01/26/2014 9:54PM

NHC 15

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LAS VEGAS - Jose Arias’s achievement in winning the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship Sunday at Treasure Island here in Las Vegas cannot be overstated. It is difficult enough beating 400 of the nation’s best handicapping tournament contestants, and on that basis alone, Arias deserves much respect.

But to put Arias’s feat in perspective, consider this: Only one of the 14 previous NHC’s were won in “front-running” style, and that was when the contest was over only two days. This was the first year the NHC was contested over three days, with the final 50 segment of the contest taking place early on day 3 on Sunday (supplemented by the free roll $75,000 consolation tournament for those who didn’t make the final 50), followed by the final table closing segment of the contest for the top 10 contestants. Arias led for much of and at the end of day one, he led for most if not all of day two with a giant target on his back, and he led throughout day three. Very impressive.

The new final table innovation at this NHC proved to be a resounding artistic success. The contestants’s picks were announced before each of the final five mandatory races, eliciting cheers or boos (mostly good-natured) from the large crowd that remained in the main convention room, a crowd that also might have been held by the big Pick 6 carryover Sunday at Santa Anita. Whatever, there was palpable electricity as each mandatory race unfolded, and the place was on fire during the final race of the contest when Arias held off a late charge from runner up Tony Brice.

One surprise, at least for me, was how little movement there was in the standings during the final table stage. It’s tough to tell whether it was the way the final table mandatory races shook out, or whether it was because five races were too few to maximize final table excitement, or if the top 10 contestants played a little tight in what, for the NHC, was unchartered territory. But Brice’s move up to second in the last race was really the only significant move made during the final table.

In the “There Are a Thousand Ways To Lose” department, consider what happened to Brice in the last race of the NHC. Brice selected Fit to Rule in the nightcap at Santa Anita for his mythical $2 win and place bet. Fit to Rule held around 8-1 for most of the way, until very late when he fell to 6-1. If Fit to Rule odds dropped only a touch less than they did, then we would be celebrating Brice as the winner, because he came just $1.20 shy of catching Arias, whose pick in the last race was unsuccessful. But Brice was still thrilled, and called finishing second in the NHC a “life-changing” moment.

And I’m pleased to tell you that Jose Arias is the kind of guy you can be genuinely happy for. He was introduced to racing by his mom and dad, who took him to Santa Anita and Hollywood, and his dad taught him how to read the Racing Form. He is a quiet, almost gentle soul, and from observing him under pressure the last three days, he doesn’t appear to have one ounce of ego or malice in him.

Finally, there was some important racing over the weekend, but like many others, I was most taken by the two big 3-year-old performances Saturday at Gulfstream. Cairo Prince was simply terrific winning the Holy Bull. I mean, you don’t often see horses absorb three to four wide trips at Gulfstream and still run off and hide the way Cairo Prince did. Then again, Cairo Prince indicated to everyone how good he might be when he just missed in the Remsen after a most curious trip.

Top Billing also won laughing after making a bold four wide move on the far turn in an allowance race earlier on the Holy Bull card going the same 8.5 furlong distance. Top Billing ran 50 one-hundredths of a second slower than Cairo Prince did, but I’m not getting too hung up on that considering where Top Billing is at his particular stage of development.

Marie Jost More than 1 year ago
Why did DRF have only a fixed position camera in the main ballroom? DRF production was horrible on Sunday. Certainly, a roving camera crew could have followed the action much better than the boring dribble of their commentators from behind a plastic desk. There was better coverage with people like Kenny Peck(DRF) and Jill Byrnes from Twinspires in years past to bring updates from the floor. At least they interviewed a variety of handicappers throughout the two days, who all provided individual perspectives. This year, following the action with Twitter feeds from DRF's programming guy and the ever-waiting leader board updates on Sunday was painful. If you want new people to follow along with the tournament, then find a network to cover at least Sunday's action or at least hire a television production team that knows how to showcase an event. C'mon, it's the National Championship, after all. Isn't it?
Gene Washington More than 1 year ago
If Arias won by $1.20 how was he ahead going into the final race?
mikey More than 1 year ago
He had a lead that was 1.20 more than the guy in 3rd got from the winner of the last race.
Ron DeNorscio More than 1 year ago
Its funny that Brice's last winner the jockey's last name was Arias!
mikey More than 1 year ago
Great job picking sone of the hardest races over 3 days
Steve DeCaspers More than 1 year ago
Mike - if the "followability" of the Final Table was a success inside the ballroom, we need to also note that it was an utter failure outside the ballroom...and frankly, following the entire contest was a challenge. Changes should be made next year to figure out how to make the whole contest more easily tracked next year.
Steven Simonovic More than 1 year ago
How about a live podcast of the final table at the very least???
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Extremely EASY to do. Each member gets a Betting ID or profile. Much like you would set up your online betting account. from there it is easily tracked electronically and put on a board like golf has when it tracks the leaders. from there you could even have a current ranking and a previous ranking. and yes you could even follow the bets.
Mark Jensen More than 1 year ago
I would like to know more about the winner(s) day to day methodology. How they play, in general, not necessarily in the contest. These guys must have a way they approach a day betting the horses.
Art DeToro More than 1 year ago
Benjamin Beychok scores no points in the final 50 BUT scores 43.20 in consolation tournament. What's up with that? Did he save his best bets for the consolation?
DavidM9999 More than 1 year ago
The NHC coverage by DRF was solid and appreciated.This event is well timed in January. Even current non-event players like myself can live vicariously thru the action. I do wish once the contest is over we could see the winning or top players tournament plays. Most of us were playing some of the same races over the weekend. It would allow a look inside the mind of the players, see their strategy and hopefully learn a few things. No concerns from me on any shenanigans. I will let conspiracy experts Oliver Stone and Jesse Ventura get to the bottom of it. Just kidding folks.
mikey More than 1 year ago
I was in the NTRA and some of the picks were unreal.A guy at our table had a few winners that i could never come up with.God bless them.Best NTRE ever by far.
TBDKim More than 1 year ago
Are the twitter rumors true? Did someone place a $10,000 wager on Brice's selection (with the intention of lowering Fit to Rule's odds)? Either way perhaps the final table contestant's selections should not be announced before the race next year?
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
That's ridiculous and sounds like typical twitter nonsense to me. And announcing the contestant's selections before the race was one of the best things about the whole deal.
Wayne Crimi More than 1 year ago
Mike, You are probably right, but the very fact that there ARE rumors and discussions like that in multiple places gives pause. The very fact that it would make economic sense to try to manipulate the odds of your opponents horses once you have some prize money locked up means they will HAVE to change that. They could probably flash the selections up seconds before the race. They could also possibly get some cooperation from the tracks to halt betting a couple of minutes before the races actually go off, but that seems way less likely. No way that can continue though.
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
The selections from the contestants weren't announced until less than a minute before off time. There really wasn't any time to engineer the sort of odds manipulation you're talking about. I would venture to guess that anyone spreading the rumors you referenced weren't at the NHC and, no surprise here, don't have a clue as to how the contest was conducted. Again, unfortunately all too common in this day and age.
Wayne Crimi More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure it's rumors so much as it is cynical speculation because the strategy makes sense and the horse's odds dropped very late and by just enough to secure the win. Glad to hear there wasn't enough time.
MRunjill More than 1 year ago
Mike, Do you think it would be PROFITABLE to make a single large wager to depress the odds of a specific horse, by a specific amount, in order to significantly improve your odds of winning the tournament? The answer is yes, based on the difference between 1st and second. Is it POSSIBLE to calculate and place this wager in the timeframe you describe, or was this rendered impossible? I was not in the room, and I didn't see any complaints from anyone that was, but I think it's a valid concern and it would be solved by NOT posting selections until the pools close. If post the picks is so great, then it will still be great by waiting less than a minute.
gus stewart More than 1 year ago
Dont be so set in your ways of thinking old school! A massive problem in the industry. A good idea to do the final table, but accept it is a possiblity to happen in the future, and adjust for it now. Post picks after horses start out of gate its that simple. Dont get me started on so many old concepts of marketing this sport, Go with the new ideas and adjust them as we learn better ways of improving racing!!!!
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Wait, Mike, are you saying things written on the internet aren't always true? Haven't seen you at the track since Belmont closed, stop up at Equestris one Saturday.
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
Oh, I've been. You just haven't seen me. I'll make a point of stopping up at Equestris and saying hi.
Jack Lee More than 1 year ago
Why can't you announce their picks in the last race when the gate opens?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't think it's ridiculous. It's completely plausible. I'm not saying it happened, but I don't think it should just be dismissed. Anyone can place a $10,000 bet on their phone without anyone knowing!
Adam More than 1 year ago
The concept is not ridiculous, and if I were in Arias' position, and it was within the contest rules to do that kind of thing, assuming he (or those in his camp) were able to make a reasonable calculation prior to the race going off, it would actually be wise to make one or more of these bets. Nothing wrong with that, it's part of the game. $10 or $20k to protect $750k? Duh. As stated by someone else here in the thread, if the idea of this possibility bothers the organizers, don't publish the selections until the horses are loading in the gate, you'd all but eliminate the 'problem'. One other thing--this contest stuff is very entertaining. I appreciate those who are trying, but please, sponsors--hire out to consultants to run the media coverage and accessibility issues for fans over the internet; make it all live, precise, visually appealing, make the audio work, etc.--this can be amazing--don't blow your chance at something big here.
Dennis Olson More than 1 year ago
The morning line odds for Fit to Rule were 4-1. So it shouldn't be a surprise that it was bet down from an 8-1 overlay. Happens to me all the time when I have money on a horse that has doubled in odds from morning line favoritism. Halfway through the race its odds have come down from late money. If I'm Brice, and have played horses long enough, it should be considered typical horse racing bad luck. Sometime you lose when you win!
Art DeToro More than 1 year ago
Where can I find the link for the final top 50 positions? Thanks
mikey More than 1 year ago
NTRA .com