Esquire’s Horseplayers. Something different for next season?

By Art Parker for

I didn’t miss an episode of the short television series Horseplayers on the Esquire Channel. The website for the show says, “Enter the high-stakes world of professional horse race handicapping, where the only thing bigger than the bets are the characters placing them.” I’m not sure I agree with that, but the characters, at least most of them, fit the slogan for the show, which was “Surprisingly Entertaining.”

Horseplayers was far better than the short lived HBO show from a couple of years ago named Luck, which despite having great actors such Dustin Hoffman and the late Dennis Farina, was worse than a teller that can’t punch the right ticket. The two deserve comparison since they have both aired relatively close to one another. Luck showed the worse side of the thoroughbred world and never focused on the engine that makes it run. Thoroughbred racing has some undesirable characters as all industries, but Luck, in my opinion, seemed to focus on such characters and failed to expose all of the good in the sport.

Players focused on the engine, to some degree, when the series centered on the horseplayers themselves. After all, the guys that shove the money through the windows are everything. Without them, there is no such thing as thoroughbred racing.

I liked the Horseplayers series and it sure created plenty of moments of good laughs particularly with the New York guys. One of the things that the show promoted, that I think is very important to the survival of thoroughbred racing, is the camaraderie of players. It showed people having fun at the track.

Matt Bernier, one of the stars of Horseplayers

Matt Bernier, one of the stars of Horseplayers

I was a little disappointed to see the show exclude all players except the big time participant. Watching a guy bet $20,000 in one race is something that may happen on a very rare occasion, but in reality that behavior isn’t on the radar with the general public. The travel and the tournaments are obviously fun, but it is still a far cry from the real day-to-day world of thoroughbred racing. The show ended in Las Vegas with the guys drinking a well-deserved class of champagne, a fitting end to a show well done.

After all, the guys that shove the money through the windows are everything. Without them, there is no such thing as thoroughbred racing.

I do not know what the producers and writers have in mind for the next season of Horseplayers. I am concerned that when our sport is exposed in the media it seems to always be either a Grade One race, or something bad, or something criminal. I would love to see the real world of thoroughbred racing exposed, such as the guy who hangs out with his buddies every Saturday in the grandstand, eating a hot dog and drinking a beer. Or the everyday claiming horse trainer at a smaller track that works like hell to make a living.

The Horseplayers show was terrific and I hope it returns. In the future, I hope the show will promote the real world of thoroughbred racing. We need to let people know that the doors are open to everyone and we have a level for all who wish to play.


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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-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 of the NHC twice. A former executive with and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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