Payday at the Races for NHC Champ Justin Mustari

She [Rosa’s Crystal] had last run, at Santa Anita, on Jan. 31. He knew trainer Carla Gaines’ success rate, with a layoff of at least 90 days, had been around 8%.

“Not something a gambler, or handicapper, would say is a good bet,” says Mustari. “But to be 19-1, and for me to think the horse should be 6-1 or 7-1 — assuming she’s in good form coming off a layoff — seemed the logical play.”

Frank often spoke about embracing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, which helped Justin deliberate. “I might never have this chance again,” Justin told his dad before the race. “I would be sick if I didn’t take this opportunity.”

Several gallops out of the gate, Rose’s Crystal stuttered. The 4-year-old roan filly nearly bumped into the beast in front of her, so jockey Juan Hernandez pulled up a bit.

About 330 miles from that eighth race, a mile on the Del Mar turf on Aug. 29, Justin Mustari stood on a platform here inside Bally’s Event Center. He viewed a giant screen and held his breath.

In the final race of the prestigious National Horseplayers Championship, the Des Plaines native had everything riding on 19-to-1 shot Rose’s Crystal.

“From watching thousands of races, when they pull up like that it usually [isn’t good]. The jockey and the horse usually are not on the same page,” says Mustari. “I thought, ‘Well, I’m out of it here.’ ”   Read on:

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is an 18-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He cashed on the 2018 NHC Tour with a 19th overall finish. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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