money favorite and would have paid $4 to win. She fell a head short of Blame but still paid $3.60 to place, which would have given Christian the win. It's a lesson she plans to keep in mind at the NHC.
"I'm going to keep playing every week to stay sharp," Christian said. "I like Fridays and Saturdays best, and that's the days of the (NHC). Hopefully I'll be able to study the past performances a few days in advance. I just hope I can do the best I can."
Christian has a son and two grandchildren, but the racing bug has been slower to infest her branch of the family tree.
"I've brought my grandchildren before and told them grandma would split whatever she wins with them, but they weren't too interested," Christian said. "They liked when we won, but it can be a long time between races."
That will not be an issue for Christian at the NHC, who -- along with about 450 other players -- will have to navigate 30 races over a two-day period, including the addition of a "best bet" from among the eight mandatory races each day.