Retired autoworker Chris Littlemore was in control with two mandatory races left in Saturday’s 19th National Horseplayers Championship in Las Vegas. Littlemore leapfrogged Keith Fenton mid-afternoon and booked his ticket to Sunday’s semifinal round with a string of solid scores. He led with 273.10 cumulative points to Fenton’s 241.50. Daniel Hart, Mike Yurczyk and Earnest Powers completed the top five. 10% of the 700 entries, or 70 entries, will make Sunday’s semifinal. From there, the top 10 players advance to the afternoon’s Final Table, where a winner will be crowed. The tournament victor will bank $800,000 and earn an Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year. Other notables who looked on their way to the semifinal included Friday’s Day 1 winner Michael Ryan (13th at the time of writing), the 2015 NHC champ Jonathan Kinchen (31st), and Ten Strike Racing’s Clay Sanders (39th). Track announcer Vic Stauffer was on the outside looking in at 87, but was within striking distance.
LRF’s Fenton Enjoys NHC Tour Success
Early last year, Gary Fenton told his wife one of his goals was to make it to the National Horseplayers Championship in Las Vegas. It didn’t take long to make it happen. In his first year on the NHC Tour, Fenton finished fourth among all rookies, 113th of 3811 overall, and booked his ticket to Treasure Island with a late-season tournament win just before Thanksgiving.
“I know a lot of horseplayers, and have always had a lot of respect for what they do,” said Fenton. “Being on the tour this year, I have an even better appreciation for what they go through–the grind of it and the mentality it takes.”
Fenton is better known to most in the horse business as the co-managing partner of Little Red Feather Racing Club. But he hopes to add another title in the coming years: NHC champion. Fenton is already handling the tournament scene like and old pro. In Thursday’s Last Chance Tournament at Treasure Island, Fenton finished ninth, earning a second NHC entry.
Midway through Saturday’s action, Fenton was within striking distance of making Sunday’s semifinal: he was in 87th with 117.80 points. The top 70 make the semifinal.
Fenton might’ve had a few more bucks to his credit if contest rules didn’t state that players must declare ownership interests and forbids them from playing a race in which they own a horse. On Friday, LRF’s Secret Spice (Discreet Cat) ran a strong second in a Santa Anita allowance.
“It hurt me a little bit, because I didn’t cash in the Oaklawn race I had to play instead, and would’ve had her–she was training great,” he smiled. “But that’s happens.”
Fenton was always a racing fan growing up in Beverly Hills, and handicapping became a part of his love of the sport.
“My grandfather was a big gambler in Vegas, and I grew up gambling a little bit,” he said.
Fenton and LRF founder Billy Koch grew up a few blocks away from each other, and by the early 2000s, the men were putting together partnerships of college buddies, using different monikers for each one.
They went through four or five different names before a horse named Singletary came along under the Little Red Feather banner. The 2004 GI Breeders’ Cup Mile winner cemented that name, and after his success, they put together an actual business plan and began raising money. Some 13 years and 140-odd partnerships later, LRF is maybe the most recognized syndicate in California.
With time running out to make the cut, Fenton said he was just relishing the experience.
“I’m just going to try and keep battling,” he said. “This is fun. Being in here with everybody and seeing the process, it’s important for the industry, and I hope it continues to grow and people support it.”