LAS VEGAS (Thursday, January 28, 2016) – First-time qualifier Phil Bongiovanni, a 43-year-old Thoroughbred racehorse owner from Yorba Linda, Calif., leads the 17th Daily Racing Form/NTRA NHC Presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas with a $200 bankroll after Day 1 of the three-day tournament at Treasure Island.
Bongiovanni hit two “cap” horses worth the maximum $42 to win and $22 to place to help establish a clear lead over next-closest competitors Dan Camoro ($166.60) and Joe Perry ($156.80). As Day 1 leader, Bongiovanni earned a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge berth worth $10,000.
The Top 10 was rounded out by Jim O’Nail ($149.70), Cheryl McIntyre ($147.60), Robert Felty ($144.80), Charlie Davis ($140.20), Roger Cettina ($139.20), Gaylord Grundy ($138.80) and Charles Hogan ($132.50).
Full standings can be viewed online at NTRA.com, where the homepage features a scrolling live leaderboard of the Top 63 players (representing the top 10 percent in line to make the cut and continue to the Semifinals after Day 2 play Friday) and sortable/searchable standings of the entire field.
The 629 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 about 45 other races from six designated racetracks across the country.
Bongiovanni, who plays in partnership with Southern California handicapper Bob Ike, connected with two bombs early in the contest – Point Made, the longest shot in a short field of seven, paid $99.60 and $35.60 in Gulfstream Park’s fourth race, and Tipsy Suspect, who went gate-to-wire at 50-1 against 11 other Arkansas-breds, returning $102 and $26 in Oaklawn Park’s third.
“We shot out and hit those two cap horses early” Bongiovanni said, comparing the effort to a speed horse posting a :21 2/5 opening quarter-mile. “There are a lot of good handicappers here and I’m realistic; I have no delusions of grandeur. Today was a lucky day. If I can keep the luck rolling that’s great but no one can take away the fact that, for one day at least, I finished first.”
Bongiovanni retired comfortably a few years ago after selling a business. Now he follows his passion as an owner with 14 horses in training, primarily in Southern California with trainer Ted H. West. His best horse to date has been 7-year-old California-bred gelding Motown Men, who earned $259,214 in 11 starts last year and is approaching a half-million in career earnings.
The 2015 NHC Tour winner Jonathon Kinchen, who is eligible for a $2 million bonus if he wins NHC 17, led the field early in the day and finished with both of his entries within striking distance, 27th ($113.10) and 45th ($102.60).
Said Kinchen: “If you’d have told me this morning when I woke up, ‘Hey, you’re going to have two in the top 50 after day one,’ I’d be like, ‘Where do I sign?’”
The three-day NHC continues Friday at Treasure Island. Day 1 bankrolls will carry over to Day 2, which will have eight mandatory races and 10 optionals. The top 10 percent of the field – 63 entries – after Day 2 will continue on to the Semifinal round Saturday and the top 10 will play at the “Final Table” to determine the final rankings, including the $800,000 grand prize and Eclipse Award winner. Players outside the final cut will play in a separate $50,000 Consolation Tournament on Saturday with reset mythical bankrolls.
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.