03/24/2016 2:17PM

Fornatale: Keen Ice owner big on NHC trail


Eliot Honaker is living the horseplayer dream. Last weekend, he landed atop the National Handicapping Championship Tour leaderboard after securing his second NHC seat for 2016 on NHCQualify.com. This weekend, Keen Ice, a horse he owns in partnership with Donegal Racing, is racing in the Dubai World Cup.

He was on the verge of attending the festivities at Meydan in Dubai, but real life got in the way for the 38-year-old who works in the investing business. “I just couldn’t make it happen,” he said. “My wife and I have two little kids and I’ve been crazy with work.”

Instead of the Dubai desert, he’ll be at the Louisville zoo. “I told my wife we’ve got to be home by 12 to watch,” he reported.

Team Donegal is excited about their horse’s chances. As reported by DRF’s Marcus Hersh, he’ll be running in blinkers for the first time, an addition suggested by Ryan Moore, one of the world’s greatest riders. Asked what it would feel like to own a horse who took the scalp of both American Pharoah and California Chrome, Honaker lit up. “The hair on the back of my neck stood up when you asked me that,” he said, “but as I’ve said before, this horse owes us absolutely nothing. If you’re going to dream, dream big.”

Honaker has big dreams when it comes to the NHC Tour as well, but he knows there is a long way to go. “I was in shock when I saw my name on top of the leaderboard and I texted all my buddies,” he said. “I wish it was the end of the year.”

In addition to being an active player, Honaker is also a general advocate for contest play. He and several other Donegal partners play in a private contest that follows the Derby trail through the Belmont Stakes, and he’s encouraged others to play on the Tour, including Donegal’s managing partner, Jerry Crawford. In fact, Crawford scored some meaningful Tour points himself with a 20th in an NHCQualify.com event earlier this year. In one of the Donegal newsletters, Crawford wrote of Honaker, "Be careful, we have a monster on our hands.”

“I think he’s maybe a little jealous of my success,” Honaker joked, noting that he hopes to see a bunch of his horseplaying friends and family join him with seats in Vegas.

“If you’re a handicapper and go to Vegas for the NHC, you’ll be in heaven,” he said.

Honaker is a big fan of Daily Racing Form and its products. He found one of his winners last weekend, 25-1 Emotional Drive, courtesy of the new Race Shapes symbols in the Form. “She’d shown early speed before,” he explained, “and her last race had the ‘H’ suggesting there were a bunch of horses vying for the lead so I thought maybe she’d run better in a field that didn’t have much early speed on paper.”

Since appearing on the DRF podcast earlier this year, Honaker has also been making good use of the “Notes” feature within Formulator, to record his own trip notes and incorporate data from Trakus. “It’s really helped a lot with contest play because it saves me a lot of time on my homework,” he said. “Now when I look at a 12-race card, I already have a pretty good idea of who I’m going to play in maybe six of the races because I already have my playbacks from my notes.”

As much success as he’s had this year, he realizes he still has a lot to learn. One way he’s continued to educate himself is to look through the leaderboards on the DRF contest sites to see what well-known contest players are playing. “I look for a lot of the guys who were in The Winning Contest Player,” he said, specifically citing Eric Moomey and Paul Shurman. “It’s helpful to see the types of horses they are picking and what strategy they use in certain spots.”

Someday soon, other players may be looking at who Honaker is picking on NHCQualify.com.


Speaking of NHCQ, they are running a qualifier on Saturday. Players put up $227 for a chance to win one of up to four seats to the NHC, plus $500 in travel.

On DRFQualify.com, buy-in is $155, and contestants will compete for up to two $4,500 seats (plus $500 in travel) to the recently announced Santa Anita May contest, which takes place over Preakness weekend, May 21-22.

There’s also a contest on BCQualify.com on Saturday, but if you haven’t already won in to that one, you’re out of luck. It’s a Round 2 event that will send six players to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, with breakage credits paid down to 16th place. The two-round format will return to BCQ on April 30.

Here are the races that will be part of all the Saturday contests:

3:38    Oaklawn 4
3:54    Fair Grounds 6
4:05    Gulfstream 8
4:23    Fair Grounds 7
4:35    Gulfstream 9
4:52    Fair Grounds 8
5:05    Gulfstream 10
5:27    Fair Grounds 9
5:35    Gulfstream 11
5:38    Oaklawn 8
6:05    Gulfstream 12
6:12    Fair Grounds 10

It’s a good sequence with six stakes overall, four of them graded. Breeding-oriented players will be happy to see five turf races and two maidens. In a cool twist, the Louisiana Derby is the anchor leg of the contest.

Equinometry More than 1 year ago
Nice to see some more owners crossing over into the handicapping contest world. Gives them another perspective of the sport which can only benefit all horse players.
Kathy Locke More than 1 year ago
Great blog article, as always. A horse owner who is also a good handicapper is truly an example of the lifeblood of our industry.