When the action begins Friday at the National Horseplayers Championship, the nation’s richest and most prestigious handicapping tournament, Las Vegas residents Richard and Sally Goodall already will have cause for celebration as they set out in pursuit of the big money.
The Goodalls are regulars at the annual Las Vegas tournament, which is offering a record $2.95 million in prize money in its 21st renewal. Richard even won the three-day contest in 2008, taking home what was then a grand prize of $500,000. This year, $800,000 will go to the winner.
But before play began in this year’s tournament at Bally’s, the 17th he has participated in and the 18th for his wife, the 76-year-old retired attorney learned this week that he had been inducted into the NHC Hall of Fame.
“It’s very exciting” he said Tuesday, taking a brief break from preparing for the tournament, which requires players to place mythical $2 win and place bets on 36 races over the first two days. Those who finish in the top 10 percent of the field advance to day No. 3, in which they must play 10 additional races.
Also honored was Roger Cettina, 53, of Rumson, New Jersey, who has finished second twice in the NHC. He and Goodall were the 11th and 12th players to be enshrined in the handicappers’ equivalent of Cooperstown.
Richard Goodall, who moved to Las Vegas from Baltimore in 1995 and has been handicapping horses for 50 years, said he is very “pro-contest” and believes more players should give the NHC a whirl.
“Racing has become a game where it’s hard on a day-by-day basis to grind it out unless you’re a whale,” he said. “With contests, it’s a lot cheaper. You can spend a good bit of your time preparing for the contest, which doesn’t cost any money, and the online feeder tournaments offer a chance to win a lot of money with a smaller investment. On top of that, you just have a hell of a lot of fun.”
To get involved and begin trying to qualify for next year’s NHC, players need to join the NHC Tour for as little as $50 a year, then play in either online or bricks-and-mortar contests to advance to the final tournament. Additional details are available at ntra.com/membership/.
#RJhorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing handicappers are hunting smaller game this weekend in the $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes (Grade 3), a 1 1/16th-mile turf race for 4-year-olds and up, and the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (Grade 3), a Kentucky Derby prep for 3-year-olds run at 1 1/16th mile on the main track at Tampa Bay Downs.
In the former, the handicapping crew is strongly endorsing 5-2 morning line favorite Caribou Club, a multiple graded stakes winner who is a neck shy of being on a three-race victory streak. They have Halladay (6-1) edging March to the Arch (7-2) for second.
Caribou Club does look tough here, but I’ll try to beat him with Devamani (8-1), who makes a big barn switch from trainer Rob Atras to king of the lawn Chad Brown. The 6-year-old gelding will have to improve, but he’s in the right hands to do that. I’ll use Caribou Club to place and class-dropping Real Story (4-1) to show.
In the Sam F. Davis, the crowd ’cappers are again sticking with the chalk, 6-5 morning line favorite Independence Hall. They have 3-1 second choice Premier Star to place and Sole Volante (8-1) to show.
“Blew the field away in three straight races, and Constitution is a very hot sire,” wrote #RJhorseracing handicapper Bruce Shepard of the crew’s pick. “Wins by 12 lengths the first time Jose Ortiz climbs aboard.”
Independence Hall, who is 3-for-3 and has won the Nashua Stakes (Grade 3) and Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct in his past two starts, may indeed waltz home by a dozen. But I’ll attempt to beat him with Chapalu (8-1), winner of the Grey States (Grade 3) at Woodbine in his last start, who turns up here for red-hot trainer Arnaud Delacour. I have Independence Hall to place and Ajaaweed (4-1) to show.
Ellis Starr’s Sam F. Davis Stakes analysis
Independence Hall has been impressive in his three races to date. He has won by margins of four lengths, 12 lengths and four lengths, the latter two in stakes. However, I believe Sole Volante can post the mild upset and win the Sam F. Davis Stakes. The reasons are two-fold. First, Sole Volante is one of only two horses in the field to have won around two turns — the other being Chapalu — but his win came in October and he’s been away from the races for three months. Sole Volante is actually two-for-two around two turns, with both wins coming on grass. He broke his maiden at first asking in October at seven and one-half furlongs on turf, then won the Pulpit Stakes with a visually impressive rally from last of 11 in the early stages. That effort earned a career-best and field high 109 Equibase Speed Figure. It was better than the 107 figure Independence Hall earned in the Nashua Stakes in November. Trying dirt for the first time in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes on January 4, Sole Volante wasn’t disgraced one bit as he rallied from last of six to get third at the end, beaten two lengths for the win but seven lengths clear of the next horse in the field. Although Sole Volante regressed and earned a 98 figure, it was still better than the 94 figure Independence Hall regressed to when winning the Jerome Stakes. And, again, Independence Hall is running in a two-turn race for the first time. Since the Mucho Macho Man, Sole Volante has put in two morning workouts on dirt and two on turf, the most recent of which was a potentially portentous 58.25 workout for 5 furlongs on grass which was the best of the day at the distance. As such, I think this colt gets onto the Kentucky Derby trail with a win in this year’s Sam F. Davis Stakes.
Independence Hall isn’t necessarily a suspect or vulnerable favorite in the race so he has to be considered a strong win contender as well. Independence Hall improved mightily off an 87 figure in his debut to 107 when dominating by 12 lengths in the Nashua Stakes in November. Following two months off, it might have been expected for the colt to run a bit more slowly, which he did when earning a 94 figure winning the Jerome Stakes on New Year’s Day. Since the Jerome, Independence Hall has put in four excellent morning workouts, signaling he continues to remain in top physical condition and if he can take to the two-turn trip of the Sam F. Davis he can win.
Ajaaweed ran poorly in a 6 furlong sprint in his career debut last August but was a different horse just one month later when stretching out to a mile, winning by four lengths. Sent to post as one of the favorites at 7-2 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November, Ajaaweed ran fourth of 10 while very wide around the far turn. Given two months off to mature after that, Ajaaweed returned to run a bang-up second, beaten just a half-length, in the Remsen Stakes in December. Considering the Remsen winner, Shotski, returned for his 3-year-old debut with a nice second place effort in last week’s Withers Stakes, Ajaaweed could run even better than when earning a career-best 98 figure in the Remsen to be a strong contender in this race.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures: Albert Park (94), Chapalu (95), No Getting Over Me (96), Premier Star (96) and Tiz Rye Time (78).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.