There’s luck. Then there’s jaw-dropping, impossible-to-believe, Hall of Fame-worthy luck.

Assiniboia Downs player Les Buzzell, the owner of a railway signals company, has that kind of luck. Week after week, month after month, year after year – ever since the 2017 Breeders’ Cup – he’s had other horseplayers shaking their heads at luck that seems other-worldly.

Cutting to the chase, who does this?

  • At the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar, he bets $100 to win on 49-1 Japanese longshot Marche Lorraine in the Distaff and she wins. Why the wager? “People around the horse in the paddock were really discussing stuff and stayed behind after all the others had left. So I bet her.” He returns to Canada with $12,000 in winnings.
  • He bets $50 across the board on 80-1 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike. Why? “He came in from the also-eligibles. That’s an angle from way back. I was just going to bet place and show but I thought ‘what the heck’ and also bet him to win.”
  • He bets $100 on a 30-1 horse at Belmont. Why? “Because he raced in the fog last time. Now it’s not foggy.” (That explanation had Race Book players in stitches. That’s still the talk of the place.)
  • “Wow, just wow,” ASD CEO Darren Dunn comments after hearing what Buzzell did following the press conference for the Manitoba Derby a month ago. Buzzell walks into the Race Book, looks up at the bank of simulcast tracks on large TVs and bets $70 on a 14-1 horse at Delaware. It wins. “Where should I bet now?” he wonders out loud. Thistledown catches his eye so he lays down $100 on #3 at 7-1 and bets a $40 3-2 exactor to boot. They win, with the exactor paying $67.

Still without a program he bets $100 on #1 on a 17-1 horse in a turf race at Laurel. “This is crazy,” he says. “Can I really do it again?” he asks. Yes, he can. His horse nails the leader in late stretch. “If my next bet wins ($150 on a 25-1 horse), I’m never buying a program again,” he tells numbed players. Whew! He IS human. His horse loses — and he’s out the door.

Do any of us know anyone else anywhere with that kind of overpowering luck?

After dabbling here and there in the past, he decided to begin betting seriously with the 2017 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar and he’s been on a tear ever since. “Unbelievable is too weak a word to describe Les Buzzell’s five longshot wins in quick succession with $50 & $100 wagers,” I wrote in a racing column at Assiniboia Downs at the time after my attention was drawn to a player cheering for longshot after longshot at Del Mar and Woodbine while most other players were quiet.

That doesn’t mean the 59-year-old wins all the time. In fact, his luck is streaky and he freely admits to overall losses. “Lose, lose, lose — that might last two weeks,” he says, “but then, boom, I’m right at winning again.” He never loses faith and never gets down on himself. Win or lose, his demeanor is one of confidence and he frequently comments: “This is too much fun.”

His worst losing month, he said, was $30,000 when the pandemic struck which caused a business shutdown and his main activity was playing simulcast races on his HPIbet account. But his best month has been $50,000 when he won $23,000 in a pick-6 at Del Mar that included a 99-1 winner, he said.

One of his favourite winning moments happened last year on Sunday, Feb. 7. Playing in his HPIbet account, he was alive to the last leg of pick-5s at Tampa and Gulfstream with just single horses — #14 Toupha at Tampa at 19-1 (“I took him because he got in from the also-eligibles”) and #8 Ill Will at 26-1 in a Gulfstream maiden race. At 2:38 pm Ill Will rallies up the rail after a slow start to win at Gulfstream. Ka-ching, Buzzell’s account increases by $3,917. Then, at 2:42 pm Toupha wins at Tampa to boost Buzzell’s account by another $22,986. “All within five minutes,” he said. “That just shocked me.” Ho-hum. His singled horses were 19-1 and 26-1 — who does that?

But that’s his style, keying a horse in the last leg of pick-5s and loading up on earlier legs in tickets that cost under $100. “I always take one horse. It just works out. It’s what I do,” he says. And he never bets favourites. In fact, the odds are mostly in the double digits, he almost always bets a horse to win and his bet is in the $100 range. His three main handicapping angles is to look at trouble lines, watch for horses going longer distances or shortening up and looking for previous favourites that are now going off at high odds.

He has no idea why he has such amazing streaky luck that he discovered when he was in his 20s. Living in Montreal raising three boys and working for CN Rail, his father-in-law took him to the now-defunct Blue Bonnets. He was making just $2 wagers but recalls “having a strong feeling about a 50-1 horse” and asking for more money to bet him. The horse won, he said, and he still remembers connecting with a 5-7-2 triactor that paid $12,000.

“I have such a positive vibe,” he said. “Maybe that’s why things come to me. And I don’t toot my own horn.”

Interestingly, what horseplayers say about Buzzell at the track is what Buzzell said his office staff also say about him: “They say I have horseshoes up my [you know where].” That’s because he’s been lucky in landing significant contracts and making profitable connections in his railway signals business that he totally took over four years ago. He has a staff of 74 working primarily in Alberta and BC providing support for track crews and rail gangs. And a former business partner in Montreal whose girlfriend is connected to a ruling family in an African country has resulted in millions of dollars in business on that continent.

But Buzzell eyes retirement in about two years “so I can play golf and the horses and travel to every race track on this continent including the small harness tracks,” he says.

As if on cue, as a final interview with him at Assiniboia Downs was coming to an end on Sunday, he quickly scans a race program and plunks down $75 on 23-1 Bayou Wind in a maiden turf claimer at Saratoga. Of course, the filly wires the field. He laughs and explains he bet the horse “because she was being ridden by a no-name rider [Omar Hernandez Moreno].” Then he heads to the mutuel window where he pockets another pile of red and brown bills and is gone, leaving us mere mortals to shake our heads in wonderment at this unique force of nature.