02/01/2016 2:09PM

Fornatale: Gutfreund goes from strength to strength

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What a weekend for contest veteran David Gutfreund. After day two of the three-day National Handicapping Championship at Treasure Island in Las Vegas, he sat atop the standings. At the end of the day Saturday, he ended up day fifth netting $75,000. It was a good result but not all he’d hoped for. “I think I left a little money on the table,” he said, referencing a couple of late decisions that may have cost him a placing or two.

Undaunted, Gutfreund was back in action on Sunday at the First Chance contest at TI. He’d eschewed the sport coat he wore at the Final Table for his more familiar Charlestown Chiefs jersey, a reference to the movie "Slapshot."

“It was a tournament worth playing on its own,” he said, “It’s hard not to take seriously a $62,000 contest with 100 percent payback plus three seats added against competition which is withered after a long NHC grind.”

Gutfreund is no stranger to grinding. In his other career as a poker pro he’s earned $594,000 on the felt, with his biggest success being a $156,000 score on the Heartland Poker Tour at Soaring Eagle in November. His experience in poker – which has taught patience and better decsion-making -- helped him throughout the day Sunday, especially after his focus improved after hitting a cap horse with his first play.

Gutfreund won $31,000 and is now a 13-time NHC qualifier. Also earning seats for next year were Sally Goodall – who has now qualified an amazing 15 times – and Chris Skotz, who has two NHC semifinals appearances on his resume.

Bernier wins charity event

On Saturday, Daily Racing Form’s own Matt Bernier won the second annual NTRA NHC Charity Challenge, with a final mythical bankroll of $54.30, besting runner-up Tom LaMarra of Blood-horse, who checked in second with $47.60. Bernier picked three winners during the seven-race contest and scored in five of the seven contest races.

“It's always fun to play in contests, and at the very least this lets me know I can still get the job done,” said the 2014 Aqueduct Betting Challenge champion who also finished sixth at that year’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge while also playing for charity.

As the winner, Bernier will have $5,000 donated in his name to the Old Friends Barn Raising Project, created after the Thoroughbred retirement nonprofit with farms in Kentucky and upstate New York suffered a complete loss of its hospital/quarantine barn in a fire on Jan. 23, and another $5,000 to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA), the organization he played for at the BCBC. “It's always great to be able to help aftercare organizations,” he said, “because without the horses -- we have nothing.”

Cettina sticks to his guns

After the Final Table there was a lot of talk about strategy both in the ballroom and via Twitter. A couple of people asked why Roger Cettina, approximately $10 behind Paul Matties with one race to go, played 27-1 longshot Soi Phet instead of a shorter-priced runner. The reasons were several. For one thing, going long assured he wouldn’t be blocked and meant that even just place points would have gotten the win. But moreover, Cettina did what good contest players do: he played the horse he liked. And given Soi Phet’s trip – he bobbled at the start and was wide – it shouldn’t be a hard decision for him to live with in any case.

Rookie plays big-time

Ernie Powers was an NHC Tour rookie this year. He arrived in Vegas with his son Frank and was intimidated upon arrival in the ballroom, seeing the scores of experienced contest players all around them. “Boy are we dead money,” he told his son, who countered by telling his dad, “You never know, you’re freerolling.”

The Powerses turned that freeroll into an eighth-place finish worth $54,000.

tonycala More than 1 year ago
Peter, Hoping that you may be able to answer the following question: Why don't the NHC (or other big time tournaments) release player selection cards (and associated points earned per selection) of the participants after the tournaments are over? I would think that there are a many good reasons for doing so from a marketing, fan interest and analysis perspective. I can so no advantages from the current state which is to keep this information private. Has anybody even considered this question? just curious.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
NTRA posted the winner's selection the other day and I have the top ten in my possession. Unfortunately, they are not in the most user friendly format. Great idea though.
Starks43 More than 1 year ago
Peter great stuff. Have really enjoyed the coverage.In your book there is great discussion on game theory. So I was especially focused on that last race to see how it would play out. In looking at it from Rogers perspective I was thinking that although the 7 was the logical second choice winner that it was also quite possible Paul would recognize this and select the 7 as a block. He would then have Roger blocked with the top two choices. So I was not going to be surprised if Roger went with the third or fourth choice. At same time I was thinking Paul may be anticipating this exact move and try to block with the third choice. This would mean three blocks in place. Otherwise he left himself very vulnernable to a very logical second choice winner. Either could have taken 7 but neither did which was fascinating to me. I still dont quite get going with such a longshot but Roger has way way more experience with this than me so who am I to question. I know there is a lot of speculation in this post abt what they were actually thinking, trying to,learn from it thats all in no way criticizing anyone,
SteveSimonovic More than 1 year ago
Pete, you did a great job on the Ceremony Banquet for Saturday Night. Treasure Island also put out a nice spread! Loved my steak! The Entire DRF crew did really well too. As for the MAVEN, what else is there to say..... he had a great weekend. When you're feeling it, you're feeling it!! Even though I finished in the middle of the pack after 2 days, the experience of the NHC, as always, was epic!
Helaine More than 1 year ago
Pete Thank you for all your hard work at the NHC. You are the heart beat of the tourney and might be the man to save this game.The horse player is very important to you and you are our rep to the racing world.Thank's again rest up for a few day's and keep the updates coming.Thank you again.MIKEY
nolagistics More than 1 year ago
Pete is an Icon in the industry! Always a great read and always on point! We all owe him for what he does for this sport. #HOF
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Flattery will get you everywhere :) You guys are too kind. It's a pleasure to cover all the many great personalities in this world. Most of the time I just have to turn on the recorder. Thanks for reading and commenting. More on Ernie P later this week. . .PTF
nolagistics More than 1 year ago
Powers will forever be coined "The Dentist" to the handicap world!!! #whodat