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Hawthorne Race Course

Hawthorne Racecourse (12/8/06)

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Scott McMannis contributed to this story

Heavyweight Champ in a Giving Mood

Hawthorne handicapping contest winner Brian Gross to donate his prize money to charity

During the holiday season, individuals often find themselves caught up in the spirit of giving, and Chicagoan Brian Gross is no exception.

Gross, a 42-year-old mergers and acquisitions advisor became a horse racing fan during his days at Northern Illinois University. He came to Hawthorne on Saturday, December 2, with the intention of spending a relaxing day at the track.

“It was by complete chance that I even entered at all,” Gross said of Hawthorne’s two-day Heavyweight Championship, the centerpiece contest of the track’s fall schedule. “I didn’t even know there was a tournament. I came to Hawthorne and bumped into Jim Benes, whom I had met during last year’s Horse Player World Series in Vegas, and he encouraged me to sign up.”

With over $26,000 in the prize pool and four entries for the Coast Casino’s $1 million Horseplayer World Series (Jan 18-20 at The Orleans in Las Vegas) on the line, handicappers from all over the country descended upon Hawthorne to compete.

“I immediately decided upon entering that if I were fortunate enough to win, I would parlay the prize money into a very good cause by donating it to charity,” Gross said. “Sometimes you just get this feeling that something good is about to happen.”

In Hawthorne’s contest format, players are given a $1,200 bankroll in which to wager equal, across the board increments in six specified local races. They must bet at least 10 percent and up to 50 percent of their current bankroll in each individual race. On day two of the contest, an additional $1,200 was added to each player’s total.

At the conclusion of day one, Gross sat in eighth place out of 123 competitors.

“The format really fit my style,” Gross said. “You can play less on the horses you’re not so confident in, and fire it in on your better plays. My goal was to make it through the first day in a striking position and then win it on Sunday.”

Despite being well within range of the leaders, the odds were not in his favor. Several contestants were in the game with two entries ($200 each), and he had only purchased one, but Gross felt eerily confident that it was his contest to win.

“I really can’t explain it, but for some reason I just knew that I had a very good chance,” Gross recalled. “When driving to the track Sunday morning, I actually was deciding which charities would receive the money. That is how real it was in my mind that I would win, and in turn, they would win.”

With quiet confidence, Gross sat in the weeds, waiting to pounce, and those long awaited opportunities presented themselves in back-to-back races.

“Pirate Saint (7th race winner) put me in the game at 9-1 ($266 across the board) and War Facts (eighth race winner) put me over the top ($800 across the board at 16-1),” Gross said. “War Facts was running in a big field with lots of proven losers. He was lightly raced, and I figured he was fresher than most of the others. He looked great in the paddock, and got some early action on the board. It was just the kind of horse I was looking for.”

Gross won Hawthorne’s Heavyweight Championship with room to spare, earning a berth into the Horseplayer World Series and $6,550 in cash.

“While much has been written on the topic, we still don't give enough credit to visualization and the power of positive thinking,” Gross reflected. “Perhaps there is a handicapping angle buried in there?”

Gross will donate the winnings equally amongst the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls – a home for at risk young men and women; Second Harvest – the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization; and Gilda’s Club – a support community for those whose lives have been touched by cancer.

“You never know what kind of impact a small, random act of kindness can have on someone's life,” Gross said. “I've been on the receiving end of many of those acts throughout my lifetime. A random act can "parlay" itself into something pretty powerful down the road - you just never know. I'm just thankful for the win, and want to respond in kind by sharing it with others. After all, it's Christmas, and for me being able to give this donation is the real prize.”

Additional quotes from Brian Gross

Question: Is it safe to assume that the fact that you make an above average salary enabled you to donate your winnings?

Gross: “From one perspective, I would say this is a true statement, but it hasn't always been true. In fact, I can say that things didn't really start rolling for me until I truly began to understand what is meant by having to "sow before you can reap." We live in a world where we are bombarded with opportunities to enrich ourselves by "getting" – but the real way to enrich oneself is by "giving." As soon as I started to understand the importance of placing the "horse before the cart" everything started to flow for me.

Candidly, I really enjoy what I do for a living, and I am blessed to be in a position of helping families maximize the value of often their most important financial asset - the family owned business. I couldn't do what I do very well if I just focused on myself. When representing a client, there are so many issues and critical decisions that come into play - and several issues that arise that have nothing to do with the business - real life, personal issues that play out like a reality series throughout the course of a transaction. Ask any business owner, and they will know what I mean. I always put my clients first, and in turn, they take care of me. I try to always give as much as possible, and it always comes back around again. Candidly, if I focused on only trying to take care of myself, I can assure you that I wouldn't have any clients.

So, yes, it may be true that it is a bit easier for me. And the more I learn to give, the easier it will get. That's the part that people miss.

Also, time is far more valuable than money, and everyone can find the time to give if they are committed to doing it. After all, we all have the same means - 24 hours a day.

Question: What is the extent of your tournament experience?

Gross: I have been close a few times in other Coast tournaments in Vegas, picking up a check here and there, but never finishing 1st. Also, I've never participated in a buy-in tournament at Hawthorne or at any of the Illinois tracks, and candidly, I never intended to enter on Saturday until Jim Benes recommended that I consider it. So having things work out the way they did was wonderful in so many ways.

Question: If you win big money in Vegas, will you donate a portion of that to charity too?

Gross: That’s a great question. That remains to be seen, doesn’t it?

Hawthorne Heavyweight Championship Final Standings

1ST Brian Gross* 23,314
2ND Tom Walsh* 14,899
3RD Margie Bernard* 13,078
4TH Douglas Brown* 12,848
5TH Donald Moranda 11,610
6TH Jimmy Goldenberg 10,717
7TH Tim Herboth 8,329
8TH Kevin Kerns 8,316
9TH Bruce J. Frazier 5,221
10TH Dan Churilla 5,170

* Top four receive Horseplayer World Series entries ($1,000 value), complete with hotel accommodations at The Orleans, and a $500 travel voucher.

The 2006 fall Thoroughbred meet at Hawthorne Race Course runs September 15 through January 1 with live racing five days per week – Wednesday through Sunday (except Nov. 23 and Dec. 24). The dark days are Monday and Tuesday (except Oct. 9, Dec. 26 and Jan.1). Post time is 1:10 p.m. daily.

Hawthorne’s races can be seen live on Horse Racing Television (HRTV). HRTV provides full, in-depth coverage of the current Hawthorne Race Course meeting, with complete post parades, and expert analysis from the network's hosts.

Hawthorne’s spring 2007 Thoroughbred meet will run February 23 thru May 3. The summer 2007 Standardbred meet will be held June 22 thru August 5. The fall 2007 Thoroughbred meet will run September 17 thru December 31.

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