Between scoring 42 goals in an NHL season, hoisting the Stanley Cup, and hitting an 80-1 long-shot in a horse racing handicapper tournament, what’s most exhilarating?
For the average person, potting 40-plus goals or lifting Lord Stanley’s Mug might be the obvious way to go. But for Chicago Blackhawks legend Eddie Olczyk, that’s old news.
While fans will always remember “Edzo” for his work on the ice, he’s also somewhat of a horse racing aficionado. Perhaps even a handicapper extraordinaire.
Last weekend, Olczyk participated in the Hawthorne Invitational, at Hawthorne Race Course in Chicago. There, some of the best handicappers in the sport squared off for more than $50,000 in prizes.
Riding a magical performance from 80-1 long-shot Command Central, Olczyk emerged victorious, en route to a $62,000 payday.
Olczyk’s big win reminiscent of Stanley Cup celebration
The scene from inside Chicago’s last remaining racetrack might as well have been set to ice, with champagne popping and confetti falling.
When Olczyk won the cup with the New York Rangers in 1994, the team was the opposite of an underdog, finishing with the league’s best record heading into the playoffs. Command Central, however, was the definition of underdog, and judging by the former centerman’s reaction, that’s easy to see.
Warning: NSFW Language
When you're right about your horse… Congrats Edzo and all of the top finishers. Thanks to everyone for playing and watching the Hawthorne Invitational! @EJXD2 @EmilyOptixEQ @HawthorneJim pic.twitter.com/tsgNLL5gEV
— Hawthorne Race Course (@ClubHawthorne) June 26, 2023
Nowadays, as an NHL analyst and broadcaster, Olczyk is around top-notch excitement almost every night. But as someone who’s netted 342 career goals and 794 total points, there’s very little left for him to see or do on the ice. Then again, he’s not getting $62,000 for every goal he calls, so maybe that’s the central reason for his lively celebration.
Regardless of the reason, the storyline behind it is pretty cool. Chicago kid, turned Chicago sports icon, takes home the number one spot in a handicapping tournament at the only remaining Chicago racetrack.
Sunday’s victory more than just a strike of good fortune
Those who know Edzo, like Hawthorne’s director of racing Jim Miller, understand that Sunday’s monumental victory wasn’t just a fluke. Instead, it’s a reflection of the vast knowledge and expertise he’s gathered from years of active involvement in the industry.
“Eddie has always been such a great supporter of racing,” Miller told PlayIllinois. “He’s known for the work he has done with so many national events but has always supported Hawthorne and Illinois racing as well.”
Since 2014, Olczyk has sat in as a handicapper and analyst for NBC Sports‘ horse racing coverage. He had quite the debut, too, picking the longshot winners in both races on the $500,000 Gold Cup broadcast.
Despite his resounding success on the national level, Olczyk never forgot his roots.
“He’s so knowledgeable in the game and this weekend it showed with his play in winning the Hawthorne Invitational Handicapping Contest,” said Miller. “It took a brave and bold play in the end to win, but it paid off for sure.”
So, how does the Chicago native’s résumé from the track stand up to that of his playing days? Pretty darn well.