When Dan Wilde woke up on Saturday morning, he knew he had a long road ahead.
With a Day 1 score of $39.60, Wilde was stuck in 137th place of the two-day, $555,346 all-cash tourney. Heading into Saturday, he had but one objective.
“I was just hoping to win Day 2,” said Wilde, who had paid $2,000 for his Players Championship entry. “I took swings on Saturday knowing that I needed to get something to happen just to get some capital back.”
So early on Saturday morning, Wilde, a 58-year-old electrical engineer employed by Nvidia, studied the past performances and the data from the proprietary handicapping program he had created, came up with some pricy-looking horses that he liked, and immediately inputted those picks at HorseTourneys.
Why so early? Because his task in the Players Championship wasn’t the only long road ahead for Wilde.
“My wife Beth and I were driving home from Utah to Austin, Texas, and we had spent Friday night at a hotel in Raton, New Mexico,” said Wilde, whose home is in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park. “We still had 11 hours of driving left. I didn’t get to watch anything until I got home when there were just six races to go.”
When Dan and Beth finally got home to Cedar Park, they were completely unaware of any results. The couple turned on a computer together, and Beth seemed to process first what had transpired during their drive from New Mexico.
“What the…,” Beth wondered aloud. A second or two later, Dan saw what Beth saw.
“We both started trembling,” he said.
While out on the interstate, Dan had missed seeing Saratoga Beauty take the 5th at Aqueduct at 9-1 (“I noticed Irad was in the race on a different horse, and even though he was 5-1 in the morning line, I thought he’d be overbet.”); Rager capture the 3rd at Santa Anita at 17-1 (“I was surprised he went off that high. He was 8-1 in the morning line in a seven-horse field.”)
Had Wilde seen those two, he might have been in a hurry to get back home and risked a speeding ticket…because Saratoga Beauty and Rager combined to move him all the way up to 12th place.
A speeding ticket, if not a reckless driving charge, would have been a near certainty had Wilde attempted to drive while watching Bourbonic go last-fo-first in the Wood Memorial at 72-1.
“Actually Bourbonic was the easiest pick of my longshots,” Dan explained. “In the Wood, I thought there was no standout like there was with Essential Quality in the Blue Grass or the Baffert horse in the Santa Anita Derby. Meanwhile, this was Pletcher…at a huge price…in a big race.”
Looking back, though, Wilde realized that fate might have been on his side.
“I was lucky” he admitted. “In the last big one [the Flo-Cal Faceoff], I did even worse on Day 1, and the next day I kept chasing, playing crazy horses. So it was probably to my benefit that I couldn’t see what was going on.”
Now, with six races remaining but just three picks left, Wilde was faced with the challenge of preserving his lead.
As originally planned that morning while in a different time zone, Wilde skipped the next two races — and saw his lead shrink from $28.80 to $11.90 when Ryan Leeper in 2nd connected with Santa Anita Derby winner Rock Your World. Now there were four races left with three selections at his disposal. Surely, he would want to save one of those picks for the final race.
Instead, Wilde decided to stick with the three picks made in Raton, and not play the last race at all.
“I had three horses that I liked, and given how the day had gone, I decided to stick with them. In the 9th at Santa Anita, I really liked Dogtag — who should have won — but the $4.80 place payoff was a help. My horse in the 10th didn’t do anything, and I liked Lavender quite a bit in the 11th, but that one didn’t run a step.”
The lead over Leeper was now down to $8.10 and Wilde was out of plays, while Leeper and most of those near the top of the leaderboard still had one left. Wilde was fine with that, though.
“When I looked at the race in the morning, I thought The Chosen Vron was very likely to win at a short price. Now, that one couldn’t beat me, so I thought I was in a good position.”
When The Chosen Vron reported home one and a quarter lengths to the good, and 7-1 Good With People ran second, Wilde knew he had just completed what was “by far” the score of his lifetime — $200,000 for first plus another $13,762 for having the best Day 2 total ($161.50).
“I couldn’t believe it…I was kind of stunned. I’m still not sure it has sunk in.”
What HAS sunk in is that Wilde now has the opportunity to earn a $1 million Tourney Triple bonus should he go on to victory in the August 14-15 Spa & Surf Showdown.
“I’m sure looking forward to giving that a shot!” he said eagerly.
There’s just a little more to the story before the tale of “Dan and Beth’s Excellent Adventure” can be considered complete.
In the immediate afterglow of victory, Dan pondered a couple of nice things he could do with his unexpected — and, as of Saturday morning, pretty darned unlikely — windfall. One was to buy Beth, his wife of 34 years and an avid guitar player, a special Martin guitar. Another was to maintain a personal tradition in which he gives five percent of any big contest winnings to his two grown daughters — Ashley, 28, and Erica, 26.
We’re sure that Erica will appreciate the $10,500 or so. Though it seems like it will come in especially handy for Ashley. Just after midnight on Sunday night/Monday morning, Ashley gave birth to a baby boy, making Dan and Beth grandparents for the first time. The little one was named Wyatt Daniel.
Clearly this wasn’t a typical “big contest weekend” for Dan Wilde, but it’s a safe bet that it will forever be the most memorable — one that left him and his family with absolutely every reason to be happy.