01/29/2016 3:19PM

Family leads Draper to contest play, NHC


Douglas Draper has been a racing fan since 1964, when he was 14 years old.

“My father, Robert Draper, owned some horses and he took me to Aqueduct,” he said. “I played the daily double and walked out with $1,400. At that point, I was hooked.”

Draper, a bankruptcy lawyer who handled the sale of Fair Grounds to Churchill Downs, bonded with his father over the years about horse racing.

“Many years ago, I was in Chicago for a deposition and my father had a horse running at the old Arlington,” Draper said. “He said ‘Go make a bet for me.’ I told him I couldn’t, and he said “Look, just go do it.’ ”

He terminated his deposition and had his client drop him off at the Hilton that was next to the track. He walked out the back and got a winning bet down. Years later, Draper continued the family tradition of passing racing along to the next generation. He taught his daughter fractions via the splits in the Daily Racing Form.

About three years ago, Robert Draper’s health started to decline and he couldn’t get to the racetrack as often. Douglas found a solution – contest play.

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“It was a way for us to continue to enjoy racing together,” he explained. “My brother, my father, and I would have a call every Saturday and we’d go through the races – I assigned a track to each one and we’d make a collective ticket.”

The nuances of contest play were frequently discussed on these conference calls.

“Dad would explain to me why he liked a horse, and I’d point out that he was picking too many favorites,” he said. “Contests helped him start looking beyond the obvious and broke him from hitting the all button.”

Bryan Wagner, a former National Handicapping Championship Tour winner, is friendly with Douglas Draper.

“When I told him I was starting to play in contests he told me, ‘the best part about this is that you’ll meet people you’ll be friends with for the rest of your life,’ ” Draper said.

That’s proved true for Draper, who met a number of people last year – at his first NHC – who he became friendly with and is in touch with on a regular basis. But more than anything else, contests remained a great excuse to have long conversations about racing with his dad.

Pretty soon after they started playing, Robert Draper began entering contests on his own. He won the third contest he ever entered, a Saratoga tournament.

“He won $150 but he was happier than hitting a large pick four,” Douglas explained. “Just the thrill of competing against and beating other people.”

Last year, Douglas came up with a new goal. He wanted to win a seat to a travel tournament he could attend with his dad.

“I was hoping to have one last road trip with him,” he said. “Unfortunately, his health had declined and he couldn’t go.”

Robert Draper passed away on Dec. 17 at the age of 93.

“He worked selling electric wiring cable and he continued working until the end,” Douglas said. “Twelve days before he died, he summoned me up to New York to do a business transaction. The next day, he entered a contest and won on a horse that he never would have bet in a million years when he was just a cash player.”

Robert is obviously very much in Douglas’s thought at NHC 17. After Day 1, Douglsas was in 30th place with $114. He played a horse at Gulfstream on Thursday named My Father’s Eyes.

“The horse didn’t win, but I took it as a sign that I had to use an optional to play it,” he said.

“I’m thrilled to be here,” he said, when asked about his mental state. “I feel as though there’s someone watching over me.”