By Noel Michaels

Score one for the “old guard.” Paul Shurman is still going strong.  In the span of a couple of weeks, Shurman became the First-Half champion on the NHC Tour and then powered into the second-half of the season by winning the Saratoga Handicapping Challenge on Friday, August 10. Shurman topped a field 215 entries in his Saratoga victory, running up a $4,161 real-money bankroll and earning $29,365 in prize money.

Just a week before, the National Horseplayers Championship [NHC] hall of famer had added another feather to his tournament cap by winning the NHC Tour First Half.  His NHC Tour first-half point total was an impressive 12,223 based on his top four scores from the beginning of the season through July 31, including at least one on-track event.  Shurman’s latest title was worth a $10,000 entry into this fall’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge [BCBC]. He adds that to his career NHC earning total of $233,200, which is enough to place him in 18th place on the all-time earnings list.

“I am very excited about going to the BCBC again,” Shurman said. “I had to sweat out a lot of head bobs to get there.”

Thanks to his results already this year, Shurman, 63, of Dix Hills, New York, has now qualified for his record-tying 17th trip to the NHC finals in Las Vegas on Feb. 8-10, 2019. His storied career has also included winning the NHC Tour championship in 2011 where he earned a $75,000 grand prize. Shurman has made his mark at the NHC finals through the years as well, dating all the way back to the event’s early days at the MGM Grand. Shurman is not only is the co-holder of the record for qualifying to the NHC the most years, but he is also one of the all-time leading scorers in the history of the NHC finals thanks to several high finishes including 3rd place in 2009 ($100,000 prize), 6th place in 2012 ($26,000), and 6th place in 2014 ($17,000).

Shurman’s first-half scores were accumulated on the strength of a fourth-place finish in the Keeneland Handicapping Challenge on April 14 (3,303 points), plus a victory on on February 23 (3,750 points), a win on on June 3 (2,613 points), and a 20th-place finish on on June 16 against a field of 430 players (1,807 points). Add 750 participation points and you have his 12,223 winning total.

The first- through fifth-place players on the First-Half NHC Tour Leaderboard all receive the same prize value, either $10,000 in cash or a $10,000 entry to the 2018 BCBC. The rest of the first-half winners were topped by Christy Moore of Fishers, Indiana, a double-qualifier at Keeneland and Arlington who is currently eighth in the overall NHC Tour standings, who had 12,081 first-half points.

The first half third-place finisher was Karen Carey of Saratoga Springs with 12,025 points. Carey is a first-year NHC qualifier who was featured in an earlier blog after dominating NYRA tournaments earlier this year at Aqueduct and Belmont.

Fourth place in the first half went to 2014 NHC Tour champion and six-year NHC qualifier Eric Moomey with 12,023 points, and fifth-place went to Russ Wilkes with 12,010 points. Wilkes, 58, is a retired liquor store manager from Stittsville, Ontario, who has had an amazing amount of tournament success in a short amount of time since playing his first tournament in August, 2016. Wilkes finished second in the 2016 Orleans Fall Classic and this season he currently sits in fifth on the overall NHC Tour Leaderboard after double qualifying, first with a on on May 19 and then with a victory in the Woodbine Spring Tournament on June 16.

Moomey and Wilkes will join Shurman with $10,000 entries into the BCBC.  Moore and Carey, meanwhile, both took $10,000 cash prizes.

Players narrowly missing out on NHC first-half prizes included 6th-place finisher Bill Rendino, who finished about 200 points out of the money with 11,812, and 7th- and 8th-place finishers Kevin Willett and Timothy Yohler, the current No. 1 player on the NHC Tour Overall Leaderboard, as of August 16.

Here are the top 10 finishers on the NHC Tour First-Half Leaderboard

Place   Player                         Points             Prize

1          Paul Shurman              12,223             BCBC entry

2          Christy Moore             12,081             $10,000

3          Karen Carey                12,025             $10,000

4          Eric Moomey               12,023             BCBC entry

5          Russ Wilkes                 12,010             BCBC entry

6          Bill Rendino                 11,812

7          Kevin Willett               11,249

8          Timothy Yohler           11,166

9          Chris Olssen                11,096

10        Christopher Podratz    11,064

The First-Half Leaderboard differs from the current Overall NHC Tour Leaderboard because the Overall Leaderboard includes players’ top 7 contests, including at least one on-track score.  The First-Half Leaderboard was limited only to a players’ top 4 scores through July 31.  Yohler, who like Christy Moore is from Fishers, Indiana, leads the Overall Leaderboard with 18,102 points by a razor-thin 9-point margin over the second-place player, seven-year NHC qualifier Christopher Podratz. Podratz, a 51-year-old nursing administrator from Santa Clarita, Calif., made a 1,500-point surge thanks to a third-place finish on on Aug. 11.