Name: Joseph Costello

Hometown: Chicago 

Since joining the NHC Tour for the first time in December, the 48-year-old Costello has already qualified for NHC 18 and is the current leader in the new Cyberstars standings exclusive to players. His 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 – came with a February win on

Costello is vice president of sales for a frozen pizza company based in Chicago. He holds a master’s degree in aerospace engineering and wrote part of the 747 flight manual as a student. He is eighth on the NHC Tour overall entering this weekend.

How long have you been playing in NHC qualifiers?

“I’m pretty new to this. I’ve been playing the races since 1990 but I’m new to the NHC Tour. I got one of those Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seats in November and when I finished second in that contest I started to think, wow, maybe I can actually compete in these things. So I decided to sign up for the NHC and see if I could earn a seat and I had a winning finish on February 27.”

Any plays in particular you remember from that win?

“An offspring of [2003 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner] Six Perfections named Faufiler won a mile race on the turf at Gulfstream. You would think it would’ve been obvious enough that she wouldn’t have been 12-1 but thankfully it wasn’t that obvious.”

You also had a good fourth-place finish on February 6.

“That was maybe a little bit of a choke job. I was leading with four races to go and took a goose egg in the last four races.”

What are your goals for the NHC Tour now that you’re in such a good position?

“I realized I’ve got a shot at some of the prize money and in order to have a realistic chance I’m going to have to at least place with some points in a live tournament somewhere. So I am going to play Hawthorne this weekend and I’ll see how I do and then I’ll line up a couple more live ones as my schedule allows. If I could just get one or two live tournaments where I score some points and get on the board then I’ll just rely on NHCQualify to get me the rest of the way and hopefully I can manage a finish in the money.”

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

“It’s changed and grown over 26 years of playing. I’ve always been a bit of a pedigree snob but that can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. For example, you pick Faufiler to win because she’s an offspring of Six Perfections at 12-1 but then you pick Mohaymen to win the Florida Derby because there’s no way that little squirt Nyquist is going to get a mile-and-an-eighth, right?”

What else informs your handicapping?

“My thesis was an uncertainty analysis. Basically, it’s like when you’re trying to measure a flight path or input from multiple data sensors to calculate some aspect of an airplane’s performance. You may have four, five or six different input variables and each one of them has a range of certainty of what that signal is. You have to compile all of this information and make a decision in your software algorithm for what the plane is going to do. From all of the uncertain variables you’re trying to figure out what the outcome will be and, believe me, after 26 years I’ve figured out that there’s nothing else in the world more uncertain than the outcome of a horse race.

“My philosophy in handicapping is you have to take all of the different inputs – pedigree, pace, track conditions, track biases, trainer profiles, etc. – and you have to make some judgements as to which factors will outweigh the others. And I also have to judge how certain I am on a particular factor’s input on the absolute outcome. Horse racing is half science and half art and the art form is using your gut to make a decision on how you weigh all of those factors.”

How were you first introduced to horseracing?

“Coming out of college I was just a big Chicago sports fan. I happened to read this article in the newspaper that this horse from Arlington Park had won the Kentucky Derby and that was Unbridled, of course. I started following his career because I thought it was really cool that a horse from Chicago actually won the biggest race in the country. When he retired I was sad to see him go because he’d been the one that got me to go out to the OTBs to watch him run. I wrote a letter to [trainer] Carl Nafzger saying how sad I was and he actually wrote me back. To me that was like writing to Mike Ditka – what are the chances he’s actually going to write back to you? He sent me a videotape that I still have of a lot of Unbridled’s early races before the Derby. So I was hooked as a fan.”

Do you find it hard to resist playing descendants of Unbridled?

“I’m totally biased towards them and I have plenty of wins and plenty of losses to show for it!”