LAS VEGAS (Saturday, January 25, 2014) – Jose Arias, the Day 1 leader at the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network, Sovereign Stable and Treasure Island Las Vegas, was calm and collected as Day 2 got underway Saturday morning. His $198.80 bankroll puts him in an enviable position, but not necessarily a safe one, knowing that in 14 past championships only Brian Troop in 2010 parlayed a Day 1 win into an overall title.
“A day like today there are more options,” Arias said. “You have bigger fields, bigger races. It’s a little bit more difficult but the way I do it is I just go with my plays. I look for plays I can expect a higher return from because I need the additional points.”
Arias hails from Bell Gardens, Calif., within Los Angeles County, and had his best success Friday at Santa Anita. Both of his capped winners – meaning those that went off at more than 20-1 but were tabulated at the $42 maximum for contest purposes – came at his local track.
“I definitely know that a lot better,” Arias said. “I’ve been playing that circuit for 18 or so years.”
WAGNER TOPS AMONG SEVEN PAST NHC WINNERS
If 2014 is to deliver the first-ever repeat NHC winner then NHC II heroine Judy Wagner of New Orleans appears the most serious threat to make it happen. Wagner, still the only woman to claim a NHC title, finished Day 1 in 32nd place with a $115.40 bankroll, well within striking distance of leader Jose Arias and his $198.20.
“I was pleased with the effort,” Wagner said. “I need to have two consistent days. I think it’ll take $250 to be near the top but I don’t know what the drop off will be for the Final 50. I probably need another $100 today, at least, so hopefully I can find the right ones.”
Wagner believes the past champions are in a peculiar position, trying to validate their past successes.
“I think we have more pressure,” Wagner said. “I’ve talked to Michael Beychok and Brian Troop about this several times. People think you got lucky and you’ll never get lucky again. So there is some pressure, but you also have the advantage of experience and maybe not being as uptight.”
Other past champions, in descending order of placing after Day 1: James Michelson Jr., 134th place (tie), $75.40; Richard Goodall, 148th, $73.60; John Doyle, 184th, $65.80; Stanley Bavlish, 250th (tie), $52; defending champion Jim Benes, 277th, $46.60; Michelson (second entry), 331st, $35.40; Ron Rippey, 361st, $28.20; Benes (second entry), 384th, $23.60; and Doyle (second entry), 484th (tie), $0.
MCGUIRE PICKS UP SECOND ENTRY AT LAST POSSIBLE MOMENT
Mark McGuire, an NHC regular with five straight appearances, lucked into a second entry at the start of Day 1 when another finalist confirmed they would not make it to Las Vegas. That player had qualified via the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, which sent its top 12 finishers to the NHC. McGuire came in 13th in that event. Since he was already in Las Vegas with an entry, the vacated spot was awarded to McGuire shortly before the day’s first mandatory race.
“That’s about the only good fortune I’ve had so far,” McGuire said. “Today my strategy will be pretty much the same as everyone in my position – looking for juicy, nice-priced horses. We just need to get that mojo rolling because once you get it rolling it usually keeps rolling.”
McGuire wrapped up Day 1 in 137th place with his initial entry, carrying a $74.80 bankroll. The second entry he backed into sat in 199th place with $62.60.
PROMINENT OWNER WEST ENJOYING NHC APPEARANCE
Gary West, who along with wife Mary has been among Thoroughbred racing’s upper echelon of owners for several years, is enjoying his first NHC appearance despite a poor showing on Day 1, tying for 439th place with an $11 bankroll.
“I’m not doing well personally but this is the first time I’ve been to this particular tournament and I think it’s the best-run tournament I’ve ever been to,” he said. “It’s wonderful. It’s really well-organized, well thought-out, and from a player’s perspective it is just a great venue.”
West qualified via an online tournament hosted by TwinSpires.com.
“There are too many people too far ahead of me so now I just have to go looking for 20-1 shots and hope to get lucky,” he said.
West owns a private equity fund and a hedge fund, along with restaurants, hotels and other commercial real estate developments, mostly based in Southern California. Gary and Mary West won the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with New Year’s Day and campaigned other Grade I winners including Book Review and homebred Power Broker. None of the Wests’ horses were entered at any of the contest tracks this weekend, though their Fair Grounds-based 4-year-old colt Marine Patrol will run in tonight’s Grade 3 John B. Connally Turf Cup at Sam Houston.
In 2013 the Wests ranked third among all owners by earnings with $4,520,470. Their 48 wins from 206 starts reflect an emphasis on high quality, as the top two leaders by earnings – Ken and Sarah Ramsey and Midwest Thoroughbreds – started 880 and 1,479 horses, respectively.
SUNDAY MANDATORY RACES ANNOUNCED
Early this morning, tournament officials released the list of Sunday’s mandatory races and optional contest tracks for the Final 50 Tournament (and the concurrent Consolation Tournament) and the Final Table.
Final 50 participants will play 10 races – three mandatory and seven optional. The mandatory races, in chronological order (with Pacific Time estimated post) are: Tampa Bay Downs, Race 4 (10:57 a.m.); Gulfstream Park, Race 5 (11:36 a.m.); and Oaklawn Park, Race 2 (11:57 a.m.). Optional races can be selected from Aqueduct, Races 1-7; Fair Grounds, Races 1-4; Gulfstream, Races 1-6; Oaklawn, Races 1-3; and Tampa Bay, Races 1-7. The last scheduled post time for the Final 50 is Race 4 at Fair Grounds, set for 12:26 PT (Las Vegas) and 2:26 p.m. CT (New Orleans).
The top 10 leaders from the Final 50 will move on to the Final Table, where all players will make $2 Win and Place bets on five mandatory races: Gulfstream, Race 10 (2:03 p.m.); Gulfstream, Race 11 (2:33 p.m.), Fair Grounds, Race 9 (2:55 p.m.); Santa Anita, Race 8 (4 p.m.); and Santa Anita, Race 9 (4:30 p.m.). The final NHC race, the ninth at Santa Anita, is a $12,500 claiming event ($16,000 purse) for older non-winners of two races at six furlongs with a field of 11.
About the NTRA
The NTRA is a broad-based coalition of more than 80 horse racing interests consisting of leading Thoroughbred racetracks, owners, breeders, trainers, horseplayers and affiliated horse racing associations, charged with increasing the popularity of horse racing and improving economic conditions for industry participants. The NTRA has offices in Lexington, Ky., and New York City. NTRA press releases appear on NTRA.com, Twitter (@ntra) and Facebook (facebook.com/1NTRA).