New Year's Eve 2021 saw a close battle to the end of the 14-race card at Red Shores Charlottetown, and not just among horses and drivers. US Harness Writers Association (USHWA) Youth members of legal wagering age in their state/province were invited to handicap the only live races in Canada December 31, for non-cash prizes and bragging rights. It was a fun, skill-based competition, with zero pressure or expectation of betting.
Nicholas "Ace" Barnsdale (USHWA Canada chapter) opened the competition by being the lone handicapper to pick #9 Elm Grove Misty (Dave Kelly), a 2/1 winner in race 1. (The contest was judged based on hypothetical $2 win-place-show bet totals, as opposed to total number of winners.) Edison Hatter (Delaware Valley chapter) and Tony Elliott (Canada chapter) tied for the lead in race 2, when Barnsdale's selection #2 Lofty Shadow did not finish due to broken equipment; their co-selection #1 Montysgonemarble was the place finisher.
By race 4, Hatter had established himself as the leader: his top choice, #3 Desired Treasure, was second. Barnsdale moved up to second in the contest standings, as his pick, #1 Harbourlite Jerry, finished third. Despite three handicappers correctly giving out even-money winner #5 Whims Drop Off (Adam Merner) for race 5 (Nathan Bain, Barnsdale, and Jessica Hallett), Hatter's strategic choice of 13/1 place finisher #4 Jetta Flys extended his advantage over the competition. There was total consensus on race 6 winner #1 Agood Time To Rock (Ken Murphy), adding to everyone's totals.
By race 8, Leamington Handicapping Challenge winner Nathan Bain (Canada chapter) had moved up to a shared second behind Hatter, who retained his lead courtesy of his 5/1 place finisher #5 You Aint Dolly. Bain was briefly tied with Florida USHWA member Jessica Hallett, who had also successfully predicted 3/5 winner #3 Lock Her Up (Ken Arsenault) that race. In race 9, only Bain and Barnsdale, Leamington handicapping rivals from summer 2020, hit the board: #1 Woodmere Skyroller hung on for show in the Filly and Mare Open Pace won by upset-minded #7 Dreamfair Zenfire (Adam Merner).
Hatter maintained command as he, Bain, Hallett, and Barnsdale all went with eventual place finisher #4 Disneyman in race 10. The contest leader gained even more of an advantage in race 11, when his selection #2 Spack Jarrow finished third; no other handicapper's top choice finished in the top three, although Elliott's #1 J K Express was a close fourth.
With three more races to go until the end of the final card of 2020, favoured #1 Arc Light made an untimely break at the start of race 12, putting herself and supporters Bain, Barnsdale, and Hatter out of the top three. Hallett and Elliott's #9 Dreas Good Powow also missed the board, so results were unchanged going into race 13. Screen Test (#6, Corey MacPherson) next wired the Preferred-2 pacers, providing Hatter, Hallett, and Barnsdale with a 1/5 winner. Closer #4 Burn Out Hanover couldn't quite catch him, finishing second at 6/1 in a heartbreaker for Elliott's hypothetical bankroll.
In race 14, Hatter's choice #2 Tempo Seelster was sent off at 9/1, while Barnsdale and Elliott selected #1 Chocolate Swirl, the even-money post time favourite. Bain and Hallett went with #3 Creepin, after #8 Pillage and Burn (Bain's top pick) was scratched. Chocolate Swirl and Ken Arsenault coasted to a front-end victory, with a price that would determine the overall handicapping contest winner.
Hatter automatically won the competition when Chocolate Swirl returned $4.20 to win, $2.60 to place, and $2.20 to show. (Tempo Seelster finished sixth.) The racecalling apprentice to Pete Medhurst at Rosecroft Raceway and soon-to-be back-up to Ken Warkentin at Freehold Raceway closed out the night with $65.10 in hypothetical winnings, $1.50 ahead of Barnsdale ($63.60). Hallett was third in the contest ($54.60), with Bain fourth ($52.20), and Elliott ($35.60) also just one overlay away from the top three. Runner-up Barnsdale recorded the most winners (five) on the card, one ahead of Hallett (four).
Thank you to grand prize donor Lee Drake, Red Shores Manager of Racing, Brands, and Broadcast, who kindly provided a Gold Cup and Saucer gift pack. Additional prizes will be sent to all contest participants, as well as to two USHWA Youth members who were not of legal gambling age, a requirement to participate. Thank you to USHWA Youth Membership Committee members Janet Terhune, Director of the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame; Ellen Taylor, Executive Director of the Harness Horse Youth Foundation; and harness/horse racing game developer Ryan Clements (Off and Pacing, Catch Driver, Top Jockey, Turf Dynasty) for their generous support.
(Photo: Edison Hatter, USHWA Youth handicapping contest winner.)
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