Retired autoworker Chris Littlemore of Whitby, Ontario, grabbed the lead on Saturday’s Day 2 of the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) and continued to hold sway on Sunday to land the $800,000 grand prize at Treasure Island Las Vegas. Littlemore also earned an Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year, along with other prizes including entries in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship and next year’s NHC Finals.
The second straight Toronto-area NHC champion, after Ray Arsenault in 2017, Littlemore started Sunday with $311.70 in his mythical bankroll, more than $50 clear of nearest pursuer Keith Fenton’s $260.70. During Sunday’s semifinal action, both players increased their totals but Fenton narrowed the gap.
As the scene shifted to the climactic Final Table on Sunday afternoon, featuring the top 10 in the standings, Littlemore had $326.30 compared to Fenton’s $292.70. Garett Skiba had also advanced into third Sunday with $286.60.
Littlemore’s margin was eroded slightly by Fenton going into the last race, but he tabbed the winner of the finale – the 9-2 War Heroine in Santa Anita’s 9TH, the Sweet Life S. – to clinch the title with $348.30 in his mythical account.
“I didn’t feel that confident,” Littlemore said of entering Day 3 as the leader. “I didn’t like the card that well; I didn’t like the races. I got lucky that a lot of chalk came in and kept me on top. I kept my distance.
“As the day wore on, I wasn’t having a good day, so I just kept picking away, picking away. I was fortunate enough that no big long shots came in to overtake me, and I picked the right horse in the last and it got me through.”
Fenton of Fort Worth, Texas, just held runner-up honors ($315.10) from Skiba of Hinsdale, Illinois, whose last score with War Heroine pushed his bankroll very close, but not quite enough, at $314. Second place was worth $250,000 to Fenton, while Skiba’s near-miss in third netted him $125,000.
Going into NHC 2018, Littlemore had said that his favorite handicapping contest memory was winning the NHC’s Consolation Contest back in 2016. Now the 58-year-old father of two has scored the ultimate NHC prize, besting a record field of 702 entries.
“It’s life-changing for me,” Littlemore said. “I’m paying for their (his kids’) education now, and that’s great. It’s ironic. I’ve got a buddy I retired with from work. He won $1 million two weeks ago on the lottery in Canada. For me to do this two or three weeks after that is astonishing, really. It’s nuts.”
Littlemore could be in line for an even bigger life-changing score. As the NHC champion, he’s eligible for a $3 million Rolling Double bonus if he adds the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge in November.