marshall gramm makes a nice score at nhc

By Dick Jerardi

Marshall Gramm, a horse owner at Parx since 2009, has one of the most unique resumes in horse racing – owner, breeder, accomplished gambler, 2020 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) winner, Economics professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, teacher in three semesters of the “Economics of Race Track Wagering Markets.”

This past weekend, Gramm was in Las Vegas with two entries in the National Horseplayers Championship. Each of his entries made Sunday’s semifinals (top 77 out of 768 entries). He was on fire Friday in the contest where players made 16 $2 win/place bets, 10 optional and six mandatory. He ended up a very close second after Friday, good for $5,000. He was solid Saturday, staying alive for the big money, $800,000 for first, $250,000 for second, $200,000 for third, all the way down to $10,150 for 77th. Ended up 29th ($15,000) and 69th ($10,950) after Sunday’s semifinals and 46 $2 win/place wagers at tracks all around the country over the three days.

Add it up and Gramm won $30,950, less the large bill with many zeros he sprung for after a memorable Saturday night meal at Jose Andres’ Bazaar Meats in the Sahara Hotel at the opposite of the strip from the Horseshoe Events Center where the contest was held.

“This (contest), you really have to know a lot of different race tracks,” Gramm said Sunday shortly after winner Mike Gillum made the last of his comebacks (barely made the semis at 64th), just got into the Final Table of 10 and then took the lead in the penultimate contest race.

Gramm concentrated on Oaklawn Parx which he considers one of his two “home” tracks, Parx where it all started for him being the other.

“Here, you’re trying to cover all these tracks across the country so that’s a struggle,” he said. “Plus, you’ve got to play a lot of races. There is a good bit of luck to it…It has some elements of a poker tournament, but much less repetition. How good are you in 53 plays (if you make the Final Table), 46 plays (semis) or 36 plays. I do think the cream rises to the top. Great players have won this, but also there is variance. Sometimes, your horses are running, sometimes they aren’t.”

Gramm is a terrific player, with some memorable successes in big money contests, including that win in the 2020 BCBC where he parlayed his original $7,500 bankroll into $170,250 after betting $7,500 on the Authentic/Improbable exacta in the BC Classic. Add in the $322,500 first prize and Gramm cashed for nearly half a million that day.

“The BCBC you can win by making two or three wagers,” Gramm said.

The NHC is very different.

“I prefer live bankroll, but I understand these tournaments as well,” Gramm said.

In contests, Gramm said, “there is no great way to sort of replicate what a day of betting is like. But I enjoy both. For me, the best part of this and what I love about coming here is the camaraderie, talking to other horseplayers, talking about issues in horse racing, watching the races with everybody, meeting people…And who wouldn’t love a trip to Vegas?”

Through the years, Gramm has loved his trips to Parx where he originally owned horses with trainer Don White and now has them with Carlos Guerrero. He has twice been the leading owner.

“I think Pennsylvania’s got really good racing and a commitment to racing,” Gramm said. “(Parx) is a track that’s well located. You can race at Parx. You’ve got great horsemen there…If you have a horse that gets really good, you can run in New York…It’s got a really good claiming structure. It’s competitive racing. At my level, especially when I was introduced to this, it was a condition book that was well written.”

Gramm has seen Parx evolve in his 15 years with horses there.

“They’ve proven time and time again that a national horse can come out of Parx,” Gramm said. “I’ve seen it come a long way, seeing the Pennsylvania Derby and the Cotillion be what they are today. It’s great to see.”

Gramm breeds in Pennsylvania, calling the breeding program and breeders’ awards “excellent.” Ten Strike Racing, which Gramm runs with partner Clay Sanders, has had success in claiming races as well as stakes. That both are high-level horse players gives them a unique understanding of the game that many owners may not have.

Gramm’s main area of academic research is on betting markets. He has written more than a dozen papers that are “tangentially related to horse racing.”

That his profession happens to intersect perfectly with his passion is what makes Marshall Gramm such a compelling figure in horse racing and, after his 2024 NHC run, a man with an expanded bankroll.

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