As the two-day The BIG One was about to begin, Ted Apple smiled at his wife Cheryl and retreated to his upstairs “man cave” that he calls “The Paddock.” Cheryl knew that meant he had a contest to play, but Ted didn’t share any further details with her. “I didn’t want to say anything about the money involved, knowing how many really excellent horseplayers there were in it,” he said. “I was just hoping to finish in the Top 10.”
Apple, a 69-year-old retired Army civilian employee now living in Fairfield Glade, Tennessee, achieved that goal and then some. He rode a torrid hot streak during the second-half of Day 1 to defeat 54 others and earn $91,550 and a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat.
Not a bad return for a $46 investment.
“Getting in was a three-step process for me,” Apple admitted. “About a month or so ago, I won a $46 feeder, then I won the qualifier right after. I’m not one who was going to buy in for $7,500. I play a lot…but I don’t like to pay a lot!”
Heading into The BIG One, though, Apple was not exactly brimming with confidence — and not just because of the caliber of his opponents.
“Frankly, I just hadn’t been playing too well prior to Saturday.”
Nevertheless, Apple stuck with his customary preparation routine of reviewing all the contest races in advance and jotting down horses he might be interested in playing. Despite having to make 12 picks out of 30 available races, Apple only played two of the first 10…and neither of those did anything. His fortunes took a change for the better, though, when he hit 8-1 winner Helena Beat in the 8th at Monmouth.
“For some reason, after just hitting that one horse, I suddenly got confident,” he said.
The Helena Beat race went off at 3:59 pm. That began a 59-minute tear that saw Apple reel off Helena Beat, 7-1 Batyah (4:11 pm), 22-1 Lucky Lover Boy (4:28 pm) and 8-1 Gennie Highway (4:58 pm). In an hour’s time, Apple had gone from trying to fight his way out of a slump to having a sizable lead in The BIG One.
“I couldn’t believe I had such a hot run given how I had been playing before Saturday. I thought Lucky Lover Boy was a play at 10-1 or better and that Gennie Highway was worth a play at 4-1. When I first looked at the race, I worried she might even be the favorite. By the time she won, I was feeling pretty good. I went straight to the HorseTourneys site and scrolled way back to the blogs from last year’s Big One, checked the final scores and told myself, ‘All I have to do is have a decent day on Sunday and I’ll be in the top 10.”
Finishing in the top 10 was important to Apple. Doing so would assure him of a spot in either the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge or the NHC — two events he had never managed to qualify for in the past.
“I’ve taken a couple shots at getting into the NHC in the past, but that’s really hard to do,” he said almost wistfully.
Now was his chance, though. And despite blanking on his final five Saturday picks, Apple still retained a nice $22.90 advantage over his closest pursuer, Wendy Long.
That lead grew further when Apple nailed prophetically-named 9-2 winner If Not Now in Sunday’s first available contest race the 5th at Monmouth.
Then came a stretch that we all can relate to, but none of us want to experience — and especially not when there is big money on the line — nine consecutive losers with not even so much as a runner up in the bunch.
“It was a frustrating drought,” he said. “I kept thinking I’d be passed by several others, but I didn’t get down on myself. I kept hoping that if my horse didn’t win, then chalk WOULD.”
For the longest time, Apple succeeded in dodging that enemy fire — until Giuseppe Petrella landed 21-1 shot Inconvenient Facts at Monmouth. For the first time in about 24 hours, Apple was not in front.
Apple had four plays left at this point, but, as noted earlier, plays 9 and 10 worked out no better for him than did plays 2 through 8. Still, he decided to largely stick with the horses he had picked out at the beginning of the day, and his favorite one was coming up next — Wild Embrace in the fourth-to-last contest race of the day, the 13th at Monmouth.
“She dropped to 3-2 at one point, which concerned me, but I’ve never been so sure a horse was going to win,” Apple recounted. “She was early in her form cycle, she showed speed and tired two back, then she ran on good turf and went :21-flat to the quarter and just over :44 to the half. I felt that moving to today’s firm surface, she wouldn’t get beat.”
Apple was right. Wild Embrace easily wired the field, and her price even drifted back up to 2-1. He now had the lead back with one race to go, the 11th at Woodbine.
He settled on 9-1 Malibu Mandate in the 8-horse finale, but it turned out he had the wrong 9-1 shot as Jacoba held on to win at those same odds, while Malibu Mandate could do no better than fourth. At this point, Apple went straight to the leaderboard to see who the others had. If any of the closest five with a pick left used Jacoba, he would be defeated.
No one did. In fact, no one higher than 41st place had Jacoba.
“I breathed a big sigh of relief,” Apple said. Then I just sat there for a few minutes. When I was sure the results were final, I went back downstairs and dropped the bombshell on Cheryl.”
“You won HOW MUCH money?” she exclaimed. “Are you SURE?”
Ted was sure and, as a result, Cheryl will soon be replacing the 2008 Volvo that she has been driving around for the past dozen years. She and Ted also look forward to going on a cruise together, possibly to the South Pacific, once such travel seems a bit safer. In the meantime, Ted will be sharpening his skills for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, which he decided upon over the NHC and Pegasus after mulling it over for a bit. Between Breeders’ Cup time and now, he can bask in the glory of a weekend he will never forget.
“I had finished second or third in a couple of Big Bucks tourneys and had qualified for Keeneland contests a couple of times through HorseTourneys, but nothing like this,” Ted said of some of his prior contest successes. “The most money I had ever won came at the track years ago at Monmouth when we lived in New Jersey. I made $8,000 on a $10 daily double bet when an 85-1 horse won the second half. This weekend was bigger by an order of magnitude than anything I’d ever won before, though. It was enormous for me.”
If the weekend wasn’t already memorable enough, Monificent, a New York-bred daughter of Uncle Mo that Ted and Cheryl own a small percentage in through Bloodlines Racing Partnerships, broke her maiden at Belmont Park. Now it’s hopefully on to bigger and better things for Monificent.
And for Ted Apple too.