Former trainers Brent Sumja and Gary Johnson have already proven that horsemen can make an impact on the national handicapping contest scene. You can now add bloodstock agent/clocker Gary Young’s name to the list of horsemen who’ve proven themselves as handicappers. Young won $96,146 last weekend at the Del Mar Betting Challenge.
“I’ve been sitting in the grandstand in the mornings with a stopwatch in my hand since 1978,” Young said after his big win. “My experience there led me to go into business going to the 2-year-old sales to pick horses. I came out to California in 1981 to clock horses for the Winnick Stable. I didn’t set out to become one of the greatest of all time, I just did.”
One of Young’s proudest achievements was picking out Brocco, who won the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for Albert Broccoli, the famed producer of the “James Bond” films. Young also picked out two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute and multiple Grade 1 winner Evening Jewel. More recently, Young helped choose Tom’s Tribute, who became a Grade 1 winner July 20 at Del Mar in the Eddie Read Stakes.
Young, who started going to the track with his father when he was 5, is a newcomer to the contest world. “I haven’t had a lot of experience in handicapping contests, but I decided to enter this one,” he said. “I go into gambling mode when I’m at Del Mar because if you get it going here, you can make some serious cash.”
The format was one of the things that really appealed to Young. As an expert in horses’ physicality, he was able to go to the paddock for a close inspection before each one of his bets. The timing of the contest also had a role in his decision to play.
“The really attractive thing to me was that it was on a Saturday and Sunday at Del Mar,” he said. “If you put the fourth race at Delaware in front of me, I don’t think I’m the greatest handicapper in the world. But when I can handicap the horses that I’ve been clocking and watching in the morning, I have a lot of confidence in my ability.”
Young got off to a slow start in the contest and woke up Sunday with a lot of work to do. A business associate helped him start his march to the top.
“I work with Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbreds,” he said. “We bought Capo Bastone. And I know that they had been emphatic that Desert Steel, the filly who won the second race on Sunday, would be much better when she got on something other than dirt.”
He bet her to win and keyed her on top of a $20 trifecta. She paid $9.60 to win, and the tri came back at $66.80 for $1. Young was just getting started.
“I had watched Big Macher train for the Bing Crosby, and I think he’s a pretty good horse,” he said. “I had the race down to him and Goldencents. I knew Goldencents would be the favorite, but when I came up from the paddock and saw how good Big Macher looked and saw the price he was, it was time to throw the bomb. I bet him to win and put him on top of Goldencents in the exacta.”
Big Macher paid $21.20 to win, and the exacta paid $21.60. Young was now out in front. But there were two races left and an all-star cast of aggressive handicappers in behind him. He knew he had to make another move.
“Kool Kat is a filly I’ve always liked,” he said. “I shuddered when I saw she drew the 12 hole, but there were four scratches, so I went ahead and bet $1,000 win and place.”
Kool Kat just held on and paid $14 to win and $5.60 to place. Young credits her rider for the victory.
“Kent Desormeaux rode a masterful race,” he said. “He knew who he had to beat in that race, the Vicki Oliver horse from Churchill Downs [Personal Diary], and once he had her in the box, he was going to make sure she would not get through and would have to wait for him to go past to get out. She still almost got there. Kool Kat probably was not the best filly in that race, but Desormeaux won the race for her.”
Young was up $21,000 going into the last race, where he had an opinion but missed. The good news for him was that the next-best thing happened: the favorite won.
“I thought unless someone cold-decked the trifecta with one number, I’d be okay,” he said. Young ended up more than okay – he was almost $100,000 richer.
He spoke about what he looks for in terms of equine appearance: “In the morning, you like to see a horse where you like the way he moves, and he has a couple of gears left. In the paddock, you’re looking for a horse that knows what is coming up and is looking forward to it. There are numerous things a horse can do to let you know he is not looking forward to racing: sweating, nervousness, being too keyed up, grinding the bit.”
The way a horse moves can still be a part of Young’s paddock assessments: “You like to see a horse that’s walking with a fluid motion; you don’t want to see a stabby walk. I’ll see a horse walk in front of me, and I’ll either like the way the horse looks or not. It can be hard to put into words. And you have to know the horses. Some horses get a little sweaty every time and still run great. Going to the paddock has helped me a lot over the years, and it definitely helped me to win this contest.”
Young’s Del Mar meet is off to a tremendous start, but he remains optimistic that the best is yet to come. “Last Sunday, I got to watch Tom’s Tribute win the Eddie Read,” he said. “This Sunday, I won nearly a hundred grand in the Del Mar contest. I can hardly wait to see what happens next Sunday.”