Outside of Triple Crown winners, one of the most exclusive clubs in horse racing is that of the NHC Champions. Sadly, that club decreased by one not long ago when the unforgettable John Conte passed away.
This past week, there was much happier news on the NHC “Alumni” front, as two past champions rose to the top once again to post important victories here at HorseTourneys and HorsePlayers.
Of the 21 past NHC champs, it’s hard to think of one who’s more beloved than 2001 heroine Judy Wagner.
That “beloved” stuff is all well and good, of course. But come next August, she has a chance to make some serious handicapping history.
On Friday, the First Lady of the NHC earned a return ticket to the big dance by besting all but Robert Masterton in the 351-entry, $75 qualifier at HorsePlayers. Wagner can, thus, become the event’s first two-time winner next year. She did it by coming up with 3 firsts, including Cuate at 41-1 in the 6th at Gulfstream and Poseidons Heir (22-1) in the 7th at Gulfstream.
And let’s not give short shrift to Masterton. He registered the high score of the day, landing on both of Wagner’s big winners and then some.
Jim Benes was well known in Chicago handicapping circles long before he won $750,000 in the 2013 NHC.
On Sunday, Benes added another $10,949 to his lifetime earnings by capturing the day’s $15,000 cash tourney.
Benes came out firing, hitting 9-1, 5-1 and 11-1 winners in the first three races and winding up with 4 firsts and 3 seconds. Nick “48 Hrs.” Noce collected $4,379 for finishing second (his second big runner-up payday in as many weeks.)
That cash game (final pot: $24,333) was a live-format tourney. However, Benes had the exact same picks in Sunday’s Pick & Pray qualifier to the Santa Anita Opening Day Challenge.
That was bad news for all but Marc Stateler, John Cavanaugh and Nick Seevers…who also managed to pick up $1,500 entries in this first qualifier to the December 28th competition that will be held exclusively at Xpressbet.
It’s always fun to celebrate the present-day triumphs of past NHC winners. Among other things, it’s yet another reminder that with handicapping, you never outlive your prime. With the benefit of experience and wisdom, your prime is one long continuum that just gets better and better.
Of course there are always hot streaks and cold streaks even within one’s prime. One player who seems to have had mainly hot streaks in 2020 is Sean O’Malley.
O’Malley put up a monster score to dominate Wednesday’s $2,000 Guaranteed cash game, which had a final purse of $5,784—$2,592 of which ultimately went to O’Malley.
Here’s a look at Sean’s otherworldly scoresheet:
It’s like he had the answer key, and got a few of the answers wrong on purpose, just to make it look good.
Anyway…those same picks also served O’Malley quite nicely in Wednesday’s Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier.
It was more than a hundred dollars back to the nearest competitor. Nevertheless, Mark Feld, Gary Blair and Raymond Riley each recorded plenty-respectable triple-digit scores, and they were all rewarded with $1,500 Flo-Cal entries as well. (Not their fault that they ran into a buzzsaw!)
$100.00 was also the magic mark in Wednesday’s Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship qualifier.
Todd Faro (3 wins, 4 places) was the only one to scale those heights and, as a result, he walked off with the $6,500 Pegasus package. His big hit came with King of Rock ($42.80, $12.20) in the final race of the Pick & Pray, so it really was something of a “walk off” victory for him.
Friday was the day of Robert Schintzius Sr.’s latest conquest.
On Thanksgiving, Schintzius won $8,930 in the featured turkey day cash tourney. Two day’s later he grabbed another $12,823 in a Big Bucks game plus a Flo-Cal Faceoff entry. This time, Schintzius returned to the Big Bucks ranks to cash for another $5,250. His big horse among 3 winners was 22-1 Tampa bomb Poseidons Heir.
Note that this was our first-ever Big Bucks game on a Friday, and note that it only attracted six entries. That meant that a Guaranteed $7,500 was paid out while only $6,900 in entry fees were pulled in (an 8.6% overlay to players). The point of this is that we’re going to keep offering these Friday Big Bucks games, and if you play at that level, you might want to keep an eye out for them, because there could continue to be overlay opportunities until this Friday edition catches on a bit more.
Another Friday star was Alistair Wallbaum.
He had 4 winners out of 10 races to reign supreme in Friday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a pot of $18,121. Wallbaum’s winner’s share was $8,154.
Wallbaum played the same selections in Friday’s Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier.
Here, Wallbaum beat all but Matthew Nixon (4 wins, 2 places). Finishing behind the top two—and also earning $1,500 berths to the $150,000 Guaranteed cash tourney here on January 9-10—were James Michelson (4W, 1P) and Don Bibby (3W, 1P).
Jerald Siegel came up with 3 firsts and 1 second on Friday.
Those four collections gave him the winning total of $92.20 and earned him a $6,500 package ($6,000 bankroll plus $500 for travel) to the Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship on January 23rd. Siegel has the option of participating from either Gulfstream or Xpressbet.
Like Sean O’Malley on Wednesday, Alistair Wallbaum on Friday and Jim Benes on Sunday, Steven Meier pulled off a twin killing on Saturday.
Meier used the 55-1 Saffie Joseph Claiming Crown bomb High Noon Rider as the centerpiece of a 3-win, 3-place assault that landed him the $12,632 top prize in Saturday’s $25,000 Guaranteed cash game (our richest event of the week). The total prize pool ended up at $28,072.
Meier lost a place collection somewhere in the Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier…
…but he still had plenty left to lead a parade of $1,500 Flo-Cal seat winners that included Rick Vasquez, Peter Rogers and Adam Lewis.
Incidentally, because Meier won the weekend’s richest tourney (the $28,072 cash game), he gets one of these trophies mailed to his home.
Sean Nolan was a decisive victor in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray.
Nolan’s 2 wins and 3 places served to double up his nearest competitor, and that meant a payday of $10,686 from a total final purse of $15,266.
The minimum number of 10 signed up for Saturday’s NHC Low Ratio qualifier, but Artis Roque put up a winning score that belied the ratio.
An opening race bomb, plus one additional winner and four places thereafter added up to a formidable total of $104.90…good for one Bally’s Berth!
No one hit Saturday’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot but a couple of players came close.
Rex Robinson hit the first three races but faltered in the anchor leg. Winner Frank Ryan had all the winners with the exception of leg 3 victor Fiya, who romped at odds of 1-2.
That left $3,187 waiting in the Jackpot for Sunday.
Alas, no one went 4-for-4 on this day either. Jeffrey Adami did sweep the final three races to take top honors. The lack of any perfect Pick & Pray Pick 4 tickets, however, means that Saturday’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot will being at $3,648.
Sunday turned out to be a pretty nice day for Gregg Kingma.
Kingma cashed in the first 3 races on the way to a 3-win, 2-place performance that earned him a $6,500 Pegasus berth for January 23rd.
He stepped up his game further, adding a winner, in Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney.
He had to settle for second, however, as Brian “BC” Chenvert took the top spot—and the $7,838 that went with it. Chenvert had 4 firsts and 2 seconds in an event that locked down with a final purse of $11,237.
Lawrence Kahlden rattled off three straight winners at the start of Sunday’s qualifier to the January 9th Tampa NHC qualifier.
They were good ones too—going of at 9-1, 5-1 and 11-1. After that, Kahlden added a win and 2 places to secure the first available $1,000 entry. Jeff Sandler started off with the first 2 winners of the day and would up 2nd…earning the other $1,000 berth.
Sunday’s Flo-Cal Faceoff was a closely-fought affair.
Patrick “Gino” Gianforte ultimately prevailed thanks to his 3 firsts and 3 seconds. Wolffang Wissig (4 wins, 1 place) held second, while “The Commissioner” Tim Smith (2W, 2P) snagged the final $1,500 Faceoff seat by finishing third. Each of the top three had Proud Emma ($11.20, $3.80) in the 5th at Los Alamitos among their collections.
Sunday’s $1,000 Guaranteed Exacta tourney went off with 8 contestants paying $125 each. That meant no takeout to the players.
Frank Fosbre knows a good deal when he sees it—and a good exacta box. The frequent-exacta-game-winner connected on three gimmicks…and all but $13.80 of his scoring was amassed in the first two races. Those two, alone, essentially would up locking up the $700 top prize for him.
We saved the best for last in terms of Sunday scoring.
Like many of the Sunday savants, Anthony DeCaspers was red hot at the beginning of the $165 NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers, and he finished with the highest featured-tourney score of the day.
Keith Nodskov (5 wins, 1 place) was the only other player to crack triple figures, and that earned him the other available NHC berth in the HorsePlayers competition.
Congratulations to all the past NHC champs who won this weekend, all the future NHC champs who won this weekend, and everyone in between. We’ll be back next week with more qualifiers, more cash games, more fun and—of course—more recaps!