LAS VEGAS (Saturday, January 30, 2016) – Paul Matties of Ballston Spa, N.Y., topped a field of 629 entries to win the $800,000 first-place prize and an Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year at this weekend’s 17th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas. The NHC offered record overall cash and prizes totaling $2,778,760.
The 46-year-old Matties (b. Nov. 19, 1969) amassed a winning score of $399.50 over the three-day tournament from 53 mythical $2 Win and Place bets – 18 each on Thursday and Friday, 10 in Saturday morning’s Semifinals round and seven in the dramatic Final Table contest exclusive to the overall top 10.
Roger Cettina of Rumson, N.J., was NHC runner-up for the second time (he also did it in 2013) with $389.10, good for $250,000, as well as a $25,000 bonus and berth into next year’s NHC 18 as the highest finisher among the 2015 NHC Tour top 20. He was followed by 36-year-old Charlie Davis of Tennessee ($340.60 final bankroll; $125,000 prize) in third and the winner’s brother, Duke Matties ($337.30; $100,000) of Laguna Beach, Calif., in fourth.
The official Top 10, with final bankroll (and prize):
First – Paul Matties, $399.50 ($800,000 and Eclipse Award for Horseplayer of the Year)
Second – Roger Cettina, $389.10 ($250,000)
Third – Charlie Davis, $340.60 ($125,000)
Fourth – Duke Matties, $337.30 ($100,000)
Fifth – David Gutfreund, $331.80 ($75,000)
Sixth – Joe Perry, $319.40 ($65,000)
Seventh – Peter Deys, $307.80 ($59,000)
Eighth – Ernie Powers, $304.90 ($54,000)
Ninth – Stanley Bavlish, $284.20 ($52,000)
Tenth – Mark Richards $283.20 ($50,000)
Matties first assumed the lead during the Semifinals round with a $47 winner, R B Rainbow Dash, in the sixth race from Tampa Bay Downs. Coupled with the $17.20 place money, the $59.20 added to his bankroll boosted Matties from third to first.
“I was down to two horses and my brother Duke and I watched the replay three times and I switched from the six to the seven,” he said.
Matties maintained his lead throughout the Final Table round. In the seven mandatory races that made up the Final Table he cashed in two of them – Risetotheoccasion ($17.60 to win, $5.40 to place) in Oaklawn’s seventh and Sevens ($8.40 to place) in Gulfstream Park’s 12th.
“Horseplayers always think they’re smarter and better than everybody else so to beat all the smartest people in the world, what an honor,” cracked Matties.
Paul Matties, a frequent NHC qualifier, is the older of the Matties brothers by three years. They have another brother, Gregg Matties, a trainer in New York, and father Chick Matties was a racing enthusiast who won the inaugural Horse Player World Series handicapping contest.
“My brother Duke’s the greatest,” Matties said. “He was rooting for me more than he was rooting for himself the whole time. I’ve never seen him so nervous.”
Matties, who qualified on HorsePlayersQualify.com, likes to say he took his first steps at the Great Barrington Fair meet in Western Massachusetts. He’s the father of three sons, one of whom, Wynn, is autistic.
“Nothing has been more satisfying than to witness and help my oldest son to become one of the kindest and sweetest people you would ever want to meet,” he said.
Matties has made handicapping his career, first calculating speed figures for Andy Beyer Associates and later in a key role with NHPlay, a boutique account wagering platform and horseplayer service company.
By virtue of his victory, Matties also automatically earns an exemption into next year’s NHC finals.
The NHC was held for the fifth straight year in the Treasure Island ballroom and will return to Treasure Island for NHC 18 in January 2017.
Stanley Bavlish was attempting to become the first two-time NHC winner but checked in ninth. The 2001 NHC hero Brian Troop’s eighth-place finish last year remains the highest ever by a former champion.
In the NHC Future Wager offered by Treaure Island’s race book, Matties closed at 50-1, returning $102 on a $2 wager.
The NHC 17 finals awarded cash to the top 63 finishers (the top 10 percent overall) from a total purse of $2,304,760. An additional $50,000 went to the top 20 in today’s Consolation Tournament. Including $250,000 paid out to top finishers in the year-long NHC Tour, a $100 TI casino chip for every entrant, NHC Tour travel awards, RTN subscriptions and the $10,000 charity tournament prize, plus $30,000 worth of Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entries, the aggregate value of payouts this weekend in NHC cash and prizes totaled a record $2,778,760.
To reach the Semifinals, the record 629 NHC entrants were required to place 36 mythical $2 Win and Place wagers – 18 on Thursday and 18 on Friday. This is the third consecutive year with a three-day format including the Semifinals and Final Table.
Final Table participants were relocated to a single table on the stage of the Treasure Island ballroom that serves as NHC headquarters.
Full standings can be viewed online at NTRA.com, where the homepage features a scrolling leaderboard and sortable/searchable standings of the entire field.
The 2015 NHC Tour winner Jonathon Kinchen, who was eligible for a $2 million bonus if he could top the NHC, had two entries that each finished outside of the Semifinals cutline.
MATT BERNIER TAKES CHARITY CHALLENGE CROWN – Matt Bernier, Daily Racing Form Player Development Handicapper, won the 2nd Annual NHC Charity Challenge with a final mythical bankroll of $54.30, besting runner-up Tom LaMarra of Blood-horse, who checked in second with $47.60. Bernier picked three winners during the seven-race contest and scored in five of the seven contest races.
A field of 42 celebrities, broadcasters and media types competed in the Charity Challenge. As the winner, Bernier will have $5,000 donated in his name to the Old Friends Barn Raising Project, created after the Thoroughbred retirement nonprofit with farms in Kentucky and upstate New York suffered a complete loss of its hospital/quarantine barn in a fire Jan. 23, and another $5,000 to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA).
Bernier had the option of giving $5,000 to the nonprofit charity of his choice and he opted to split the prize equally between Old Friends and the TAA. The NTRA had already designated $2,500 in the winner’s name to those charities and Bernier’s decision resulted in each getting $5,000.
The top five in the Charity Challenge was rounded out by Horse Racing Radio Network’s Acacia Courtney ($47.40), ESPN College GameDay personality Chris “The Bear” Fallica ($44.40), and HRRN’s Mike Penna ($42.30).
In its 17th year, the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino race books, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping Web sites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. Each year, the NHC winner joins other human and equine champions as an honoree at the Eclipse Awards. In addition to the founding title sponsor, the NHC is presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas.