The Year of ‘The Hammer’

By Rich Nilsen

We first interviewed Tommy “The Hammer” Massis after he scored a major handicapping contest victory last spring in the Grade One Gamble tournament at Keeneland Racecourse.  Topping 123 players with a huge $28,074 bankroll, the Canadian horseplayer captured an NHC berth, a $10,000 grand prize, and an entry into the lucrative Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

But Massis was far from done in 2015.  He parlayed that win into victories in both the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and the fall Del Mar handicapping challenge.  The Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) is the largest real-money tournament in the country and its popularity is reaching that of the National Handicapping Championship.

Massis put the hammer down by turning a $7,500 betting bankroll into a staggering $90,682.25 balance at the conclusion of the two days of Breeders’ Cup action.  In the process he crushed 321 other players and brought home total winnings of $320,682.  At Del Mar a couple of weeks later, Massis turned a $3,000 bankroll into $18,064.  He added another $32,000 to that in prize money. sat down again with this professional horseplayer from Toronto, Canada to discuss his big wins in the second half of the year.  2015 was truly the year of the Hammer.


photo by Louie DeMato

photo by Louie DeMato

AGOS: Going against an all-star field of handicappers in the BCBC, what was your strategy going into the event?

TM:  I handicapped the two cards and was looking for my spots to make my plays. My two plays that I found were both on Saturday in the Sprint and the Turf.  I didn’t really like anything on Friday to make a huge bet.  However, with the $600 minimum bet requirement, I figured I would just take the five races I had to play, bet the $600, and try to hit something really good.  I did not consider any type of huge bet on Friday.  My two plays were in those races on Saturday.


AGOS: With so many races to look at, how did you prepare for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC)?

TM:  I can’t do it the same way I normally do back home. Ten days at the latest, after a card has been run, I have looked at all the replays and have all my homework done. I try to do that work the next day, but at the latest, it is completed within a week to 10 days after the races have been run.

With 20 races in two days and all those horses, I can’t do all that legwork.  It’s insanity.

You can’t rely on just the DRF chart caller notes. I honestly went through those two days looking for pace scenarios, Europeans on the turf, etc.  It took me very little time to come up with no plays on Friday and two plays on Saturday.  On those two races [the Sprint and Turf] I did a lot of work.  I started watching the replays and so forth.

I then went back to Friday and looked at what races I could bet on.  There was one horse on Friday that was going off much lower than I expected at 5/2 and so I just bet to place instead [of a large win wager] and he ended up winning.

That’s why I don’t like the NHC.  It doesn’t fit my style with having to play 15 races a day. There is not enough time in the week [beforehand] to handicap the races and do it properly.


AGOS: Incidentally, did you feel that there were any track biases at play during the 2 days of the Breeders’ Cup, and did you use that information to your advantage?

TM: I knew that Keeneland took away one of my advantages which is the stone closers having a chance [by removing the all-weather track].  That was my bread and butter, but horses can’t win like that at Keeneland now.

On a big day with top jockeys and good horses, sometimes the biases can be corrected and evened out. I didn’t see any type of significant bias.

I came in with a plan and, with those kind of stakes, nothing was going to change.


AGOS: You basically risked everything on two horses in the Cup.  Tell us about your decision to play those runners.

TM:   The Sprint is what I look for in my daily handicapping – a ton of speed where closers can take advantage.  I really like Wild Dude’s ability to sit a good trip off the speed. I thought Kobe’s Back was better off at 6 furlongs than 7 furlongs and would come running late.   So if the speed gave way, I had two horses that were going to be finishing well.

I made a huge win bet on Wild Dude. I bet a bunch of trifectas with Kobe in the two and three hole.  The gate opened and basically I knew I was dead.  The jockey had it in his mind to take way too far back.  I was done.  I didn’t even watch after that.

I knew Run Happy was a young horse and he had to learn how to rate.  And he did just that on the biggest day of his life!

As for the turf, I watched Golden Horn beat Found with no excuses for Found.  Found’s only bad race was at 12 furlongs, so I watched the replay.  He had trouble, really had no chance to do his best running, but finished OK.  You could put a line through that race.  If I couldn’t put a line through that race, I would have put a line through Found.  So I determined that 1 1/2 miles (12 furlongs) was not a problem for the horse.

With good odds, Found was a play with Lasix and my favorite jockey.  That’s enough to move you up a little.

I had no opinion beyond those two.

I made a $3,000 exacta box on the two, and then went back up and added a $1,000 straight Found over Golden Horn.  I figured if I put more on that combination, I put the contest out of reach if it hit.


After the win at Del Mar

After the win at Del Mar

AGOS: Tell us about the winner that propelled you to victory in the Del Mar contest.

TM:   He had one lifetime races, broke in the air and rushed up.  The favorite won the race easily and this horse kept finishing behind him.  He kept finishing strong, distancing himself from the rest of the field and galloped out great past the wire.  He was claimed by Doug O’Neill and running back in the same class.  He was very obvious.

I went down to the paddock (and I’m not a paddock guy) and this horse looked like he was raring to go.  I waited and waited, watching the odds.  I planned to bet $5,000 at 5/2 but instead I ended up betting $9,000 at even money. I didn’t like the card.   I bet a horse that I would never bet as he was obvious to the public.  So, I ended up getting 9/2 on the winner [due to the prize money I won].

In the next race I liked two speed horses in a 5 furlong race and I was going to play a $600 straight exacta, but they killed each other off.  They ended up running third and fourth.

These were two bets I would never make in my real wagering. I would never bet an even money shot like that.


AGOS:  Since the NHC is so different and not really suited to your style, how are you going to approach that tournament in January?

TM: What I am going to do first is take care of the mandatory races.  I’ll be putting some replay work into those.   I look for speed horses, lone closers and so forth.

Tommy Massis relaxing back home at Woodbine

Tommy Massis relaxing back home at Woodbine

The more effort you put into [the 3-day contest], the more drained you get and the harder it is to make it the required three days.  I am not young, so I get drained pretty quickly.

I plan to walk in and put in all of my picks right away the first day; and then just monitor the odds throughout the day.  I’ll see if I have to change my strategy during the day.

I don’t care how good you are, you better just have the day of your life.  Being good gives you a chance.  I’m just not going to put a lot of work into it, because a lot of work isn’t going to do the job.  I don’t want to have a good day the first day and then I am so mentally drained the second day that I can’t make proper decisions.


AGOS: How have these recent experiences changed your life?

TM: You know I have so many health issues.  My meds are very expensive but I get them for $300 year through the disability program here in Canada.  It’s a great country to live in.

Looking long term, I plan to invest all my money in a condo and start from scratch again.


AGOS: Where are you going to buy a condo?

TM:   One bus stop from Woodbine.


For more on handicapping star Tommy Massis, read our first interview from April, 2015.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 17-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He cashed on the 2018 NHC Tour with a 19th overall finish. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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