David Gutfreund can borrow a quote from Jay Trotter on Sunday at the end of the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas if he collects what would likely be a record payday in the long history of horse racing.
Trotter’s quote, for those of you who have never seen the great horse racing movie “Let It Ride”: “I am having a VERY good day!”
As winner of the 2019 NHC Tour, Gutfreund, 57, stands to collect a record $6 million in bonuses in addition to the first-place prize of $800,000 if he can outlast roughly 670 of the best handicappers in the land.
“The opportunity that I have is unprecedented in horse racing tournaments,” Gutfreund said this week. “It’s insane! It would be life changing, that’s for sure. It would be historic.”
Gutfreund, known in handicapping circles as “The Maven,” is well prepared for the marathon. He’s finished in the top 10 twice at previous NHCs and comes into this year’s tournament at Treasure Island off an amazing run that saw him capture five individual NHC Tour contests in the second half of the year.
He also brings his experience as a professional poker player to the party at Treasure Island. Since 2007, Gutfreund has won $865,255 in live tournament play, according to the Herndon Mob database.
How does that translate to handicapping’s main event?
“In poker, position is very important,” he explained. “Why? Because you get to act after all the other players. In a horse racing tournament, so many people have already made their decisions on what they’re going to bet. But the later you can make your decision the better the decision you’re likely to make.”
In addition to staying flexible and focusing on the sort of races “that are going to produce the kind of horses that I’m going to be wanting to play in the tournament,” Gutfreund said he prepares for the NHC and other handicapping tournaments in much the same way that a marathon runner would.
“You make sure you’re well nourished, well rested and, hopefully, that you’re in a good state from the neck up,” he said.
I’ll have more coverage of the NHC on Monday and in next week’s column. In the meantime, I’d recommend stopping by Treasure Island this weekend to take in a bit of the action. The contest takes place in the ballroom on the second floor.
#RJhorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing handicappers return to Tampa Bay Downs for Saturday’s $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds looking to take an early step toward the Kentucky Derby, as well as the Lambholm South Endeavor Stakes for fillies and mares.
In the latter, run at 1 1/16th mile on the turf, the crowd ’cappers are strongly lined up behind Rymska, 5-2 on the morning line, over Get Explicit (9-2) and Hawksmoor (3-1).
Crew member Howie Reed provided a succinct summary of the pick’s attributes: “Trained by CHAD Brown. Ridden by Jose L Ortiz. Last out subpar, but it was at one mile at Del Mar. Was closing at the end. Loves the distance. Has had some time off. Only failed to cash twice on turf from 11 starts with six wins and two seconds.”
I agree that Rymska looks tough if she runs, but trainer Chad Brown also entered her in the Suwannee River Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. If she shows up, she’s my pick, with Bonnie Arch (15-1) and Hawksmoor filling out the minor slots. If she doesn’t, I’ll use Monte Christa (12-1) underneath.
The handicapping crew sees a much more wide-open event in the Sam F. Davis, run at 1 1/16th mile on the main track.
They narrowly favor Knicks Go, the 5-2 morning line favorite, over Five Star General (4-1) and So Alive (5-1).
“Had two big races back to back, before a dud,” crew member Andrew Millbrooke wrote of the group’s selection. “Now after a short break, he should be back in form to win this race.”
Knicks Go is undoubtedly the most accomplished horse in the field, but I’m going to make him beat me. I think he’s going to face a lot of pace pressure in his first race in 2½ months, and that could prove troublesome.
I’ll put my money instead on Cave Run (6-1), who stretches out after running into a monster named Win Win Win in his first try vs. stakes company. I’ll use Kentucky Wildcat (9-2) and Still Dreaming (15-1) in the minor slots.
Ellis Starr’s Sam F. Davis Stakes analysis
Cave Run appears well suited to earn his first stakes win in that he closed from third to win his debut by six lengths before rallying from fifth to third in the Pasco Stakes last month. The Pasco was run at Tampa Bay Downs and the experience of a race over the track should help the colt improve. The colt also has mention tremendous breeding for two turns as his sire is 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and he is out of a mare by Bernardini. In his debut, Cave Run earned a 98 Equibase Speed Figure, which is tied with the figure Knicks Go earned in the Breeders’ Futurity for the best figure in the field. Although Cave Run earned a slightly lower figure (94) in the Pasco, I believe the colt will move forward nicely and improve with the added distance to win the Sam F. Davis Stakes.
Kentucky Wildcat appears to be sitting on a career-best effort and although he is just a maiden winner to date could post the slight upset in the Sam F. Davis. Following a sixth place finish in his debut sprinting in August, Kentucky Wildcat improved markedly when sent around two turns in October, going from a 59 figure to an 86 with a third-place finish. Two months later he returned to win at a mile with a 95 figure. Flattered when the runner-up returned to win, Kentucky Wildcat has perhaps the best breeding for the Kentucky Derby trail in the field, being a son of Tapit, sire of 2017 Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapwrit. If able to improve off his last effort as he did from the one previous, Kentucky Wildcat could be a tough competitor in this race.
Knicks Go burst onto the scene last October when posting a 70-to-1 upset in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, leading from start to finish in a field of 13 and giving no other horse a chance while earning a 98 figure in the process. Pretty much proving that to be no fluke, one month later Knicks Go finished second to Game Winner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 40-to-1 odds with a respectable 96 figure. Off those two big efforts, Knicks Go was sent to post as the 3-to-1 favorite in the 14 horse Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in December, but disappointed when checking in 11th with no excuse. Given two months off, Knicks Go has put in three workouts at Tampa Bay Downs in the last month in preparation for this race. Considering how strong those workouts were suggests Knicks Go is in top physical condition. As such, he could be able to run back to either of his top efforts last fall and if that occurs he would have a say in the outcome of the Sam F. Davis.
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.