02/10/2015 1:46PM

Fornatale: Shurman mulling NHC Tour options after latest victory

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Bill Shurman is going back to Las Vegas to play in the NHC for a 13th time after a victory in Saturday's NHCQualify.com contest. Only a handful of players have made the trip more often than him. “Going back for a thirteenth straight year, it’s just tremendous,” Shurman said.

One of the players who has more NHC appearances than Bill is his brother Paul, but with last weekend’s win, Bill has actually exceeded the number of entries Paul has won to the NHC because he qualified twice in 2014 to Paul’s once, and Paul hasn’t yet qualified this year. “But we don’t care,” says Bill.  “To us, it’s all about getting there, and I’m confident Paul will get to qualify again this year.”

Scores on Saturday were very low. Shurman’s winning total of $98.60 was just over twice the starting bankroll of $48.  “With two cap horses coming in, I was surprised, and lucky, to have won with that total,” Shurman said.

The critical race was Tampa’s eleventh. The horse was Malibu High, a cap horse. “Malibu High had three races where he finished in the money never beaten worse than two lengths with Beyers in the 70s at a higher class level,” Shurman said. “He had run his best Beyer on dirt, and he looked liked the best closer in a race with speed."

In the third to last race, Shurman selected Constitution in the Donn – who he correctly thought might wire the field – and that got him into qualifying position. But then a 60-1 shot, Solid Wager, won Santa Anita’s sixth, and Shurman assumed he was skunked. “I said to my wife, ‘It was a good run, but a bomb just came in, and many people are going to have it.’ But fortunately for me, I only slipped to third.”

As reported yesterday, he took Finnegans Wake in the San Marcos and ended up the overall winner. “It was very simple,” Shurman explained. “The field was so compressed that if I had the winner, I was qualifying and if I didn’t, I wasn’t.”

Shurman endured a frustrating end to 2014, despite playing well. He led the NHC Tour for a while, but despite playing in many contests over the last six weeks of the year, he ended up third. The way the Tour works is that only the top six scores from the year are used. By late year, Shurman already had six good scores, so he needed another great score to improve his total.

There were several close calls. At a Los Alamitos live bankroll contest, he got hit with a double-whammy. He was leading going into the last race only to be passed by Craig Kaufman. But the real kick for Shurman was that a second-place finish would have been good enough for him to score Tour points had only a few more players signed up for the tourney.

One of the key events for the Tour last year was the Lone Star contest on Dec. 6. Brett Wiener flew in from Florida and Shurman traveled from California. Several results from the day would have likely changed the Tour outcome. Wiener just missed with a 30-1 shot at Turf Paradise. And the result of race 9 at the Fair Grounds needs to be seen to be believed. Watch the replay knowing Shurman was on the seven.

Still, Shurman was happy with how he played in 2014 and that he was one horse away from the Final 50 cut at NHC16. He did acknowledge that Saturday’s win might have served him better had it come a little earlier. “Part of me wishes it had happened in December,” said Shurman. “I probably played in 20 events after I made my last score, and winning another tournament would have given me a much better chance to win the Tour. But I’m thrilled to be qualified so early for next year.”

It’s long been said – in a statement usually attributed to Ross Gallo – that you don’t choose to play on the Tour, the Tour chooses you. The question now for Shurman is, has the Tour come calling again?

“I went downstairs after the contest was over on Saturday,” he said. “My daughter and wife were thrilled for me for qualifying, but there was a noticeable unspoken undercurrent of ‘don’t even think about the Tour again.’ ”

The Tour takes a toll – especially for a player still working full-time and raising kids. “I just can’t do it,” Shurman said. “I’ve had several friends tell me I’ll gravitate back to the Tour, but hopefully I won’t.”

Current plans have Shurman playing in the March 14-15 Santa Anita Betting Challenge as well as a few other live events out west. “If I won Santa Anita, I might start thinking differently.  But winning any tournament is very tough, and something I never assume I’m going to do. The real question will come if I get a second qualifying spot. Then the pull gets a bit stronger.”

That’s not exactly a “no.”