04/21/2015 1:36PM

Larmey rides longshots to ninth NHC berth


Chris Larmey is one of the most respected players in the contest world. Last Saturday, he qualified for the National Handicapping Championship for the ninth time via NHCQualify.com.

Whereas some players are more concerned with picking winners right off the bat, Larmey takes a more traditional approach to contest strategy.

“My strength is in finding horses with prices, so I start there and try to hit one or more longshots,” he said. “From there, I get a little more tactical depending on what unfolds after that.”

It’s important to Larmey to have a series of contingency plans in place as opposed to getting wedded to certain selections throughout the day.

“You definitely have to have more than one horse you’re interested in playing in every contest race,” the NHC Players’ Committee chairman said. “It may turn out your top horse gets hammered to unplayable odds. So, I definitely have to have a Plan B and a Plan C in every race.”

As for Saturday, Larmey started off cold, missing with his first four plays. But he came connected with a cap horse, Dramedy, in the fifth contest event, the Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland.

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“When I handicapped the race on Thursday night for PublicHandicapper.com, I liked Biz The Nurse,” Larmey said, “but on race day, the track came up yielding, and three horses scratched, including one of the early speed horses, Optimizer. That really changed my opinion. I knew that Biz The Nurse would now be a short price and that the race was essentially paceless, which would compromise his chances. It looked like My Afleet would inherit an easy lead and that Dramedy would get an ideal trip tracking a slow pace. I thought the slow pace, combined with the wet course, would give a big edge to the front-runners, so I liked those two, with a preference for Dramedy because he was a much bigger price.”

The race did not play out as Larmey thought it might; Dramedy dueled on the front end with My Afleet. Larmey was pleasantly surprised when he somehow hung on to win at 30-1. He said, “Now, instead of trying to beat 250 entries, I really only had to outfinish the 20 to 30 others who also had hit the bomb. That is about all you can ask for in this kind of format.”

Larmey fired three quick blanks and looked in danger of wasting a big opportunity. But the most crucial third of the contest still remained, and suddenly Larmey’s luck changed.

“First, I hit Call Me West in a turf race at Hawthorne,” said Larmey. “He looked like he was rounding into good form and would get a nice stalking trip. Even better, his odds had floated up above his morning line.”

Call Me West won the race with a huge outside move down the stretch at just under 10-1.

“That put me right near the top of the leaderboard,” said Larmey. “I quickly followed that up with Queen of The Sand in the Santa Barbara at Santa Anita. I really liked her and had picked her on PublicHandicapper, and her odds floated up above her morning line.”

She also won with a powerful late kick under a perfect ride by Drayden Van Dyke, getting up at the wire at nearly 7-1.

At that point, Larmey sat in fourth, just one spot away from pay dirt with two races to go. He fired and missed in the Hawthorne Derby, but with chalk winning, Larmey still sat fourth. Another key to Larmey’s preparation is that he always spends extra time on the last race.

“I usually start from the last race and work back,” Larmey said, “because it always comes down to the last race. I want to know, depending on where I am heading into that last race, which horse I’m going to play.”

The anchor leg was the eighth at Santa Anita. “It was a cheap claimer going 5 1/2 furlongs,” Larmey said. “In this type of race, I am always looking for the speed of the speed, and I felt that horse was Lyla Della. The catch was that she had been beaten by 17 lengths in her last start – not exactly the type of horse upon which you want to risk this sort of opportunity.”

Larmey reasoned that she had lost all chance last time with a poor start and was now dropping a notch in class.

“She had broken her maiden two races back, so she had some recent good form,” said Larmey. “She had also nearly wired the field in a straight maiden the year before. I figured if she could get the lead against straight maidens, she could get the lead with this bunch if she did not break slowly again.”

Larmey decided to go for it. Lyla Della broke well enough from her outside post and wound up prevailing under Mario Gutierrez at nearly 8-1.

Larmey was blocked for the outright win, which would have been huge for NHC Tour points, but was thrilled for the chance to return to the NHC.

“Once you get there, you want to get back,” he said. “It never gets old. And qualifying for the NHC doesn’t get old either.”