09/19/2014 3:28PM

Mayo, chairman of NTRA Players’ Committee, dies at 59


Mike Mayo, chairman of the NTRA Players’ Committee and a tireless advocate for horseplayer rights, died at his home in Texas, surrounded by friends and family, on Thursday. He was 59.

Mayo, who never smoked, was diagnosed with lung cancer this summer. He decided to forego treatments that were unlikely to help, instead choosing to spend his final months doing what he loved – spending time with his family, especially wife Marsha, and seeing friends in Las Vegas and at Del Mar.

Mayo, a Texas native with a booming voice and strong opinions, was a regular on the tournament scene, a 10-time qualifier for the National Handicapping Championship who won several important contests. His contributions to horseplayers and the game they love were many. As chairman of the NTRA Players' Committee, Mayo was instrumental in the birth of the NHC Tour and the expansion of the NHC finals.

Keith Chamblin, NHC contest director, was always impressed by Mayo's drive and vision. Chamblin said, "Beyond the pari-mutuel windows and out of sight from most tournament players, Mike had a lasting and profound impact on the development and growth of the NHC, handicapping tournament play, and Thoroughbred horse racing in general."

Mayo was a big believer in the Final Table format that debuted in 2014 and even gave up the chance to qualify last year so he could be on hand in an administrative role, making sure the new format ran smoothly. By most accounts, it was the most successful renewal in the event's 15-year history.

Mayo also felt strongly that a horseplayer should sit on the board of directors of the NTRA and lobbied for years to get this goal accomplished. Just over a month ago, his vision became a reality when former NHC champion Judy Wagner became the first player appointee to the board.

"Make no mistake, I'm here because of all the work that Mike Mayo did," Wagner said shortly after her appointment.

Mayo was also an expert in tax law for horseplayers, having fought and won many battles with the IRS himself over the years. He'd host an annual Las Vegas seminar with his longtime playing partner, Ken Massa of HTR handicapping software, aimed at educating players about tax issues.

Funeral arrangements are pending, but Mayo asked that in lieu of flowers, horseplayers and friends consider a contribution to Old Friends farm, which cares for retired racehorses. Contributions can be made to Old Friends, 1841 Paynes Depot Road, Georgetown, KY 40324 or online via PayPal at www.oldfriendsequine.org.