04/11/2016 11:00AM

Fornatale: Henry wins from sickbed

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They call him "The Man in Black." The big news in the DRF contest universe on Saturday was James Henry's performance on NHCQualify.com. Henry was one of four players to earn a spot in the world's richest and most prestigious handicapping contest, the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas, along with Dan Shugar, Samuel DiCicco, and Derek Dickson.

Henry typically hangs out at Santa Anita on the weekends, usually clad in a black Tommy Bahama shirt. Not so this weekend. He was home in bed with the flu he caught the previous weekend while hanging around Las Vegas for the Horse Player World Series.

"I was supposed to take my son to Disney World in Orlando for his spring break," Henry said, "but I was in bed all week."

Henry considered a family weekend trip down south to San Diego, where he'd sneak in a day at Surfside to play in their contests, but he wasn't well enough for that either. "The kids weren't too happy with Dad," he explained, "but since I had nothing to do I decided to sign up last minute on NHCQualify.com."

He's glad he did. This will mark Henry's 10th NHC appearance and his ninth in a row. He is known for his longshot-picking prowess. At the 2013 Horse Player World Series he put up one of the biggest scores in the history of the event. But he decided to change up his strategy for this contest. "Instead of trying to knock it out of the park with every selection, I took the advice that [Jonathon] Kinchen gave me in Vegas last weekend," Henry said. "Sometimes you just simply need the winner no matter the price, so today I did more horse-watching than tote-watching."

Place points on Jeremy's Legacy ($17.40 to place) jump started his contest in the sixth event, and Sheer Drama ($18.80) in the Madison put him into contention. But he needed shorter-priced winners Brody's Cause ($10.40), Salutos Amigos ($5.10), and Exaggerator ($8.80) to secure his spot in Vegas and the outright win with a total of $90.70.

Last year, Henry chased the NHC Tour, finishing 12th in the year-long competition and getting a spot in the Top 20 tournament at the NHC finals. This year, he's just excited to have his place in the finals secured -- for now anyway. "I feel a huge relief even though it's only early April," he said. "I have a few tournaments already prepaid through early June but if I have no more success I'll shut it down for the year."

Dan Shugar landed second place with a score of $90. He picked six winners and had eight collections overall.

Samuel DiCicco broke running. He got back $10.60 from Ami's Flatter right away, then didn't have another winner until Sheer Drama. He finished strong, tabbing three of the last four winners for a total of $87.20. In the end, he'd have qualified even without the $6.40 combined he got back from What a View in the anchor leg, but it was still a smart play. Had he passed on the odds-on shot and one of his nearest pursuers taken the horse, he could have missed out.

Derek Dickson's card looked a lot like Dicicco's. He had Sheer Drama, followed by three of the last four winners including What a View. In the end his $87 was just $6.50 clear of unlucky fifth place finisher Marshall Gramm.