Ray Arsenault of Thornhill, Ontario, Canada, sussed out four double-digit winners Saturday – including a $100 winner in Gulfstream Park’s fourth (worth the maximum $64 for contest scoring) – to vault himself atop the standings with a mythical bankroll of $289.50 entering the Semifinal round of the three-day 18th Daily Racing Form/NTRA NHC Presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas. The barrage of longshots also gave Arsenault the highest Day 2 total.
The top 10 percent of the field – the top 66 – will continue on to the Semifinal round Sunday and the subsequent top 10 will play at the “Final Table” to determine final placings, including an $800,000 grand prize and Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year. Those left outside the final cut will play in a separate $50,000 Consolation Tournament on Sunday with reset mythical bankrolls.
Arsenault had what he thought would be his final pick of the day scratch at the gate at Golden Gate, leaving him scrambling to find a play in the last two eligible contest races from Fair Grounds. That selection, Friend to Me, paid $24.80 and $10.40 to give Arsenault the lead.
“I looked at the Fair Grounds and asked my buddy about it,” Arsenault said. “He hated the favorite and said he liked the one or the two. I looked and said, ‘I like the two.’ The two won and the rest is history.”
For the highest Day 2 score, Arsenault earned a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge berth worth $10,000.
“That makes me more excited than anything,” Arsenault said. “Because where you finish here today doesn’t really matter because tomorrow is another day. Last year I was second going into the final day and I ended up 26th. Anything can happen.”
Dan Kovalesky, who led for part of the day Saturday, held second with $260.80. The Top 10 was rounded out by Frank Mustari ($251.40), Eliot Honaker. ($248.50), Michael Ray ($246.50), Sheldon Usprech ($243.90), Kevin Jones ($231.80), Travis Pearson ($227.30), Louis Filoso ($226.90), and Dennis Johnson ($224.50).
Allan Sadler is the only player with both of his entries in the Semifinals – 37th ($123.60) and 58th ($114.80).
NHC entrants were required to place 18 mythical $2 Win and Place wagers – eight on mandatory races that everyone played and 10 on any of 71 other races from eight designated racetracks across the country.
This is the seventh NHC appearance for Arsenault, a transportation broker who fell for racing as a child during Woodbine and Greenwood visits with his father.
As for the $100 winner, Arsenault explained: “I didn’t have a strong opinion in that race and I thought I’d take a shot. That was a race where some of the other horses were coming from behind and [jockey Corey] Lanerie loves to save ground. I figured he should improve a little bit and got a perfect trip.”
Among the notable Semifinals players are Paul Matties Sr. (11th, $221.30), father of last year’s NHC winner Paul Matties, as well as his other son Duke Matties (tie-24th, $206.40), a 2016 Final Table participant; Steve Wolfson Jr. (14th, $220.30), the 2003 NHC winner and son of 2017 NHC Hall of Fame inductee Steve Wolfson Sr.; Chris Larmey (28th, $203.20), NHC Players’ Committee chairman; powerhouse couple Sally Goodall (30th, $202.90) and 2008 NHC winner Richard Goodall (48th, $191.70); Bill Shurman (51st, $190.70), one of the most accomplished NHC players having qualified 14 times; and Stanley Bavlish (59th, $186.70), the 2007 NHC winner and another repeat Final Table participant.
Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge winner Joe Appelbaum, who was eligible for a $3 million bonus if he should win NHC 18 with his second of two entries, finished in 515th ($69) on the bonus-eligible entry. The 2016 NHC Tour winner Cheryl McIntyre, eligible for a $2 million bonus, finished in a tie for 568th ($55.40) with one entry and last on the other ($0). George Chute, eligible for a $1 million bonus as the NHC Tour’s leading points-earner on NHCQualify.com, checked in 596th ($49.40) and tied for 598th ($47.60).
Full standings can be viewed online at NTRA.com, where the homepage features the sortable and searchable LuxAir Jets Leaderboard of all 654 entries.
The NHC concludes Sunday. Day 2 bankrolls for the top 66 will carry over to the Semifinals, which will consist of 10 optional plays from a menu of 35 races ending at about 12:30 p.m. PT. Bankrolls will also carry over to the Final Table, where the massive cash prizes from $800,000 for first down to $50,000 for 10th and the Eclipse Award for Horseplayer of the Year will be determined on seven mandatory races with estimated post times from 1:30-4:30 p.m. PT.