What Wager won this year’s Keeneland’s Grade One Gamble?

Faron McCubbins Closes with a Rush to Capture Keeneland’s Grade One GambleFaron McCubbin Wins Another Big Tournament

Overcoming inclement weather and late changes to the contest landscape, Faron McCubbins of Mount Washington, KY hammered the 9th race at Keeneland with an $800 exacta on 8-10 that paid $28,560, resulting in an incredible final bankroll of $31,560 that bested 180 other contestants in the Grade One Gamble. For his efforts Faron takes home $35,000 in prize money, a fully paid Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge berth at Santa Anita worth $10,000, and an entry into the 2020 National Horseplayers Championship at Bally’s Las Vegas.

The day began with steady rain that caused all races to be taken off the turf; multiple scratches resulted in decimated fields. Contest management added 3 races from Gulfstream and 2 races from Aqueduct to the contest menu, and the changes resulted in a very competitive contest that was decided at the wire.

Long- time leader Dan Slattery of Bethesda, MD, who cashed for $19,000 on Gulfstream’s 4th race, was passed late by the huge play of McCubbins, but took home his bankroll of $18,449.80 plus $18,000, a fully paid BCBC spot and an NHC entry.

NHC Veteran Joe Scanio Seeks Gotham Score

The Gotham Challenge takes place this Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack and online for the first time via NYRA Bets. Entries for the $500 live-bank contest close Thursday night at 5 p.m. One of the players looking forward to competing is Joe Scanio.

Scanio is an old-school New York horseplayer. How old school? He describes himself as being from the Fred Capossela-era. He used to hitchhike from his home in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn – where he still resides today.

“First, you’d get a ride from the Verrazano Bridge to Flatbush, and from there you’d get another guy to take you to Lefferts Boulevard,” he happily recalled.

His horseplayer “origin story” is a twist on a theme. Unlike so many in his generation, he did not have an older relative who introduced him to the track.

“No one in my family was into the horses,” he admitted. “I broke the mold. I like to kid that I got my Associate’s Degree at Aqueduct, my Bachelor’s at Belmont, and my PhD at Saratoga.”

His first experience came one day when he cut school to hang out at a Bay Ridge pool room – as one did back in the day. There he met a couple of older guys who took him along to the races.

“I bet on a horse named Mountain Crest,” said Scanio. “You always remember your first horse. And the worst thing that could have happened, happened.”

Mountain Crest was an easy winner and Scanio’s $2 bet across the board multiplied in value.

“I said, forget school, what do I need that for? I want to come here every day.”

Scanio has been active since the earliest days of NYRA’s contests in the tent in the backyard at Belmont. He might not have learned racing from a family member but he has passed on the bug to a future generation. His niece and protege, Stephanie Davis, won one of the first NYRA contests and continues to be an active participant.

“She’s great because she doesn’t get emotionally bent out of shape like a lot of everyday gamblers,” he said. “She stays calm and collected and makes better decisions than I do when it comes to contests.”

He estimates that he’s qualified for the National Horseplayers’ Championship 14 times and figures six of them have come on the NYRA circuit. He’s been to one NHC Final Table, and he and Davis both made the semi-finals in 2018.

Scanio has followed all the changes in NYRA contests through big transitions, from mythical money fixed-odds to real-money live-bankroll, and now the advent of online play.

“I think it’s a good idea and it should help increase participation a lot,” he said. “I’ll always go in person when I can. I have to work weekends sometimes and this is a benefit to me to play online those days but I’d always prefer to go because that’s really where the fun of it all is.”

Speaking of work, Scanio’s had an interesting and varied career. He started off in direct sales, and now works selling timeshares in New York. He’s also been an actor, and is currently working on a comedic screenplay – Crime Share – based on his experiences in his day job. But his real passion is for racing.

In fact, Saturday night, after the Gotham Challenge is over, he plans on heading across the river to play in a harness racing contest at the Meadowlands.

“The last time I did a doubleheader, it was Aqueduct-Roosevelt Raceway but I was a lot younger then,” he joked. “This time around we’ll see if I have the energy to survive.”

RULES OVERVIEW

Winning players on Saturday will receive cash as well as the opportunity to qualify for a seat to the two-day 2019 Belmont Stakes Challenge on June 7-8 or one of two seats to the National Horseplayers Championship in February 2020.

Tournament races include those races run live at Aqueduct Racetrack, Gulfstream Park, and Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, March 9, 2019. The final tourney race will be the nightcap at Aqueduct. Permitted wagers include Win, Place, Show, Exacta, Trifecta, Quinella, and Daily Double wagers. Rules require players to wager a minimum of $25 per race on a minimum of ten 10 races. Players can go all in at any time.

In order to enter and play online, contestants must be registered NYRA Bets account holders. New NYRA Bets members are currently eligible to receive a bet $200 get $200 bonus.

Full rules for the Gotham Challenge are available at this link.

Source: NYRA

Industry Profile: Bryan and Judy Wagner

This past weekend Bryan Wagner was inducted into the NTRA’s Horseplayers Hall of Fame, post mortem.  His wife and racing partner, Judy Wagner, a dear friend of mine, gave an emotional acceptance speech at the 20th annual dinner banquet for the NHC.  [This article originally in the Horse Player magazine, which is no longer in print.]

BRYAN AND JUDY WAGNER

2009 NHC TOUR CHAMP & 2000 NTRA HANDICAPPER OF THE YEAR

By Rich Nilsen

I sat down with Judy and Bryan Wagner for this Horse Player Magazine interview not long after their appearance in the 11th annual National Handicapping Championship (NHC). I met the charming and gregarious couple from New Orleans on the tournament trail several years ago and am blessed to have become friends with them during that time.

Their beloved Saints (which Bryan used to own a piece of) upset the Colts to win the Super Bowl and temporarily turn their world upside down – but in a good way. The Wagners still found time in their busy schedule to share their thoughts about the NHC, the challenge of finishing one-two in the NHC Tour last year, and handicapping in general.

 

HP: How did you each get started with handicapping and following our great sport of horse racing?

Bryan I started by going to the track as a teenager and immediately feel in love with the track and racing.

Judy – I met Bryan in late June, 1994.  He took me to the track with him the next month.  After my second visit to the track with him, he handed me a Racing Form and said I want a partner not a companion.  He said you can learn this since you are a person that likes stats.  I took the racing program the first couple of times and saw who the leading trainers and jockeys were and looked for runners that they rode or trained.

 

Bryan and Judy Wagner at 2018 Eclipse Awards, Gulfstream Park, FL 1.25.2018 copyright AGOS

HP: Winning the NHC Tour was quite an accomplishment, but finishing one-two was pretty amazing. When did you decide to go after the grand prize of the tour?

Bryan – I became very involved with Congressman Joseph Cao, our first Vietnamese Congressman, in 2008.  He will run for re-election in 2010.  Since 2009 was an off year, I felt if either one of us could get some early Tour points this was the year to give it a shot.  With the TwinSpires.com Leaderboard, other online contests, our local contests and the other contests we like to travel to, I would have the time for probably approximately 15 contests.  After Judy was in first place in early May, we really started giving this more serious thought.   I then won a contest in June and that pretty much sealed the deal to give it a big effort.

Judy – I was very fortunate to win the first online NHC Qualify tournament of the year in April.  A couple of weeks later I received points in the free NHC Tour contest on Kentucky Oaks/Derby weekend.  Since there were not that many contests in the early part of the year, the total points I received in these two events put me in first place.

As with all of us we like seeing our name at the top of a leader board.  Although I had said in the past, once I qualified I would not go for the Tour top prize, when the rules changed where the top five finishers get the auto qualification to NHC the following year, this made me revisit my quest.  Prior to the auto qualify the following year, I felt I did not have the time to play enough tournaments and the chances were so slim with the odds against me, I really did not consider going for first.  With the top five getting the pass for 2011 coupled with the start I had, I decided to continue to play, especially in online tournaments.

I was very fortunate to pick up more points in July online.  By this point with both of us having won tournaments and having other points, we were in the top 15 and the Tour grabbed us.  The year for me did not start with the goal of chasing the Tour but it grabbed me about July – really tight.  It was never a situation that one of us was trying to beat the other.  We were and always have been each other’s biggest cheerleaders.  We were working hard at that point to try to get one of us to the top and hopefully the other in the top five.

 

HP: I think you both knew it would be a major challenge to finish in the top five on the Tour. Just how difficult was it?

Bryan – It was extremely difficult and we did not know until the last tournament of December that we both made it.

Judy – In September I moved into fourth or fifth place and Bryan was in top 10.  He had a good finish at Fairplex, moved into the top five, and knocked me down a few spots.  Within two weeks I had two good point finishes at Fairplex and moved into first.  Shortly there after, someone else moved into first.  The scores were so tight it was obvious the 2009 Tour was going to be tight to the end as the scores were so close and numerous players were within striking distance.

After Bryan had a first place finish, and I had a second in the TwinSpires.com Leaderboard that ended in November, Bryan was back in first and I was in the top five again.  We really felt we had to be aggressive at this point to try to get the results we wanted.   We made plans to play in two tournaments in December we had never participated in – Keeneland and Turfway.  We both did not do well.

We faced a very difficult decision about going to Surfside, leaving family on Christmas night.  Steve Hartshorn was breathing down Bryan’s neck as he had won the NHC Qualify online in the middle of December.  California is his home turf and he is such a strong handicapper, that we felt we had to go to fight for both of us to try to stay in the top five. I was barely hanging on to 5th position.  The racing Gods smiled on us and our family forgave us for leaving children and grandchildren at 8 pm Christmas night. Bryan finished second at Surfside sealing his first place position.  I was lucky and finished third.  This gave me the points to move from 5th into a tie with Steve for second.  We were fortunate as there were several very good handicappers that could have won or moved up.  We just hung on for our handicapping lives.  Yes, I would say it was difficult, but the pressure was worse.

 

HP: Let’s talk handicapping. You each have different approaches to handicapping. Can you go into detail how you dissect a race.

Bryan – Since I do not have to play every race, I will look at a race for about five minutes for an angle- lone speed, lone deep closer, hidden jockey change, and “better-than-it-looks” races.  I will also search for one of only a few horses that can go a particularly long distance.  If race is a mandatory race, I just handicap race and look for best value and how the price of the horse affects my standings in the contest.

Judy – First thing I look for is to see if a runner has been the distance and condition.  If not, I look at pedigree for distance and surface. My favorite races are those that are first time starters and first time on turf.  I also look at trouble first trips.  I feel young runners can change very quickly with even one start.  Some are quick studies with one time in paddock and starting gate.

Also trainer/jockey stats for conditions are very important.  Some trainers are anxious to get horses to the starting gate and their stats show that runners may not be ready.  Others will not send a runner to a race until they are sure they can handle race.  These stats are very important in my analysis of race.  Also for distance races, especially long races of 1 1/8 miles or more, I really look at experience and pedigree for runners.  My favorite races to handicap are those with first turf starts and first time starters.  I especially like to follow young sires.  The lower profile sires with high percentage success is an angle I search for.  Also, the trainer stats for this type runner is very important.  Although some of the top trainers do not push their first time runners and I shy away from their runners.  I really like to find an “under-the-radar” trainer that has a very high percentage for this race condition.

A great example was Saturday, day two, of the NHC. In Gulfstream Park race 3, the #6 horse had a trainer with over 40% success with first turfers.  The runner won at over 80-1.  This was a very much under-the-radar trainer.

 

HP: What tools do you rely on in your handicapping?

Bryan – This depends on how many tracks are in a contest.  If only one or two tracks are involved, I use DRF or BRIS Ultimate PPs, as well as the Sire Stats book for first time on a new surface.  I will use HTR for workouts and quick stat summaries.  In contests with several tracks, I also use Thorograph Sheets for a more comprehensive view of race.  This also allows for a quick look at many aspects of race in a shorter period of time.  Frankly, I am dissatisfied with my ability to consistently get the results I need and I am going to dedicate this year in deciding on a lone handicapping methodology.

Judy – I start my handicapping with the Brisnet Insider Picks and Power Plays.  I use this as my racing program. I feel naked if I go to the track without my Insider Picks & Power Plays report. On it, I note runners, trainers or jockeys that have outstanding stats.  It gives me the red flags that tell me whether or not to pay attention to a particular runner.

From this I go to HTR and review their stats and especially workout ratings for first time starters and first turfers.  I also keep notes during the year on young sires and what their runners have done.  The past workouts have really played an important part in my handicapping.  I watch for layoffs and how a trainer brings runners back after layoffs.  I immediately note jockey changes in the materials I use.  I still have a racing form to refer to as this was my initial tool when I started my handicapping journey.  I really like to compare the various information that is available.  This is especially important for new sires. I never handicap without my Sire Stats book from BRIS that has several years of notes that are transferred every year.

 

HP: Do you feel there are some handicapping factors that are over-weighted, as well as factors that not emphasized enough by the wagering public?

Bryan: I think that workouts are often overlooked by the public. However, at major tracks the workouts can be overbet due to the presence of more clockers and dissemination of information.

In some states, the state-bred runners are equivalent to anywhere in the country; whereas in other states, they can be vastly inferior.

Judy: I think for the average player that does not really dissect the race, certain trainers and jockeys are overbet. Certainly there are excellent well known trainers and jockeys with good percentages, but I love to see these types “bet down” when I have a longer priced runner that I really like. Oftentimes, these are horses with lesser known connections.

I think that the general wagering public does not get into pedigree handicapping, nor do they spend the time necessary to figure out a trainer’s strengths or weaknesses.

As I like to bet first time starters, there are several well known, very successful trainers that do not push their horse first time out, and I think this is something that is overlooked numerous times by the public.

Sometimes, articles and information often put out by women are not given the same type of respect as information put out by men. For example, I love the work that Lauren Stich has done in regards to pedigree information.

 

HP: What are your favorite wagers to make?

Bryan: I like to make exacta wagers, as well as the Pick-4. My favorite wager of all is when there is a carryover pool on the last day of a meet where there is a mandatory payout.

 

Judy: As far as contests go, I like win and place wagers. In terms of betting, I prefer the dime superfecta wager, especially in a full field of maidens or two year olds.

I love keying a horse that I like at 5-1 or higher in multiple trifecta partwheel tickets.

 

HP: Bryan, you were the lone player eligible for an incredible $2 million bonus if you captured the NHC in January. How much added pressure did that put on you, and is there anything you feel that you would have done differently?

Bryan: First of all, I have been to the NHC enough to realize how incredibly tough it is to win it. I would say that the favorite in a tournament like that should probably between 80 and 100-1. Secondly, I don’t get along with Vegas and the higher altitudes, so that makes it tougher on me. Thirdly, I prefer tournaments that only have a few tracks versus a lot of tracks like the NHC. With those factors in mind, I did not feel a lot of pressure. But I sure did enjoy the experience and being the Tour Champ. People were very gracious.

As far as doing anything differently, I should have played some higher priced horses at the NHC.

 

HP: Judy, I believe, this was the third time you have cashed in the National Handicapping Championship [and fourth time finishing in the top 30]. Do you approach that tournament any differently than a contest during the year, and what do you feel has been the secret of your success at the NHC?

Judy: Just the common sense things. I try to go out a couple days early and be well rested. I spend a lot more time dissecting the types of races I like there, than I do at other contests during the year.

I download the reports from Brisnet early in the week, and then later in the week, use some of my other tools. I keep all my notes on my form at the NHC.

 

HP: What preparation do you typically do leading up to the NHC each year?

Bryan: First of all, tracks that are running 30 to 35 days prior to the tournament – I like to look at those races so that I can judge for myself where the really tough fields are, how the track plays, and hopefully some of the “better than looks” horses will show up in the tournament. I will put them in my stable email.

Secondly, BRIS reports come out with some of the information earlier than other sources. I try to get a jump on the races that way.

Judy: The tracks that you assume will be used in the tournament are the ones I will watch. For the tracks I normally don’t follow, I will go through the result charts for the past several weeks to try to uncover any types of patterns, hot trainers and jockeys, etc.

I am not very good with pace handicapping, but the BRIS Ultimate Past Performances will give me details on the track biases that I can note, as well as the pace ratings for each runner.

 

HP: Since you are already qualified for the 2012 NHC thanks to your top five finishes, to what extent will you go after the tour this year? What advice would give to players participating in the tour?

Bryan: I definitely plan on participating in a few tournaments this year, just because they are fun to play in. It will be great to play in a contest where there is very little pressure. If one of us happens to win a couple of tournaments in a row, then obviously it would change our plans concerning the Tour.

I would love to expand on that second question in a future issue of The Horse Player magazine!

Judy: I have not made a firm decision on the Tour this year. There was a lot of stress going after the Tour last year! I still have my household responsibilities, so going after the Tour the same way is a tough decision. Now, if early in the year, I win a tournament again and find myself on top of the Leaderboard, it is possible I will chase the Tour the same way. Regardless, I will certainly participate in the Tour to some extent. We are entered for the $500 level.

My only advice would be that if enjoy tournament play or just handicapping in general, then you should definitely give the Tour a try. You do need to have a real competitive spirit if you are serious about doing well on the Tour.

 

HP: Having owned horses myself for 10 years, I feel that has given me insight into the game that most handicappers don’t have. You have owned a stable for many years and have a piece of Kelly Leak, who defeated Mine That Bird in the 2009 Sunland Derby. How has owning racehorses influenced your handicapping?

Bryan: This gives me great insight into why a horse might be placed in a race. In some cases they may not have been able to find a proper race so they are giving the horse a start. Sometimes you will see a horse, particularly a filly or mare, run in a stakes race in a short field just to get black type (a top three finish for their pedigree page) which enhances the breeding value.

For the modest cost of getting into a partnership, I recommend every horseplayer, who can, to become an owner at least one time.

Judy: Right now I don’t personally have any horse ownership. When owning horses, however, you know the importance of proper training. You tend to investigate trainers to know more about their ethics, their philosophy, etc. You tend to understand trainer patterns, such as why they may have a certain jockey on a horse. You understand more why a trainer may place a horse in a certain spot.

Almost by osmosis, when working with your trainer, you pick up details on other trainers and how they handle their stock.

 

HP: Judy, you are without a doubt one of the most accomplished female handicappers in the game. How do you feel the sport can market to women better and bring more Judy Wagners into racing?

Judy: I have gotten to know a fellow female handicapper from Arkansas. I got to sit with her at Louisiana Downs. By conversing with her, she reminded me that females are less intimidated to ask other females about how they got into a certain field, hobby, whatever.

I wish I had the magic answer for this, but I really don’t.  I have done some seminars entitled “woman in handicapping.” One of the first things I tell woman in those seminars is to get to know the leading trainers and jockeys.  Also, you can’t learn everything in a day, a week, or even a year. Choose one segment of the game and begin by learning about that.

I would love to get to know more women who are committed to handicapping and learning.

Over $2.8M on the Line for Horseplayers at the NHC

nhc final table vegasLAS VEGAS, Nevada (February 6, 2019) – An estimated field of 670 entries will compete for nearly $2.9 million in cash and awards – and horse racing’s official title of “Horseplayer of the Year” – at this weekend’s 20th NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens™ and Treasure Island Las Vegas. Both the field size and the purse are the second-largest in NHC history. The three-day tournament, Friday to Sunday at Treasure Island, will offer a first-place prize of $800,000.

The NHC field will be reduced to the top 10 percent of players after the first two days. The highest 10 cumulative scores after the Semifinal round will fill out the Final Table. Bankrolls amassed during Day 1, Day 2 and the Semifinal round will roll over to the Final Table, with the 10 finalists settling the NHC score in seven “mandatory” assigned races.

Players who do not make the Semifinal cut will still compete on Day 3, in a separate Consolation tournament.

A full scoreboard will be updated regularly at https://www.ntra.com/nhc, where fans and players can also find each day’s contest race menu and news updates.

“We are delighted to play host to many of the nation’s top horseplayers at the historic 20th NHC,” said NTRA Chief Operating Officer and NHC Tournament Director, Keith Chamblin. “The NHC is a true celebration of the horseplayer—the individuals who fuel every aspect of the sport and business of Thoroughbred racing. We also thank the many organizations who hosted NHC qualifiers throughout 2018 s well as our sponsoring partners—Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens™ and Treasure Island Las Vegas—for their ongoing support.”

At the Races with Steve Byk will broadcast live on SiriusXM satellite radio (Sirius 219; XM 201) from Treasure Island and online at www.stevebyk.com daily, Thursday to Monday, with NHC coverage slated for 2-7:30p ET (11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. PT). Additional news and exclusive content will be shared on Twitter via the official NTRA account, @NTRA.

Defending NHC champion Chris Littlemore – who last month was honored with an Eclipse Award as “Horseplayer of the Year”– heads this year’s field, which is comprised of 669 entries (pending the outcome of Thursday’s Last Chance Contest at the Treasure Island). There are 118 rookies, representing 23 percent of the field. There are 138 dual qualifiers going into Thursday’s Last Chance Contest at the Treasure Island.

As the 2018 NHC winner, Littlemore of Whitby, Ontario, Canada, near Toronto, received an automatic berth into this year’s tournament to defend the title he won last February when he bested other entries. Littlemore amassed a winning score of $348.30 over the three-day tournament from 53 mythical $2 Win and Place bets – 18 each on Friday and Saturday, 10 in Sunday morning’s Semifinal round and seven in the dramatic Final Table contest exclusive to the overall top 10. He will seek to become the first-ever two-time winner of the NHC, as will six other past winners that have qualified. The other qualifying champions are: Ray Arsenault (2017), Paul Matties, Jr. (2016), Jim Benes (2013),Michael Beychok (2012), Richard Goodall (2008), and Stanley Bavlish (2007).

Several players will compete for major bonuses tied to earlier accomplishments:

As the winner of the 2018 NHC Tour, David Gutfreund won $100,000 and an NHC berth. He also is eligible for a record $6 million in bonuses if he goes on to win at the 2019 NHC finals.

Chuck Grubbs, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC), is eligible for a $3 million BCBC/NHC Bonus. First prize at the NHC is $800,000, meaning that successful completion of the BCBC-NHC double would be worth $3.8 million.

In its 20th year, the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments.

NHC players qualified via contests hosted by 34 racetracks, casino race books, handicapping contest websites, Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) outlets, simulcast distribution networks, horse owner associations and other Thoroughbred racing organizations. The NHC 19 qualifier hosts were:

Aqueduct, Arlington Park, BataviaBets.com, Belmont Park, Breeders’ Cup, Canterbury Park, Capital OTB, Century Bets, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Fair Grounds, Florida HBPA, Gulfstream Park, Hawthorne Race Course, Hollywood Casino at Penn National, Horseplayers.comHorseTourneys.com, Indiana Grand, Keeneland, Laurel Park, Lone Star Park, Los Alamitos Race Course, Meadowlands, Mohegan Sun, Monmouth Park, National Thoroughbred Racing Association, New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club, Santa Anita Park, Saratoga Race Course, Tampa Bay Downs, The BIG One, Treasure Island, TVG, Woodbine Entertainment Group and Xpressbet.com.

The tournament format for the NHC is meant to be the best possible test of overall handicapping ability. Players attempt to earn the highest possible bankroll based on mythical $2 Win-and-Place wagers. Assigned “mandatory” races – eight per day on Day 1 and Day 2 and seven at the Final Table – will be announced at least 36 hours prior to each contest day (Wednesday evening for Friday, Thursday evening for Saturday, Friday evening for Sunday) on Twitter (@NTRA) and NTRA.com.

The remaining 10 races on Day 1 and Day 2 and all 10 plays in the Semifinal round will be optional wagers on races at one of eight designated NHC tournament tracks: Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita Park and Tampa Bay Downs.

Treasure Island will play host to the NHC for the eighth straight year.

On Saturday, the NTRA also will host an invitation-only online tournament, the 5th Annual Tito’s $5,000 NHC Charity Challenge. A field of approximately 40 media and racing personalities will compete to have $5,000 donated in their name to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

About the NHC

In its 20th year, the NHC is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino race books, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping websites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. There are no bye-ins to the NHC. Each year, the NHC winner joins other human and equine champions as an honoree at the Eclipse Awards. For more information on the NHC, visitNTRA.com/nhc.

About the NTRA

The NTRA, based in Lexington, Ky., is a broad-based coalition of more than 100 horse racing interests and thousands of individual stakeholders consisting of horseplayers, racetrack operators, owners, breeders, trainers and affiliated horse racing associations, charged with increasing the popularity, welfare and integrity of Thoroughbred racing through consensus-based leadership, legislative advocacy, safety and integrity initiatives, fan engagement and corporate partner development. The NTRA owns and manages the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance; NTRA.com; the Eclipse Awards; the National Horseplayers Championship; NTRA Advantage, a corporate partner sales and sponsorship program; and Horse PAC®, a federal political action committee. NTRA press releases appear on NTRA.com, Twitter (@ntra) and Facebook (facebook.com/1NTRA).

Second-Half Surge Propels David Gutfreund to NHC Tour Championship

LEXINGTON, Ky. (January 17, 2019) – One of the most remarkable stretches in the history of the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Tour propelled longtime contest player David Gutfreund to five tournament victories in the second half of the year en route to earning 24,123 points to win the 2018 NHC Tour, which ended Saturday.

Gutfreund earned $100,000, a 2020 NHC seat, a trophy, and the chance to play for an additional $6 million in bonuses at NHC 19, plus the $800,000 winner’s share, Feb. 8-10, at Treasure Island Las Vegas.

“It’s beyond incredible and I’ve been around gambling a long time,” Gutfreund said of his Tour win. “I won $90,000 on a 20 cent (Rainbow Six) bet and I’d argue that this is more unexplainable and more difficult odds wise than that was.”

Twice a top-10 finisher at the NHC, Gutfreund put together a body of handicapping work in the last couple of months in 2018 that even the veteran himself counts as one of his most improbable gambling achievements. Having already double qualified for the NHC by virtue of a pair of on-track tournament victories at Hawthorne Race Course in July and the Meadowlands in September, chasing a Tour title was not exactly something the Chicago resident and longtime successful poker player and horseplayer had as an objective.

Gutfreund didn’t play in another Tour event until Thanksgiving weekend at Hawthorne, with a confidence boost being his main goal rather than points. When he notched on-track win No. 3, some prodding from comrades and re-examination on his part convinced him that ending up atop the 2018 Tour Leaderboard wasn’t such a far-fetched notion.

“Quite frankly, my poker and my gambling had gone pretty much south since I had won that tournament at the Meadowlands in the middle of September and I needed a little bit of a slump buster, a little bit of a confidence builder,” Gutfreund said of his Hawthorne Tour win on Nov. 24. “I had had success at that Hawthorne tournament over the years and I was in Chicago over Thanksgiving weekend. There was no entry fee and I decided to support the local racetrack who had done a great job over the years hosting NHC qualifiers.

“Later that night, a couple of my cronies gave me a call. They mentioned the Tour and I felt as if I needed to do a little bit of due diligence to see where I actually stood. With the three live bankroll wins that I had already accomplished, I was like what the heck. Maybe I can get into the top 20 or maybe sneak into the top five. Running down (First Half winner and NHC Hall of Famer) Paul Shurman was never a thought in my mind until quite a ways through the process.”

Overall NHC Tour standings are determined by totaling a player’s top seven scores from NHC-sanctioned qualifying contests, which must include at least one live, on-site event. Gutfreund earned 20,225 of his winning point total in the second half of the season. Following his November victory at Hawthorne, he won another on-track Tour event at Los Alamitos on Dec. 8 and grabbed another 3,891 points with yet another on-track triumph at Monmouth Park on Dec. 29.

“There are so many things that had to go right for me to win those five tournaments,” Gutfreund said. “I was really taking it one tournament, one day at a time, focusing on what I could focus on in the moment as opposed to looking at it as a big picture.”

Shurman, a resident of Dix Hills, N.Y., and the 2011 Tour Champion, finished in second place in the 2018 Tour with 23,425 points and earned $50,000.

Finishing third on the NHC Tour in 2018 with 22,460 points was Philip Lam of Fresh Meadows, N.Y. Lam earned $25,000 in purse money.

The top five overall Tour leaders were rounded out by fourth-place Tour finisher Karen Carey of Saratoga Springs, NY (22,002 points), and fifth-place finisher Kevin Willett of Hastings, Neb. (21,688 points).

The top five finishers on the second-half year Tour LeaderBoard were: Gutfreund (14,516 points), Lam (13,205), Shurman (13,009), Joe Petit (12,966) and Alan Levitt (12,433). The top five won a berth into the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge or $10,000.

Keeping his focus at the same razor’s edge it has been in recent months will be key to Gutfreund’s NHC preparations. While besting a field of 650 takes a perfect storm of astute handicapping and good fortune, the momentum Gutfreund is taking with him to Las Vegas is something he is acutely mindful of.

“I’m just incredibly grateful and incredibly excited. To steal a line from Dan Fogelberg, this is my chance of a lifetime in my lifetime of chance,” Gutfreund said. “I know it’s a 650 person tournament. I know how difficult it is to win. But I’ve had two top 10s, I’ve had four top 20s. It’s difficult but it’s not impossible. And I’d love to be back there on day three just swinging for the fences and giving it a run.

“I truly from the bottom of my heart have so much gratitude for this opportunity and I’m just so stoked.”

Veteran Tournament Player Streiff Crushes Del Mar Contest Field

Mark Streiff of Mission Viejo, CA, crushed race 9 in the Del Mar Fall Challenge (Nov. 11, 2018) to finish well clear of the 60 other entries. Streiff, down to $1,300 going into the last race scored huge with a series of trifecta wagers keyed by two longshots in first and third paying over $52,000. Dan Kaplan from Las Vegas finished second with a $100 late double for an $18,000 payout. Players began the contest with a $3,000 live money bankroll in the two-day Challenge.

Overall prizes included nearly $50,000 in cash, three $10,000 entries in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) and three entries in the 2019 $2.5 million National Horseplayers Championship (NHC). The Challenge buy-in was $4,500 with $3,000 going to the player bankroll and $1,500 to the prize pool. 100% of the prize pool was distributed back to the prizewinners with Del Mar adding a $1 million bonus opportunity which will be paid to Streiff if he goes on to win the BCBC.

In addition to Streiff’s $52,812 in bankroll winnings, he receives $30,000 in cash, a $10,000 BCBC entry plus the $1 million bonus opportunity.

PLACE   NAME    FINAL BANKROLL    PRIZES
1 Mark Streiff $52,812 ($30,000 cash and BCBC entry)
2 Dan Kaplan $19,000 ($12,500 cash and BCBC entry)
3 Mikael Christen $15,875 ($4,000 cash and BCBC entry)
4 Mark Deaton $12,720 ($2,000 cash, NHC entry & $1,000 travel)
5 Anthony Mattera $12,460 (NHC entry & $1,000 travel)
6 Davis Basler $9,163 (NHC entry & $1,000 travel)
7 Shawn Turner $8,106
8 Ed Spaunhurst $6,250
9 Linda Rodriguez $5,190
10 Chris Podratz $4,141

Source: Del Mar

There’s No Question Who the Best Real-Money Tournament Player Is

Tommy Massis relaxing back home at Woodbine

It’s This Guy

I was one of the guys who got crushed by The Hammer, the best real-money tournament player in the country.  Tommy Massis of Toronto is not only the King of Keeneland Contests but also the one to fear most in any real-money tournament.  On Sunday (10/14/18) in Lexington Kentucky, he placed a $1,000 win bet on 19-1 shot Bella Noire in Keeneland’s 4th race to claim another real-money victory at Keeneland.  Tommy’s winning total of $20,800 bested 2nd place finisher Blake Jessee by nearly $8,000.

Tommy loves Keeneland, with good reason.  He won the Breeders’ Cup Betting Championship (BCBC) at Keeneland in 2015, and this is his second win in a big Keeneland live money contest.  For his most recent victory, in addition to his final bankroll, he takes home $30,000, a fully paid $10,000 berth in the BCBC at Churchill Downs, and a fully paid entry plus expenses into the 2019 National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) in Las Vegas.

According to the Keeneland press release, Tommy played the tournament from the Green Room at Keeneland, and when Bella Noire stormed down the stretch he jumped up and declared, “You have a new leader!”

The $3,000 buy-in tournament drew 167 entries and awarded BCBC and NHC spots to the top five finishers, NHC spots to places 6 through 8, and prize money to 15th place.

Three years ago I got the pleasure of interviewing The Hammer, so check out the link below to view Tommy’s insight into his first real-money tournament score at Keeneland:

Interview with Tommy Massis

Months after this interview, The Hammer turned around and won the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Betting Championship (BCBC) by absolutely crushing the exacta in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.  A couple weeks later he won the Del Mar real-money tournament, taking down another grand prize and leaving his competition in the dust.

It was truly the year of The Hammer, and this past weekend proved that he is still pounding his competition, and making some men (like myself) look like boys.  Great job Tommy!

 

Did You Miss This Gem?

How to Win a Handicapping Tournament

How to Win a Handicapping Tournament

By Rich Nilsen

For the last 10 years or more, the handicapping tournaments in the horse racing world have been all the rage.  The popularity has increased with each passing year, and the overall tournament landscape has changed significantly.  Whereas in the past nearly all contests featured a $2 win/place format using mythical money, the larger real-money tournaments have now taken over.  The good news is that there is still something for everyone.  There are small entry-level contests where the buy-in may be as a low as $9, and there are huge tournaments where you need $10,000 or more to get in the front door.

Handicapping tournaments are a lot of fun, but to win one you have to be more than just a good handicapper.  You have to be prepared and have a plan.  Today we’ll look at the steps I believe you need in order to succeed in horse racing contests.  Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences at the end on what you think it takes to win a handicapping tournament.

REALLY KNOW THE RULES

Yes, that seems pretty obvious.  But understanding the basic rules and really knowing the rules are two different things.  There are many contests out there that have ‘fine details’ and those fine details can be the difference between winning and losing.

I highly recommend reading through the rules of an upcoming contest multiple times.  In doing so, you may just catch something you missed the first time around.  For example, in 2016 I was fortunate to win into the Kentucky Derby Betting Championship, a brand new, real-money contest that featured a $20,000 buy-in.  You had to bet a certain amount of money on a minimum number of Churchill Downs races on both Friday and Saturday of Kentucky Derby weekend.  What could easily be missed in the rules is that you could wager LESS than the required amount on any given race.

This omission was actually significant.  Why?  The reason being that you could take a swing at a race that maybe you didn’t want to go all-in on per the minimum race requirements.  So, instead of wagering the required $400 minimum, for example, you could take a shot with $50-100 in bets.  If you lost, no big deal.  If you hit an exacta or trifecta that paid well, this could help you make a move on the leaderboard.  If you sat out the race entirely, because you failed to understand the rule, and then a horse you were strongly considering won, this could also wreck havoc on your mental game.

There are other contests where if you fail to make a bet or meet the minimum requirements, you’re disqualified.  I’ve seen this happen even to veteran tournament players.  By reading the rules and really understanding the ins and outs of the contest, you’re much less likely to make a critical mistake.

FOLLOW THE CONTEST TRACK(S)

In the week leading up to a contest that features specific tracks, you should definitely follow the action at those tracks in the days prior.   There are several benefits to doing that.  For one you may catch on to a prevailing track bias.  You may notice certain trainers or jockeys that are ice cold, or red-hot for that matter.

You may also notice a horse that was victorious who ran against a horse entered on the upcoming contest date. That happened to me many years ago when I was involved in a handicapping tournament in Kentucky.  The day before the contest, I had wagered on a horse that won impressively at Keeneland and had done so at nice odds.  The following day a runner that had been very competitive with that winning horse was entered to run.  The horse made sense to me, for a variety of reasons, and I knew he was coming out of a sneaky good race.  He crushed the field and scored at 50-1 odds!  I had him in the contest and, although I didn’t win the grand prize, I was among the top finishers at the conclusion of the contest.

BE AGGRESSIVE

It’s very hard to win a contest with a conservative approach.  Playing the favorites, for example, throughout the majority of the card isn’t going to get you into the winner’s circle very often.  You may feel good cashing several races, but it simply won’t ‘cut it.’

I’m not suggesting that you just take stabs at big longshots.  However, it is advisable to find some value plays that make sense and can propel you up the leaderboard if you’re right.  Just a couple of victorious 6-1 shots can oftentimes put you in the hunt to win a tournament.

If you’re playing a tournament with mandatory races, then everyone is required to play the same race(s).  If a big price comes in, unless it’s a very small field of players, someone is going to have the longshot, and you’re toast.

The chances of just picking the logical favorites and being successful in most tournaments is low, as this player found out a few years ago.

How not to play a contest

In this live, online tournament featuring 10 mandatory races, there were 105 players and the top 12 won prizes.  This player had an awesome day, selecting six winners in a row!  The problem was that only one of those winners paid more than 2-1 and that was the 4-1 winning selection at Hawthorne.  Unfortunately for this sharp handicapper, a big price came in late in the tournament and blew him and his great day out of the water.  He plummeted to 15th place, out of the prize spots.  SIX winners in a row in a 10-race contest against only 104 other entries, and he finished completely out of the money.  Incredible.

MAP OUT YOUR CONTEST PLAYS

When you enter a contest, whether it’s on-track or online, you should handicap and make your selections (or structure your wagers) as far in advance of the first race as possible.  Then, check the scratches when they get posted and make appropriate revisions.

If you enter a contest and just plan to ‘wing it’ at the event, or during the online contest, I wish you the best of luck. To me, one of the worst aspects of ‘winging’ a contest and playing it as it goes, is that you are not prepared for the later races.  And, more times than not, the later races will play the biggest part in determining the final results.

My friend Paul Shurman, who is currently leading the NHC Tour (again), explained his thoughts on this in an interview with Eric Wing: “I think you need to have handicapped all the races before you enter the room. You have to know what you like later on in the day to know whether what you’re looking at right now represents good contest value. I also handicap backwards. I’ll start at the end of the card and work my way to the beginning. This way, if I don’t finish, and I wind up having to handicap on the fly, at least I’ll be handicapping on the fly early, knowing what I like later.”

The other benefit of mapping our picks or wagers ahead of time is that you are more likely to stick to your guns.  How many times have you heard a player say, “every time I change a pick, it loses,” or “I should have stuck with my original pick.”  I can attest that when I change my original pick it is usually a mistake.  It’s rare that I have a good reason to go against my original handicapping.

Now, of course, if there is a sudden downpour and the track has become a muddy mess, that is one example where changing your picks is not only a good idea but probably advisable (assuming you didn’t handicap for a wet track).  There are other scenarios and most are common sense.

Where it is not advisable is when you hear the paddock commentator say something negative about your selection, and so now, you’re looking at going a different direction.  Stick to your guns.  If you put a lot of work into your original selections, don’t be easily swayed from them.

SUMMARY

Winning any handicapping tournament is not easy.  Chances are you need to follow the advice presented herein and then proceed to have a really good day on top of that.  In many big contests, you also may need to catch a few breaks, e.g. winning a photo, surviving an inquiry, etc.  Winning is not easy, but if you lay the proper foundation, you enhance your chances greatly.  Best of luck!

 

Rich Nilsen handicapperRich Nilsen is the founder of A Game of Skill.  He is a 15-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) and a winner of 8 major handicapping tournaments.  He is currently ranked 6th on the new NHC Lifetime Player Rankings system.

Rich will be on the panel discussing handicapping tournaments at the Equestricon Conference in Louisville, KY.

 

5 Big Handicapping Contests from Santa Anita During the Autumn Meet

Contests are held both at Santa Anita and on their wagering site.

In addition to world class racing, Santa Anita Park and XpressBet have teamed to offer players a total of five big handicapping contests over the course of Santa Anita’s upcoming 22-day Autumn Meet. The contest series will begin on the second day of the meet, Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” day Saturday, Sept. 29.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 29: The Opening Weekend $500 Challenge

–$500 Buy-in ($300 Bankroll & $200 prizes)

–Play on-track or online with XpressBet

PRIZES (BASED ON 150 ENTRIES)

–One Entry to the 2019 Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship

–Two Entries to the 2019 National Handicapping Championship

–Two Entries to Day One of the DOUBLEHEADER on Saturday, Oct. 6 at Santa Anita

–$10,000 Cash Prize Pool to Top Four Finishers

SATURDAY, OCT. 6: The Doubleheader–Day One

–$3,000 Buy-In ($2,000 Bankroll & $1,000 Prizes)

–Play on-track or online with XpressBet

PRIZES (BASED ON 90 ENTRIES)

–One Entry to the 2019 Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship

–One Entry to the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge

–Two Entries to the 2019 National Horseplayers Championship

–Two Entries to Day Two of the Doubleheader on Oct. 7 at Santa Anita

–$55,000 Cash Prize Pool to Top Five Finishers

SUNDAY, OCT. 7: The Doubleheader–Day Two

–$3,000 Buy-In ($2,000 Bankroll & $1,000 Prizes

–Play on-track or online with XpressBet

PRIZES (BASED ON 90 ENTRIES)

–Two entries to the 2019 Pegasus WCBC

–One Entry to the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge

–Two Entries to the 2019 National Horseplayers Championship

–$50,000 Cash Prize Pool to the Top Five Finishers

SATURDAY, OCT. 20: The $500 Autumn Challenge

–$500 Buy-In ($300 Bankroll & $200 Prizes)

–Play on-track or online with XpressBet

PRIZES (BASED ON 200 ENTRIES)

–One Entry to the 2019 Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship

–Two Entries to the 2019 National Horseplayers Championship

–$20,000 Cash Prize Pool to Top Four Finishers

SUNDAY, NOV. 4: The Closing Day Challenge

–$3,000 Buy-In ($2,000 Bankroll & $1,000 Prizes)

–Play on-track or online with XpressBet

PRIZES (BASED ON 90 ENTRIES)

–Three Entries to the 2019 World Cup Betting Championship

–Two Entries to the 2019 National Horseplayers Championship

–$50,000 Cash Prize Pool to Top Five Finishers

For additional information on Santa Anita’s 2018 Autumn Meet Handicapping Contests, please visit www.santaanita.com/contests, or call, at (626) 574-6384.

Another NHC Event at Los Alamitos this Saturday

los alamitos logoThe Los Alamitos Racing Association will offer a cash prize and as many as three seats to the 2019 National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas with a live money handicapping contest Saturday, Sept. 22.

Cost to enter is $400. Of that amount, $100 will be placed in the contest prize pool with the remaining funds going towards a live-money wagering card.

Contestants must enter prior to 2 p.m. – post time for the first race – Sept. 22. Players can begin entering the contest once track gates open at 9:30 a.m. that morning.

Tournament races will include the entire card at Los Alamitos with permitted wagers including win, place, show, exactas, trifectas and daily doubles beginning in races 1-7.

Each entry must bet at least $50 per race on six races during the contest to be eligible for prizes, but there is no wagering limit.

The player with the highest bankroll at the end of the day will be declared the winner and the player with the second highest bankroll will be the runner-up.

The winner will receive 50% of the prize pool, which will be capped at $10,000. The remaining payoffs: 20% (2nd place), 15% (3rd place), 7.5% (4th place) and 7.5% (most money wagered).

Three NHC berths will be up for grabs if the contest has more than 60 entrants. If less than 60, two NHC spots will be on the line.

For complete contest rules and any questions, contact larace@losalamitos.com or phone 714-820-2690.

Source: Los Alamitos