01/13/2014 2:34PM

68-1 longshot vaults Shurman into NHC finals


The third and fourth finishers in this past weekend’s DRF Bets contest needed the winner of the last race at Santa Anita to earn trips to the desert. Did anyone else notice the name of the winner? It was a bay 3-year-old filly named Vegas Bound. Well, William Zvara and Rich Guggenheim, congratulations. But the winner of the contest was another story. He didn’t have to wait until the last race to know he was going to qualify.

William Shurman is a respected contest veteran who I’ve been meaning to interview for the last couple of years. But that changed this Sunday when I tracked Bill down after his DRF Bets contest win.

How did you put up such a crazy score?

It was one hit, a 68-1 shot that won by a nose. I could have just as easily finished with zero. Ninety-nine out of a hundred times that horse isn’t coming anywhere close to winning. Really, I just got lucky.

I think you’re being too modest. It’s tough to come up with one like that, especially early in the contest like you did. But would you have played the horse in a contest with a cap?

Probably not. But it actually was a little bit more of an affirmative play than a last-second desperation play. There were plenty of races left, and it was my fourth play of the day. Though I’ve been burned before by not betting big prices, even when there is a cap.

What’s the story there?

In 2005, at the NHC Finals, I had a monster first day. I think I had $180 the first day. I was in the lead going into the last race. I was all set to play this horse Letterman’s Humor, and it kept drifting up and up and up. And I felt like I couldn’t play it because it wasn’t good value in the contest with a 20-1 cap. I bet real money on it but then watched in horror as the horse won pretty easily. I would have won the NHC on the first day had I played it. I should have stuck with my instincts. Other people are staying away from those 30-1 shots, so when you hit one, fewer people have it.

Talk about your general strategy in the DRF Bets contest.

In this kind of contest, I’m looking for prices. You always want to get to a winning total in as a few plays as possible as opposed to trying to piece together three or four or five plays. You have to take your shot. If you hit your 30-1 shot, wonderful; if you don’t, you can play again tomorrow. I saw that the race was going off in six or seven minutes and I went into it looking for a bomb. I saw it was a crappy race, which are the races I look for when I need bombs because they are so unpredictable and not formful.

What did you like about Fairy Snow?

I saw a couple of things. The last race was a toss because the horse lost its irons, so I didn’t even consider that. But the two prior races were two of his better races. He broke his maiden and then he ran fairly well. He lost by 13 lengths, but he was four wide and his Beyer number was consistent with his last few much better races. And being a newly turned 4-year-old, sometimes these horses get better in a hurry – they’re still growing and they can start running better than they have. I liked the workout two back, especially for this group. For a horse like this to finish second of 31 is huge. He had a few decent races, he’d shown some speed. The rider was a female apprentice, but she’d won races out of town. The horse still didn’t figure. Maybe he should have been 20-1. But I thought maybe he gets lucky on the front end at 60-1.

This is your second NHC seat. How important is that to you?

It’s a very nice luxury. I don’t think it’s probably worth as much effort and cost as I put into getting it. But I think it just feels a lot better, especially with the way the format of the NHC has changed this year with it being a two-stage event. It’s much easier to try and get into the top 50 on the first two days and then advance to where you only have be one of 50 people on the third day. They’re both manageable stages, which is much easier than trying to beat 450 people, which is just a crapshoot. Now you have to be one out of 10 and then one of 50. Obviously, the odds of winning are exactly the same, but it feels better and it changes your strategy. And when you have two shots to piece together one total to get you into that top 50, it’s a lot easier to do that. You can get there so many more ways. Typically, it’s just bombs. But now I might be able to play a 2-1 or a 3-1, especially now that I have a second entry.

You also played on BCQualify at the same time. How did that work out?

Well, the Fairy Snow race wasn’t part of that contest and I might not have played him anyway because of the cap. I had two entries and I did not do well. I think I had zero and $10. That doesn’t bug me, because in that contest, too, I’m taking shots. The worst thing to do is play a strategy that’s likely to get you in the middle. I’d rather finish with zero nine days and win the thing one day then finish in the middle all 10 days, which gets me nothing every day. I don’t get upset when I finish with zero. That’s going to happen a lot.