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It's a Family Affair


It’s not uncommon for family members to share interests or activities. We’ve all gone to restaurants, baseball games, even on vacations (remember those?) as a family unit.

But the Mustari family takes things to an entirely different level. They are handicapping contest devotees, especially those that take place at Hawthorne Race Course and they have been pretty darned successful doing them.

Last weekend three members of the family, Frank, Dan, and Justin, scored seats in the NHC Championship that will be held next winter. Frank qualified on Saturday, August 8th while Dan and Justin qualified on Sunday, August 9th, with Dan finishing first and his nephew Justin, Frank’s son, finishing second. Both Frank and Justin are double qualifiers this year.


I spoke to Justin first. Justin had originally qualified in one of our spring contests

“I have played in many of the smaller contests, especially those at Hawthorne, the $400 ones. I’m only 25 and that’s about what my budget allows. I’ve played in a couple bigger ones, the Pegasus one year and the Breeders’ Cup one year but I don’t do that on a yearly basis. I started entering contests when I was 21 and allowed to participate. My focus has been getting to the final in Vegas. This will be the fourth year that I have qualified.

“My dad is the reason that I started going to the track. Everything I learned is 100% from him so I have to give him the credit. I use the same system as my dad. We use Brisnet and buy Ragozin sheets from an online company to handicap. Uncle Dan is entirely different.

“Here’s the story of my day. I usually play Gulfstream, that’s basically my “home” track. But Gulfstream is done about halfway through the contest. I’m not really comfortable betting other tracks. So, I hit in the last stakes race there. I had a $100 Exacta box with the favorite and a price shot, hoping the longshot would beat the favorite and that’s what happened. I got back just under $3200 so I got the lead. I was pretty well ahead. I think the contestant in second at that point had about $1000. I only live about 10 minutes from Players at Prospect Heights, where I played the contest, and there really wasn’t much else I was interested in playing so I went home and watched online, knowing if something unusual happened and I got passed, I could go back to Players quickly and find another play and still finish in the top two.

So there were only three races left at Del Mar and that would be the end of the contest. Someone passed me by about $110. I knew I had to go back to the OTB and at least place a small bet to get back ahead so I placed a $100 show bet on a 9-1 shot that hit, it finished third, and I was back in first place by about $59. The person that passed me didn’t hit but my Uncle Danny did hit in that last Del Mar race and passed me by about $200 but we both hung on.


Frank was next. Frank Mustari is no stranger to these contests. He won one of our local NHC contests in April of 2019 when he accumulated a staggering total $24,812.

“This is the eighth year in a row that I qualified, maybe tenth overall. A lot us from these contests travel together to Vegas. I’ve made some pretty close friends in the years that I’ve been going. We have a friendly competition but all of us are trying to win. Justin and I use Ragozin and Bris but Dan is a different story. He does things his own way. He’ll sometimes just walk up and look at the odds board and just bet off that. He does it more for recreation while I view it as another job. I try to teach my son that unless you have a lot of disposable income, you have to work hard at this, as with anything else, if you want to be successful.”

 Frank was appreciative that both Dan and Justin credited him with their success.

“My typical plan is to take my whole bankroll in these contests and make it in one race. So, I’m either broke or make it to the leaderboard.”

(That’s how he won the 2019 NHC qualifier. He scored on a trifecta that paid about $582 for $.50. He had $20 on it. In other words, he had it 40 times)

It kind of worked out a little different this time. One of my prime bets was in one of the later races at Gulfstream. I thought he would go off in the 5-1 or 6-1 range and I would bet my entire $400 bankroll on him, potentially giving me enough to get to or close to the lead. It didn’t work out that way. The horse got bet down real hard and wound up going off at 8-5. I normally wouldn’t bet him at that price but I was so set on him. I made a $200 exacta box with a horse on top that lost but my horse won the race and I got back about $560. Then I had to wait around for a late race at Del Mar. In that race I hit a $200 exacta to get the lead before someone passed me in one of the final races at Del Mar or Golden Gate, but I still held for second.

“I don’t bet a lot of races normally. I’ll pick my spots at Gulfstream or the California circuit. If I bet four races a day between the two tracks, that’s about it. They are sizable bets. If I’m going to lose on my best bets, so be it. But, I don’t want to make 12 or 15 bets to try to edge up the leaderboard.”


Dan Mustari won the Sunday qualifier.

“It was fun. I often play in the Hawthorne contests. I qualified once before, a few years ago. Vegas was awesome. I met a lot of people and had the chance to win a lot of money. I was a little nervous.

“You’re going to laugh but, unlike Frank and Justin, I don’t use “Sheets” or Bris and I don’t study trips. I usually just bet off the book.”

Huh? It took me a second to realize that he was talking about track programs. I had to shake my head a few times.

“Talk about lucky. But, I do have to give my son credit. He’s a good handicapper and he liked that horse in the last.”

“I also have to acknowledge my brother Frank. He helped me a lot. I’ve been going to the track since my grandparents took me when I was about 15 years old. I’ve always liked it.

“My grandfather would take me to dog schooling races in Florida when I was about 13. I couldn’t get into the regular races but I remember wagering dimes down there. That’s how I got started betting.

“I much prefer the way Hawthorne does the contests than the $2 win and $2 place format that so many use. With the live-money wagers you always have a chance. You can make any kind of bet so, as long as you have some money left, you are never totally out of it. I hit the final race of this contest on a horse that paid $30 dollars and that’s how I won. It was a horse that had been off for a year and won by a nose.

When I interviewed Dan earlier, he wanted me to tell Frank that he was the better handicapper. Frank laughed and said, “Obviously whenever somebody makes that statement, you know they are lying.”

Game on





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