Name: Erik Sechrist

Hometown: Jonestown, Pa.

Sechrist, 40, earned his first-ever NHC berth Sunday by winning the free online qualifier presented by the NTRA and hosted on HorseTourneys.com. The top four finishers from 2,074 entries will participate in the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping contest, the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas, set for Jan. 27-29, 2017, at Treasure Island.

How long have you been playing in NHC qualifiers?

“I got into tournament play about a year-and-a-half ago. A good friend of mine that I grew up with and used to go to the racetrack with, Kevin “Mugsy” Kreiser, is also a contest player. After we graduated high school we went our separate ways and had families and everything, but then I ran into him at a handicapping contest at Penn National. He told me he got into the NHC and that the tournaments were awesome. And he told me about Horse Tourneys so I kicked it around. In the end I just poked and hoped and I guess hope won out!”

How did you manage to win Sunday’s free qualifier against a field of more than 2,000 other players?

“I was asking that same question myself on Sunday! Like I always say to my friends, even a blind squirrel gets a nut every once in a while.

“I had seven winners [out of 12 races] and no seconds. All winners. I hit the first four races. Dead Easy [in Race 2 at Santa Anita] just got up and he was 10-1. He was going downhill on turf, had a nice jock switch to Kent Desormeaux, and was dropping from $40,000 allowance optional claiming to $36,000. He was the 12-horse with the outside post and a lot of times going downhill that keeps you out of trouble. When you look at the form you see the obvious picks but then you have to look at who might have a shot and after that it’s just like rolling dice. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don’t. He just came flying and got up by a half-length.

“My horses just kept getting up and I was getting lucky. There was another guy who was with me all day and had the same winners in the first four races. In these contests anything can happen – a capper comes in and you go from first to 36th just like that. But nothing big came in the rest of the day. Helper Rye won at Gulfstream [in Race 9 at 7-2] and that helped.

“The one I was really worried about was Crafty Colonel [in Race 12] at Gulfstream. He really got in some bad traffic and I didn’t think he could get up but he got through and then I thought I had a chance as long as nothing big came in.”

How do you like to handicap and what do you use?

“Mostly I’m just using my years of experience. I’ve been going to the track since I was probably eight and I’ve been reading the Daily Racing Form since I was 10. My dad taught me how to read one and it’s just natural to me. Then you pick up some things. Breeding I haven’t really mastered but I talk to Mugsy about that and he really knows his young horses. It’s good to have a father (Karl Sechrist) who was a trainer and a close friend with so much experience.”

What do you do professionally outside of horse racing?

“I’m a kitchen manager at a family restaurant; been there for six years.”

How does your life outside of racing inform or impact the way you handicap?

“I’d say that since I’ve had kids it’s changed the way I handicap because I have to handicap in the morning before they’re awake. I have a four-year-old boy and an 11-year-old daughter. It’s just so much easier to handicap in the morning. I get up at 4 a.m. and before work I’ll go down and get on the computer to look at cards. Before children I just worked and went to the racetrack, that’s it. I’m surprised I didn’t meet my wife at the racetrack.”

How many NHC qualifiers did you play in before winning this one and qualifying for your first time?

“I’ve probably played more in the free ones. I like the ‘Pick and Pray’ format; the all-optional is just a totally different way of handicapping. I’ve probably played in over 100 tournaments but not all of them were NHC qualifiers. My only highlight before Sunday was a $500 winner-take-all tournament on HorseTourneys.com with Jonathon Kinchen and I beat him. I was jumping for joy. That was the highlight of my career in contests.”

Will you keep playing trying to get a second NHC entry?

“Oh, definitely. And with all those points I almost have to pursue the Tour, too. I’ve got 3,800 points and that puts me at 38th overall just from that one win. So I’ll probably be playing even more.”