03/31/2015 1:05PM

Fornatale: Meeks prevails in Horse Player World Series


Jim Meeks, a business owner from Elko, Nev., won $264,000 for his first-place finish in the Horse Player World Series at The Orleans in Las Vegas last weekend. Former NHC Tour champion Paul Shurman was second, taking home more than $99,000.

Meeks is a contest veteran. He has qualified for the National Handicapping Championship approximately five times and has played in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge in five of its six years in existence. He won the 2013 Pick the Ponies contest at the Las Vegas Hilton, but this is his first six-figure tournament win.

In a tournament like this one, with more than 700 participants, all optional plays, and a number of tracks, Meeks entered the three-day event focused on playing longshots. “It’s so important to get that early lead,” he said. “I was able to hit with some nice price horses on the first two days.”

He did more than that. He had seven out of 15 winners on Day 1, including Real Power ($34) and Polite Pearl ($23.60) at Oaklawn and Hoodatcrook ($25) at Fair Grounds.

Meeks was even better on Day 2, backing 10 of 15 winners. The horse who really cinched the day for him was a $45.20 winner at Oaklawn, Insideondoutside. “I thought his last race was better than it looked,” he said. “He was going to be part of the pace and had a great chance coming back.”

On Day 3, Meeks changed his approach.

“Everybody on the last day is going for the longer prices,” he said. “I backed off and went the other way. I was looking to play some horses that appeared more likely in order to sustain my lead.”

Sustain that lead he did. He was loose and lonely on the lead for pretty much the whole day. “With two hours left in the tournament and maybe seven races left, I still had a 500-point lead,” he said. “That’s when it really dawned on me that I might win this thing.”

In the end, Meeks’s three winners on Day 3 were more than enough, though he did have at least one anxious moment. In the last contest race, Trident Hero won at Fair Grounds at 60-1.

“I was nervous. Paul Shurman had told me that I should play the horse that could beat me,” Meeks said. “I had looked at that horse and said, ‘There is no way this horse will get home.’ But Paul played the horse, and it won.”

Fortunately for Meeks, Shurman was too far back to catch him. Shurman was in around 25th place going into the race, and no one between him and Meeks played Trident Hero, so Shurman vaulted into second place. It was a tough beat for third-place finisher McKay Smith, who still walked away with $46,000.

Meeks was introduced to tournaments by his old friend Dennis Decauwer. “Dennis and Don Beardsworth finally convinced me that the way to do this is to get into these tournaments,” he said. “They got me into my first one, I’ve been playing ever since, and I probably will continue.”

In addition to Decauwer and Beardsworth, Meeks is friendly with Tom Noone and Paul Weizer. “That’s my peer group,” he said.

It’s a pretty solid peer group at that, with two NHC seconds, an NHC Tour win, and a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge second between them. Now, Meeks has an accomplishment that fits right in with his friends.

:: Click here to purchase a copy of “The Winning Contest Player” by Peter Thomas Fornatale

“This was a big deal for me,” he said. “And I’m very grateful to The Orleans for having such a nice tournament and to Daily Racing Form for covering it.”

Meeks’s plans include a trip to Santa Anita in May for the Betting Challenge. He’ll be doing some other traveling as well in 2015, including the Del Mar live-bankroll contest and the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. “I’ve got plenty of people working for me, and they like it when I’m gone,” Meeks joked.

NHC Qualifiers for April, May and June

April 3 2 Surfside Race Place at Del Mar http://www.surfsideraceplace.com
April 3 2 Hawthorne www.hawthorneracecourse.com
April 4 4 Hawthorne www.hawthorneracecourse.com
April 4 2 Surfside Race Place at Del Mar http://www.surfsideraceplace.com
April 4 5 NHCQualify.com www.nhcqualify.com
April 4 2 Wood Day Contest at Aqueduct www.nyra.com
April 4 2 DRF Bets www.drfbets.com
April 5 2 Surfside Race Place at Del Mar http://www.surfsideraceplace.com
April 11 Qualifier Monmouth Park SSC Qualifier #4 http://www.monmouthpark.com/contests.aspx?id=193
April 11 5 NHCQualify.com www.nhcqualify.com
April 12 6 Keeneland Grade One Gamble (SOLD OUT) http://www.keeneland.com
April 18 5 NHCQualify.com www.nhcqualify.com
April 18 Qualifier Lone Star Park First Chance Qualifier www.lonestarpark.com
April 25 5 NHCQualify.com www.nhcqualify.com
April 25 2 Monmouth Park SSC Invitational http://www.monmouthpark.com
April 26 Qualifier Cal Racing Players' Tournament http://calracing.com/tournament
May 1 4 Treasure Island (SOLD OUT) http://www.treasureisland.com/casino/games
May 1 2 Public Handicapper www.publichandicapper.com
May 2 4 Treasure Island (SOLD OUT) http://www.treasureisland.com/casino/games
May 3 4 Treasure Island (SOLD OUT) http://www.treasureisland.com/casino/games
May 9 5 NHCQualify.com www.nhcqualify.com
5/16/15 TBD Santa Anita  
5/23/15 5 NHCQualify.com www.nhcqualify.com
5/24/15 Qualifier Cal Racing Players' Tournament http://calracing.com/tournament
5/25/15 2 DRF Bets www.drfbets.com
5/30/15 5 NHCQualify.com www.nhcqualify.com
5/30/15 5 Monmouth Park http://www.monmouthpark.com
5/30/15 2 Lone Star First Chance Finals http://www.lonestarpark.com
6/14/15 5 NHCQualify.com www.nhcqualify.com
6/20/15 3 Belmont www.nyra.com
6/21/15 5 NHCQualify.com www.nhcqualify.com