03/10/2014 11:59AM

Tony Brice chats about NHC aftermath, bad streaks, and a sentimental pick

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NHC 15 second-place finisher Tony Brice has become a handicapping contest fan favorite, both for his handicapping acumen, general excellent sportsmanship, and his personal story – his wife was laid off before the NHC, so the $200,000 he won was truly a life-altering score. Brice won the NHCQualify.com this past weekend, and I caught up with him Sunday night.

What have you been up to since you got back from Las Vegas?

I went straight to my credit union with the check when I landed. I think I’ve been sleeping a little better since then. And my wife just yelled, “Me too!” from the other room. Her job search continues, but she’s not quite under the pressure she was before.

And how’ve things been going betting-wise?

It’s been a desert for me since I got back from Vegas. I haven’t been able to focus enough and my life’s just been crazy. Today I finally got focused a bit and I managed to have winners in five out of the 12 races on NHCQualify.com and a few them paid pretty well. I guess I’m going to Vegas again.

Tell me more about this bad streak you were on – that’s certainly something a lot of players can relate to.

Yesterday I played in a contest at Lone Star Park and a few people recognized me and wanted to talk about the NHC. I ended up doing horribly. By the end of the day I wanted to put on a pair of glasses with a big nose and a mustache just to walk out of there.

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Have you had any close calls?

Three weeks ago I missed qualifying for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge on BCQualify.com by 40 cents. And in the last race, I switched off the winner at the last minute. I thought I might need slightly longer odds than my top choice but sure enough, the odds drifted up at the last second and my original top pick won – it was the opposite of what happened to me at the NHC. It’s a razor-thin margin in these things.

What advice do you have for players going through rotten runs like that?

Keep looking forward. I’m also a songwriter and I go up to Nashville a lot. And as somebody who has tried to make it in the music business, you hear “no” an awful lot and you learn to just move on to the next thing, whatever it is. And with horse racing, I just move on to the next tournament or betting opportunity. Turn your attention to the next thing and don’t look back.

Since you mentioned songwriting, is there a particular racing-themed song that you admire?

There’s an old George Jones song, “The Race is On,” Sawyer Brown covered it again in the ’80s. It’s not really about horse racing but it uses horse racing as a metaphor. It’s always fun to listen to as a horse racing fan for a lot of the terminology that’s in there.

So you know the one horse I have to ask you about from Sunday...

You caught that, huh?

And so as I saw Fit to Rule – the horse who secured your NHC second – was entered, I knew who you were playing in that race. Was it a sentimental choice?

I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t taking a little stroll down memory lane when I made my final decision there – mostly I remembered how Fit to Rule strolled down the lane to make me an extra $100,000! My only worry with him was going back to the mile. Mark Glatt had claimed him from O’Neill in his next race after the NHC. And Fit to Rule looked to be training well for Glatt and he had shown some mile ability. I’m in love with the horse and he was a great price [10-1 off a 6-1 morning line] so it was like he was saying, “Bet me! Bet me!”

I noticed you played a pretty short price, Carve, late in the day at Oaklawn. Was that a play you only made because you were already doing so well?

That’s just who I liked in the race. I thought it was a two-horse race and it felt right to go with my top pick.

In the next race, you had another winner in the 6-1 range. Was that always one you wanted to play?

I had a lot of confidence in Mythical Storm, a first-time starter. That downhill course is so unusual that typically I like to bet a horse who has some experience on it. But only one horse in there had run down the hill and he didn’t scare me. It looked to me like Gary Mandella had Mythical Storm ready for a good effort first out and it was a jock I knew I could trust in [Rafael] Bejarano.

Is there anything new in your handicapping or the way you’re approaching contests since the NHC?

I learned this from Dirk Nowitzki. Every year he’s been a Dallas Maverick he spends the off-season working on whatever his weakness is. I want to do the same thing. I’ve tried to brush up on my trainers, especially in Southern California. I think it’s so important to be able to assess trainer intent. After Vegas I thought that maybe my lack of familiarity with the trainers out there might have cost me $550,000.