LAS VEGAS, Nevada (February 8, 2020) – If there was one key lesson John Vail gleaned from his lone prior visit to the NTRA’s National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) in 2016, it was not to stray too far from the strategy that got him there.

Where he found himself futilely chasing longshot after longshot during his time as an NHC rookie nearly four years ago, the Lyndhurst, NJ resident came into this year’s premier handicapping tournament determined to not let the lofty implications on the line impact how he would normally arrive at his bets. So as he watched pick after pick of his on Saturday just miss hitting the wire first during the second day of the 21st NHC Presented by Racetrack Television Network, Caesars Entertainment and Bally’s, he was heartened – not frustrated – that he was on the right path to the best end result.

“I just kept doing the same thing I was doing,” Vail grinned. “They kept coming in. I kept missing by a nose here, a nose there so I just kept going with the picks that I had. I didn’t change anything. I just kept going with what I had.

“Because they were coming in second I knew I was close. I knew one of them would hit for me today.”

Bolstered by a 21-1 shot that indeed came through for him in the seventh race at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday, Vail now has the challenge of not letting his thoughts get overwhelmed by the enormity of what lies ahead. The 55-year-old heads into the final day of the NHC atop the leaderboard of 564 individuals with a mythical bankroll of $310, more than $22 ahead of Ashley Taylor, who had a monster day in her own right to vault up to second with a total of $287.30.

Video: John Vail discusses his Day 2 success:

Vail came into Day 2 of the action already on an emotional high following an exceptional Friday performance that landed him in second overall with a bankroll of $153.20. As the results started coming across the Bally’s Event Center Saturday, Vail was feeling both fortunate – if not a little snakebit – as he had six of his selections finish second before notching his first win on the day when Sole Volante scored in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

“Today….I didn’t have a winner until about my 12th pick and then I had the big horse at Golden Gate (Sherilinda), the horse who was 20-1,” Vail said. “That one put me over the top. It was phenomenal. I saw him coming down the stretch and I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been very lucky. I lost a couple of them by a nose, but the one came through for me.”

Though Vail didn’t have it himself, another longshot bomb in the eighth at Golden Gate – the final mandatory race of the day – lit up the board at odds of 41-1 and allowed Vail to take over the tournament lead. For a man who got his start handicapping harness racing before getting into contest play about a decade ago, it was a dream scenario he didn’t dare let himself envision.

“I got into the tournaments about 10 years ago because it was a chance to make some good money,” Vail said. “I started watching the Thoroughbreds and now I’m here. This has a lot bigger prizes and a lot more excitement here than with the harness horses.

“I am absolutely not thinking about (making it to the Final Table on Sunday),” Vail added. “I’m going to go and handicap just like I did the last two days and I’m not going to think about tomorrow. I’m just going to look for winners, sit back and see how it winds up.”

Taylor, who is playing in her first NHC, had a day to remember in her own right. Thanks to plays like landing on 21-1 shot Admiralty Pier in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes and the 41-1 shot in the eighth at Golden Gate, Taylor earned a Day 2-high of $216.30 to earn a fees-paid berth into the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

Ralph Magnetti is third heading into Sunday with a mythical total of $279.50 with Michael Odorisio – who qualified by finishing second in the Last Chance competition on Thursday – now fourth with $278.50.

“I’d won an entry into the Last Chance through I showed up and who knows?,” said Odorisio, who qualified after his wife Peg and brother Mark were already qualified for the NHC. “My God was with me because I haven’t handicapped like this for three days in a row in a long time. Once we won the entry, I finished second, so I got cash. I told Peg, ‘If I don’t cash another ticket all weekend, I’m happy.’ I don’t ever remember having a three-day streak like this. Hopefully I can make it a four-day streak.”

Video: Michael Odorisio on his NHC run:

NHC Hall of Famer Trey Stiles is fifth with a total of $275.50 with Thomas Goldsmith ($272.70), Eric Bialek ($267.20), Day 1 leader Albion Benton ($246.40), Darryl Mays ($241.40) and Joel Wincowski ($230.80) rounding out the top ten.

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 the other races from eight designated racetracks across the country. The same was true for Friday and those Day 1 bankrolls rolled over to Saturday. Sunday’s Semifinal will consist of 10 optional plays from 28 eligible races. Bankrolls will then carry over to the Final Table, made up of seven mandatory races.

A total of 71 entrants qualified for Sunday’s semifinal.


Feld wins Runhappy Tito’s Charity Challenge

Former trainer and longtime analyst Jude Feld bested a field of 76 participants to take the 6th Annual Runhappy/NTRA NHC Charity Challenge presented by Tito’s Handmade Vodka on Saturday with a score of $97.80.

Feld edged out Oaklawn Park track announcer Vic Stauffer, who finished second with $81.50. Dave Tuley, senior reporter for Vegas Sports Information Network, was third with $68 followed by broadcaster Bob Neumeier ($52.20) and Michael Canale ($51.80) of Bleacher Report.

As the Charity Challenge winner, a $2,500 donation will be made to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund in Feld’s name as well as another $2,500 donation to Old Friends. In addition the charitable prize, Breeders’ Cup also offered a $500 credit to the winner’s account. The second place finisher gets a $250 credit with third earning a $100 credit.

Draft Kings is the exclusive sponsor of the NHC Final Table. Official Partners of the 2020 NHC include STATS Race Lens, TVG, Daily Racing Form, Insurance Office of America (IOA), and NYRA Bets.