Name: Geoff Schutt

Hometown: Salem, Mass.

Twitter: @8NorthernDancer 

Schutt is the current NHC Tour leader with points earned in five different contests over a four-week span in February and March. He secured his first berth to 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 – with a fourth-place effort in a Horse Tourneys contest last month. He was a dual-qualifier at NHC 17 earlier this year. 

The 51-year-old (“I was born in 1964, which is significant to me because it’s the year the Beatles came to America and the year Northern Dancer came from Canada to win the Derby”) Schutt has a journalism degree and worked at newspapers in Ohio before transitioning to freelance writing and, later, public relations and marketing. Working from home in Salem, he contributes to a variety of outlets and organizations while finishing his latest novel.

How long have you been playing in NHC qualifiers?

“I got my start in contests on Public Handicapper back in 2007. That teaches you to go after winners; second place doesn’t get you anything. Scott Carson has done a tremendous job with that site. The NHC was always a dream of mine and I tried to qualify on Public Handicapper but I just wasn’t having much success. About a year-and-a-half ago I changed my whole method of handicapping to look beyond the winners. In these win-and-place contests it’s often the long-priced place horse that wins the contest for you. I still play Public Handicapper and that’s my first stop, but now I’ll play in these other styles of contests too.”

How did you earn your recent NHC 18 berth?

“I was fourth in an NHC Qualify contest on February 13. I have to give the credit to the very first race of the day [Santa Anita Race 2], which was the last race I’d handicapped. A horse breaking its maiden named Moose Skowron won. I was going back and forth between him and Gutsy Effort.

“I ended up going up with Moose Skowron because – all things being equal, I loved the trainer (Phil D’Amato), loved the jockey (Edwin Maldonado) – Moose Skowron is an ex-ballplayer, the hero of the 1958 World Series with the Yankees, who hit a clutch three-run homer in the seventh game. My dad was a huge baseball fan so I was remembering back to my dad and his love of baseball. After qualifying that day I immediately went out and got an autographed Moose Skowron baseball card and that’s been my lucky charm in the weeks since.”

How else have you earned points so far?

“I just had a really good month, starting with the Feb. 13 fourth-place finish, and the next four weeks I finished in the top 10 on NHC Qualify three more times and had a decent finish on Horse Tourneys.”

So what is the secret behind your run of success?

“I’ve been a real student of the Tour the last two years. Last year was my first full year playing. I have been well aware of Eric Moomey and Jonathon Kinchen and how they played and I thought that if I could get off to a really good start online and then try to do some live tournaments later in the year maybe I’d have a chance at this.

“The advantage of an online tournament is you get to see what the other players picked. After each contest when I see one of the elite players at the top of the leaderboard I look at who they picked and I’ve started to see patterns. In this it’s as much about handicapping the other players as it is handicapping the horses in a race. I’m constantly amazed by and have so much respect for those players that do it consistently.

“I’ve learned a great deal but I combine that with the NHC Player Profiles and the recaps by Peter Fornatale on I read everything I can on other players. You start to see how the successful players think.”

Without revealing too much, how has that information changed the way you play?

“If I think a horse is going to win but the place money isn’t going to get me much I have no problem going for a value horse who might finish second at a longer price. Sometimes I handicap for horses that might pay $10 or $15 to place.”

Do you think you can win the NHC Tour?

“I have a competitive spirit and I want to finish first. The Cyberstar bonus on NHC Qualify is an added carrot. I’ve love to be playing for that, as well. I finished 42nd overall last year and I was trying to get in the top 20 to play for that bonus. I’m sure the players that are usually up there will be up there again but it feels good to be there right now.”

What has been your biggest success as a horseplayer?

“My biggest score was qualifying for the NHC the first time on July 11, 2015. I can’t describe that feeling after all of those years and having to alter my ways of looking at PPs. It was on Horse Tourneys, an all-optional contest, and I was first out of 280 players.”

How were you first introduced to horseracing?

“Baseball and horseracing are my two favorite sports. My parents would try to go to the Derby every year. I was able to go with them in 1988 when Winning Colors won, with Gary Stevens, of course. It was just a thrill to be there and I hope to get back.

“My home track where I first became interested as a casual fan was this old harness track in Toledo, Raceway Park, which is closed now. There were as many tellers as there were customers back in the late 1990s.”

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

“I’m an old-fashioned pen and paper kind of guy. Just give me some DRF or Brisnet PPs and that’s all I need.”