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That’s A Lot of Money / Thorough Defeat in the Desert (1/27/2008)

Sunday, January 27, 2008
All of us that played this weekend in Las Vegas at either the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) or the Horse Player World Series (HWS) have a story. Most are tales of woe and we are all too willing to share them with anyone that even hints at interest. Mine is certainly similar to many. After the thrashing was complete on Saturday evening as the HWS, held yearly at The Orleans Hotel and Casino, I had a hunch Hillary was feeling about the same as she dragged her beaten self out of South Carolina. Hopes and dreams dashed. Defeat thorough.
First though, the good news, as there are winners in these events and one day it could be any of us. The NHC for the first time in its nine-year history had a total purse exceeding $1 million, meaning the handicapper that could successfully navigate through the 30-race series and end up on top of the standings would receive a half-million.
The format over the Friday-Saturday event was $2 mythical win/place wagers on one horse in 15 races each day, eight being pre-selected mandatory plays for all and seven being optional. Tracks used for the NHC included Gulfstream, Tampa, Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate Fields, Oaklawn (which cancelled Friday) and Santa Anita (also cancelled on Friday).

The only way into this tournament was to qualify throughout 2007 at one of the racetracks or casinos holding a qualifying contest or online through In all, 278 players competed in NHC, held at the luxurious Red Rock Casino Resort Spa. This place is BIG in every way imaginable! But I suppose for a billion bucks one ought to end up with a pretty nice place. Canterbury sent six players to NHC and will this year qualify nine through various competitions.
The winner, with a bankroll of $272.30, an impressive $78 more than the second place finisher, was Richard Goodall of Las Vegas. This was a popular victory among the tournament regulars. Goodall and his wife Sally are the real thing. Great people that play numerous tournaments and always have a kind word no matter where they are in standings. Richard was in second place after day one. A short conversation with him prior to the Saturday start revealed quiet confidence but also the awareness that this thing could go south at any moment. Successful tournament players are confident by nature. Strong convictions are a must. But at some level, most winners are also humble as you are only as good as your final score. And its there for all to see. Goodall, at the awards dinner Saturday night, acknowledged those that came before him and also recognized the tournament fraternity; and it is just that. These events are full of good players and good people. If you play the horses and haven’t been a part of a big event, you are cheating yourself out of a wonderful experience. Qualify somewhere already.
The HWS, with about 700 players and a first prize of more than $300,000, is a very well run tournament with players from all over the country paying $1,000 for the chance at a huge score. Format: three days, 11 mythical $20 win/place wagers per day, selecting from eight tracks. Needing three ballrooms to accommodate the players, it’s a madhouse as players dash around getting their contest selections in on time and fighting their way to the free lunch buffet served daily. (When the dessert is wheeled out it’s every man for himself). And of course the host bar opens at 9am. With some players, you know when things are going right. Mystifying though is when several players scream their lungs out for a 3-1 shot that barely moves them up the standings. To each his own and after my display of ineptitude, who am I to question the motives of others.

The brief version is this. After day one I was in 45th place with a modest score on a day when no big prices could be found. I followed that up with an 0 for 11 performance and an equally dismal encore on day three. No real regrets or missed plays (other than a missed late Saturday afternoon phone call that would have yielded a 30-1 winner), I was simply way off. That happens; but the Qs are running today at Louisiana Downs and I can’t resist. Given the opportunity, I will be back again next year for more at either The Orleans or the Red Rock. It’s a thin line between cashing for size and wearing the dunce cap. This is a great game.
Canterbury offers several chances to win a trip to both the NHC and the HWS.
Super satellites are held three times each week. These give you a chance to win your way to the Claiming Crown Ultimate Handicappers Open and then to the NHC.
The Road to Kentucky begins Saturday. It’s free to enter and the top two overall winners will be at the 2009 HWS. There are also five HWS Satellite contests this year.