Michael Ryan, a 52-year-old fraud investigator from Herndon, Va., leads the 19th NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens™ and Treasure Island Las Vegas with a $150.80 mythical bankroll after Day 1 of the three-day tournament at Treasure Island.
Ryan is a three-time NHC qualifier and has never finished high enough to earn a check. He qualified for this year’s NHC as one of the top 150 finishers on the 2017 NHC Tour, checking in at 82nd.
On a day with few big prices to be found in the mandatory races, Ryan amassed his total thanks primarily to three key optional plays. The first was a stand against one of the top sprinters in the world last year, Mind Your Biscuits, making his seasonal debut at Gulfstream Park. Conquest Windycity led every step and held off Mind Your Biscuits by a head to pay $34.80.
“Mind Your Biscuits was coming back and I use The Sheets and you could see where he’d slipped just a little bit,” Ryan said. “It was an easy one for me. I liked the winner a lot and would have played him at 10-1 and we were getting 16-1.”
Ryan also tabbed an 11-1 winner, Hunter’s Strike, in Oaklawn’s third race, and a 10-1 shot, Gray Admiral, in Santa Anita’s seventh.
“The strategy was to not play favorites, just to look for wide-open races with opportunities, or an overwhelming favorite that looked vulnerable,” Ryan said. “It fell together.”
As Day 1 leader, Ryan earned a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry worth $10,000.
Paul Langley – alive for a $1 million bonus on top of the $800,000 first-place prize as winner of a Hawthorne Holiday Extravaganza contest – is close behind on a tightly-bunched leaderboard with $148.70. John Farrar and Jonathan Zvara are in a tie for third with $146.80 apiece. The Top 10 was rounded out by Keith Fenton ($138.80), Jeff Bussan ($137), Matthew Ransdell ($134.60), Barbara Stubblebine ($133.80), first-time qualifier Steve Rooney ($130.90), and Dave Decauwer ($124.90).
Full standings can be viewed online at NTRA.com, where the homepage features a sortable and searchable LuxAir Jets Leaderboard of all 702 entries.
NHC entrants were required to place 18 mythical $2 Win and Place wagers – eight on mandatory races that everyone played and 10 on any of 64 other races from eight designated racetracks across the country.
Langley, 72, isn’t thinking about the $1.8 million bonus-enhanced payday awaiting him if he could find his way to the top spot on Sunday.
“I think it’s wide open,” he said. “There were no big people up on top. So even people at the bottom still have a very good chance in Day 2.”
Jonathon Kinchen, the 2015 NHC Tour Champion, sits in 35th with $103.80.
The 2017 NHC Tour winner Mike Ferrozzo, eligible for a $2 million bonus, sits in a tie for 37th with $102.40.
Defending champion Ray Arsenault has his work cut out for him if he’s to become the first two-time NHC winner. He has one entry tied for 332nd with $48 and a second entry that’s yet to register a successful play.
Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge winner Nisan Gabbay, who is eligible for a $3 million bonus if he should win #NHC2018, is in a tie for 603rd with $16.
The three-day NHC continues Saturday at Treasure Island. Day 1 bankrolls will carry over to Day 2, which will require mythical wagers on eight mandatory races and 10 optionals. The top 10 percent of the field after Day 2 will continue on to the Semifinal round Sunday and the top 10 will play at the Final Table to determine the ultimate rankings, including the $800,000 grand prize and Eclipse Award winner as Horseplayer of the Year. Players outside the final cut will play in a separate $50,000 Consolation Tournament on Sunday with reset mythical bankrolls.