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: