By Jennie Rees for

LAS VEGAS — Jim Goodman estimates that he knows about three-quarters of the more than 500 competitors in the $2.77 million DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship running Thursday through Sunday at Treasure Island.

That’s because in addition to being Keeneland’s longtime director of mutuels and simulcasting, Goodman is a contest player, giving him the ultimate street cred.

In his professional capacity, Goodman — who qualified for the 17th NHC Nov. 21 through the online — runs Keeneland’s very popular qualifiers, the Grade One Gamble during the spring meet and a qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge in the fall. This year, as host for the Breeders’ Cup for the first time, Keeneland also was the site of the BCBC.

“So I have between 106 and 125 players who come to my place every year to play,” he said. “I think it makes them feel like we appreciate the horse player.”

Just ask Tommy “The Hammer” Massis. He treks from Toronto at least once a year to go to the races at Keeneland and targets the bucolic Lexington track’s handicapping contests. This year he swept the Grade One Gamble and the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge for two seats in the NHC championship.

“He makes you feel like you’re the only customer that needs to be catered to, and he does it for everyone,” Massis said. “I’m a guy who really is pushy and demanding, and Jim never says no. Well, he says no but it’s usually for my outlandish demands. I’ve never wanted to go back to a place as much as I do Keeneland, and he’s the main reason.

“I always show up early on a Wednesday and sit in his office, and we talk horses. He’s one of the guys.”

Told Goodman knows three-quarters of the guys (and women) at NHC, Massis quipped, “And the other quarter, he forgot who they were…. Every track should have people like him. A lot of tracks don’t have people who understand gambling and gamblers. When you are one, you know and understand them.”

Goodman started out coming to Vegas to work the NHC as a volunteer, but this is his third year as a participant. The game-changer for him was the emergence of online qualifying tournaments.

“I could play on my computer at home,” he said. “With my job at Keeneland, I couldn’t go to a lot of racetracks, and I can’t play in my own tournaments. There is a clause that says I can’t play Keeneland. So I couldn’t play BCBC last year. The NHC, you can play as long as you’re not a sponsor. So the past three years I’ve qualified on or”

Goodman was asked if there’s anything about being a mutuel director that helped him in contests or vice versa.

“I think the best answer is that I understand wagering, obviously I have to if I’m a mutuel manager,” he said. “But running the contest has helped me be a contest player. We used to have a lot of big $2 win/place tournaments at Keeneland. The first year we had 506 people for three spots. That was before online. You had to go to the site. From me managing the tournaments, getting to know the people and see how they play they horses, I think that’s helped me. Because it’s a different kind of handicapping than you’re doing every day. You’re not playing trifectas. You’re not playing Pick Fours. You’re playing $2 to win and place.

“Being a mutuel director, by necessity you watch a lot of races. So I see trends at racetracks, especially the tracks that I follow: Tampa, Gulfstream, Fair Grounds and Oaklawn. This works out well for me because it’s my offseason, we’re not as busy this time of the year. This year I was lucky. I qualified in November, the 21st. I didn’t even try very much before Breeders’ Cup. It was kind of a demanding year.”

Goodman confesses he “didn’t do as much preparation as you should do” for the NHC.

“You should watch for the last four or five weeks the tracks you know you’re going to be playing, try to see horses that run against the bias,” he said. “I like to look at trouble lines, beyond just the Racing Form. I watch a lot of video. So I’ll go back and look at the Racing Form. I’ll see horses that might not be obvious, but I’ll go back three or four races. I think what a lot of us fall into is we look at that last race, or the second race back. You really have to go deeper here. Because you’re going to find that horse that is 8-1 who really should be 3-1.

“I don’t have fancy computer programs. I have Daily Racing Forms, just paper, and I watch replays on Keeneland Select.”

(A nicely done reference to Keeneland’s online wagering platform.)

“These guys are so good, they have this down to a science,” Goodman said of the competition. “If I’m lucky two days out of the three, I can compete with them.”