October 24, 2021

Brisnet Helps Propel Mustari to NHC Champion

2021 NHC champion Justin Mustari (photo by Horsephotos.com)

When it comes to past performances, these are his father’s PPs, and Justin Mustari couldn’t be happier about it.

Mustari, 26, became the youngest horseplayer to win the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s National Handicapping Championship (NHC), and the lifelong horseplayer credits Brisnet with helping him get there.

“On a normal day, I’m looking at Brisnet PPs first to get an idea of how the race will set up, and what each horse in the race is capable of,” Mustari said. “Once Brisnet gives me a sense of the competitiveness of the group then I’ll look at Ragozin (Sheets) for a sense of how each horse is coming into the race.

“With dirt races, sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the fastest horse. Trip matters more in turf races, and Brisnet Pace ratings give you an idea where horses will be. The data really helps you set up the race in your head. Especially with playing exactas and tris you can get creative with who could close or stick around.”

Mustari got into handicapping via his family. His father is a student of the game and an accomplished tournament player. His grandfather is more the $2 type. Despite his $725,000 score, the youngest Mustari still says his dad is the family’s best player.

“My dad’s taught me everything,” Mustari said. “I work with him and still live at home, and there are so many days that we just talk horses. It’s not just the weekend, it’s seven days a week. Over the past five years that I’ve been getting into the tournament scene, he’s helped me grow and get better. I never would have gotten to this point on my own.”

Speaking of on his own, Mustari said he plans to use the NHC money to help buy a house. He’s also cautious of not getting overconfident in terms of chasing tournament success just because he has the capital now. That said, he is considering the Grade 1 Gamble in October at Keeneland, and part of his NHC prize is a $10,000 buy in to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge in November at Del Mar.

“It’s easy to get the feeling that you’re the best—you get an Eclipse Award, but this was just my weekend,” a humble Mustari said. “This can’t happen every weekend, and I’m not going to play everything moving forward or change my strategy. I’ll play the same way I’ve always played, and hopefully success will continue. I don’t care how good you are: you’re never guaranteed anything in this game.”

Mustari has experience in other pressure-filled situations thanks to his career in golf. He played for Aurora University and flirted with attempting to make the Tour before deciding to stick to the local events in Illinois.

“I’d definitely give credit to gold in terms of teaching me patience and being relaxed,” Mustari said. “Golf has helped keep me calm. Understanding the right to play it safe or to go for it—whether it’s play for birdie or go for the big tournament win.”

Mustari went for the win at the NHC, deciding to play a 19-to-1 Carla Gaines trainee at Del Mar rather than “chip up” the leaderboard for more prizemoney. Rose’s Crystal got the money, and so did Mustari.

“I had a strong opinion in that race, but the price wasn’t right,” Mustari said. “I told my dad I wanted to go for it, and he mentioned that it could cost me 25, maybe $50,000 if I didn’t score, but this was the only way to win. I told my dad, ‘I have to go for it.’”

Mustari lives in Des Plaines, Ill., which allows him to add his name to a long list of accomplished Chicagoland horseplayers such as previous NHC champion Jim Bene, previous Tour winner David Gutfreund, and Churchill Downs analyst Joe Kristufek.