07/27/2016 10:47AM

Fort Larned helped launch Harrod's contest career


Shea Harrod discovered contests completely by accident. Harrod, a 31-year-old lifelong racing fan, works in digital imaging for Lands’ End in Wisconsin. Back in 2012, he was attending the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita when he decided to take a walk around FrontRunner, the upscale restaurant bar area upstairs where a lot of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge participants hang out.

“I looked around and I was very impressed,” said Harrod. “There were all these computers and detailed printouts and I thought I’d wandered in on a NASA convention.”

One of the players started chatting with Harrod and asked his opinion in that year’s Classic. Harrod was a Fort Larned fan, and made his case to the tournament player about why he liked him. After the race, which Fort Larned won at 9-1 the guy congratulated him and said, “You should think about playing in this tournament.”

He liked the idea of tournaments but his schedule and general life craziness didn’t permit an immediate foray. Still, the idea stuck with Harrod. When DRF ran a rookies-only National Handicapping Championship qualifier in 2015, he got involved.

He didn’t win, but he liked the experience and wanted more of it. “I thought that if I focused more on contests it would make me a better handicapper,” he said, noting that he’s definitely seen an improvement in his multi-race play.

This year he’s tasted success, winning entries into both a Santa Anita live-bank contest and also the Monmouth Pick Your Prize contest, both via DRF Qualify events. This past weekend, he won his way into the National Handicapping Championship via DRF Tournaments. The weekend didn’t start as he’d planned.

“I played for a Breeders’ Cup seat on Saturday and I got nothing,” he said, “but part of being successful in racing is realizing there are days when you’ll be completely stuck and not letting that get you down.”

Heeding that advice, Harrod was back at it on Sunday, but first he had to overcome some technical issues. “I thought my power was out but it turned out the dog had just chewed through the electrical cable,” he said.

Undaunted, he took the 40-mile drive to Dubuque Greyhound Park in Iowa to play from there. The night before, as is his custom, he studied the printed Racing Form he’d annotated with his lucky orange marker. He fell asleep clutching it like a baby’s blanket. One horse had stood out to him in the contest sequence: Derby Champagne.

“He was getting back to his best distance and he seemed like a good traveler,” Harrod said. “I thought he might be ready for Saratoga.”

The appeal only increased when he saw that jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. was riding well on the card. “Everything about Derby Champagne stood out to me.”

The horse won at 29-1 and Harrod started celebrating wildly. His compatriots at Dubuque, more interested than dogs than horses, looked at him like he was insane.

Naturally, Harrod is thrilled about attending the NHC. “I can check it off my racing fan bucket list,” he said.

He is interested in obtaining a second seat for the NHC but he has another goal for the year as well: to follow that advice given him in 2012 and play in the BCBC, too. He has been putting money away so he’ll definitely be there one way or the other but Plan A is to qualify, either at a live event or through BCQualify. “I can’t believe I’m going to get to play in both of those great tournaments in only my second year,” he said.

However he makes it to Santa Anita for the BCBC, he already knows the first thing he wants to do.

“I want to find that guy who I talked to about Fort Larned and say, 'Hey, I made it!' "