02/01/2011 10:07AM

Classy Exacta in the NHC


The DRF and the NTRA can be proud of the one-two finishers in the 12th National Handicapping Contest – John Doyle and Ron Geary.

Geary, who was at or near the top of the leader board from the outset and was thus in the pressure cooker every step of the way, showed grace and class under trying circumstances just after the tournament was over. Minutes after the last race in the contest, Geary was prematurely told he was the unofficial winner of the NHC. Moments later, as his many friends in the room were offering congratulations, Geary was told to hold on a second. And then a couple of minutes after that, Geary was pulled aside and told that he had not won, but instead finished second.

There is a huge, unquantifiable difference between finishing first and second in the NHC beyond the $350,000 difference in purse money. So Geary had every right to be steamed at this communications snafu. Initially, Geary did appear steamed. But by the time of the NHC awards banquet a couple of hours later, he was back to his usual affable self. In fact, the thing that seemed most important to Geary, the owner of Ellis Park, was acknowledging all of his friends and how much they meant to him. The one message he wanted to impart through yours truly was, “Please just say hello from me to all of my friends out there.” Of those, there are certainly many.

As for Doyle, who incredibly was playing in his first ever handicapping tournament that offered prize money (he qualified for the NHC in an NTRA online contest), all you have to do is spend a minute with him to realize that this is a man without an ounce of ego. So when he quietly confided, “I think I earned this,” it was a remark with impact. Doyle wasn’t being the least bit self-aggrandizing. He was merely suggesting that he wasn’t a fluke. Indeed, you have to have some luck to win the NHC, but the format of the contest is such that it rarely yields a lucky winner. There is a difference. And in Doyle’s case, he worked out the classic tournament “trip.” He did just well enough on day 1 to be in striking position entering day 2. He saved a few of his elective plays for the last races of the contest, and he finished strongly, pegging the winner of the last race of the tournament to nail Geary.

I’d like to make one note about Doyle’s seat assignment in the contest. The preferred assigned seats in the NHC were in the carrels on the main floor of the race book. But there just weren’t enough of those seats to accommodate all 300 plus contestants, so the remainder were assigned seats on a second level behind the main floor of the race book, farther away from the action. Even though seats were assigned on the basis of performance in the qualifying contests, there was still grousing from people who were assigned to the second level. Where was Doyle’s assigned seat? In the back of the second level, about as far away as a contestant could possibly be. Funny how it didn’t seem to bother him. But of course, there will be a completely different seating set up at next year’s NHC when the field expands to 500 contestants.

One other note: Everyone in the race book Saturday seemed to be impressed with Runflatout’s sensational debut win at Santa Anita. Runflatout, who races for West Point Thoroughbreds (which also happened to be a sponsor at this year’s NHC), left little doubt that he has the talent required to take a run at the Kentucky Derby. But his timing is awful. If Runflatout is to shoot for the Derby, he will have to be rushed along much faster than anyone would like, and that could have unwelcome consequences. It will be interesting to see how his connections handle him.