01/20/2014 2:53PM

NHC and reality-show premiere make it a big week for horseplayers


It’s a great week to be a horseplayer. And it has nothing to do with the racing itself. Sure, tracks will be running from coast-to-coast and there will be plenty of fun stuff to bet on. But this week is actually about you, the bettor. Things kicked off last weekend with one of my personal favorite moments of the year – a gambler getting an Eclipse Award. Alongside Wise Dan, Todd Pletcher, and Ken and Sarah Ramsey, there was last year’s NHC winner Jim Benes receiving racing’s most prestigious trophy.

And by the end of the day on Sunday, we’ll know who’ll be getting a trophy at next year’s Eclipse Awards event. The NHC festival kicks off on Thursday with the Last Chance Qualifier at the Treasure Island in Vegas. At least five final seats will be given away in a one-day version of the NHC format. I don’t have any inside information, but I predict a female competitor will win.

On Friday, it’s the big dance – three days of pari-mutuel insanity with the best horseplayers in the country fighting tooth and nail. I’ll be on hand to cover the proceedings and I’m psyched to feel the energy in the room as the starting field of approximately 480 players gets winnowed down to 50, then 10, then 1.

Those aren’t the only interesting events going on in the world of handicapping this week. On Tuesday night, the reality television show "Horseplayers" debuts on the Esquire Network. If you play the game regularly, you’re going to want to check local listings and at least make sure you DVR this sucker.

The show follows a group of noted contest players – including two former NHC champs – as they travel around the country, play in tournaments, and generally do what horseplayers do: make money or have fun trying. I got a chance to chat with one of the stars of the show, Kevin Cox, aka The Brooklyn Cowboy, last week. I thought Cox, famous for not being shy, might give us some good info about how it all goes down on the show.

“People think this is going to be like watching The World Series of Poker, but it really isn’t,” Cox explained, “because they’re delving more into the racetracks we go to, the things we do. The settings are incredible: New Orleans, Saratoga. There are ample opportunities to show side stories about the history. They don’t want it to be just a bunch of guys scribbling in the Racing Form; that would be bad TV. So they delve into our personal lives.”

I was curious if – in established reality TV fashion – we might see some conflicts along the way. Cox told me, “There are some fireworks at times, but in the end, it’s all pari-mutuelly based. It’s you against everybody else in the contest room. But these guys in the show, they’re sitting closest to you, so invariably, in your head, it’s you against them right off the bat. What better way to build your ego than to beat a past NHC champ like [Michael] Beychok or [John] Conte, or especially a guy like Christian Hellmers.”

I had to take the bait – what did he mean, “especially a guy like Christian Hellmers.” I know that Hellmers, a respected contest player, has a laid-back California vibe that could possibly clash with Cox’s brash, New York-centric manner. But I wanted to get a little preview.

Cox, for once, was tight-lipped. He just smiled and told me I had to wait and watch the show. I recommend you do, too.

IRANIANMULLAH More than 1 year ago
I made a negative comment about the Hellmers guy somewhere on a drf blog. . I TAKE IT ALL BACK. He's a Titan in this game. . I had no idea he was one of those kids hitting pick 6's 10-15 years ago in Califorrnia. I remember reading about them years ago. I think one was a student at Cal Tech. Hellmers was one of them
Standiforx More than 1 year ago
After watching the first episode of Horseplayers, I'm not sure I'm all that sold on the show. Yes, there are a few interesting characters but I'm afraid that the show will tend to contrive some conflicts to try to make it more interesting which will eventually compromise what little credibility the sport currently enjoys. While these programs are called "reality" shows, they also have writers and editors who aren't bashful about creating and overdoing story lines that sometimes skew the "reality" they are claiming to depict. And while it's a small detail, the person who is imitating Trevor's race calls in the show is AWFUL! I'll keep watching for a few more weeks, but I'm more than a bit skeptical.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I haven't seen it yet! Too busy doing NHC prep. . .but I am a little scared at the concept of someone faking Trevor's calls. Can't imagine a scenario where that's a good idea!
Crystal David More than 1 year ago
I liked it - will watch again. I really enjoyed the Jockeys show a few years back but did not like Stable Wars that was on a few months ago.....
Wiredfigs More than 1 year ago
Sorry guys, show was boring. Those re-created race calls have to go. You got no incite really from the players. But, I did learn that if you have money, you can land a 23 year old as your trophy wife!
Jim Tully More than 1 year ago
Agree. I have watched enough reality TV to know when I see a heavily edited program in which the participants are fed their lines and told to be "interesting." Tom Durkin's recreations at least sounded authentic. Whoever was doing the recreations from BC was terrible, lifeless. But guess what, I am still going to watch because I am a Horseplayer. Steve Rotondo, Sr., you are my new hero. Please forward me the name of the matchmaking service you used.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
You guys are so cynical -- don't you believe in love? Reminds me of this piece I wrote this summer: unbearablebetting.com/2013/07/31/wednesday-do-you-believe-in-love/
IRANIANMULLAH More than 1 year ago
You guys are so cynical , guessing that was sarcasm. Only one thing to say about Rotondo Sr. ... He;s having fun.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoughts from my living room about the 'Horseplayer' reality show. Frankly, would have liked to have seen more of Michael Beychock, a great ambassador for the game, the winner of he 2012 NCH and a smart, clear thinking horseplayer.. While the NY cast of handicapping characters, while credentialed for their placement on the show, nevertheless seemed to be in the show as much for their Damon Runyonesque appearances and NewYorkese, when there are many very sharp players in NY who are not so typecast. Also, while Christian Helmers was sharp as a tack with his longshot plays in the BC Contest yet still lost to someone who was not even mentioned till the very end of the Tourney, (which repeated the same 1-2 finish in that rich contest in consecutive years), that was a story line that needed more flkeshing out. Likewise, I heard nothing but one liner-insights into the handicapping thoughts of the particpants, which is too bad for a 'reality show' based on real horseplayers. Speaking of reality, what was with the impersonation of Trevor Denman's race call in a BC race? Or, the replaced race call that focused on one of the horseplayer's plays which usually we see in B level movies about the sport. And; the show was based on non chronologically layed out races from 2012 not 2013, which was somewhat surprising. I didn't record it to review a second time, but did I see Groupie Doll's odds listed at 20-1 when they showed her name and odds on the screen before the 2012 Met Mile ? If not, my bad. Overall, I hope to see better, but 'am glad there is something on those of us who play the game seriously on TV. .. .In the meantime, good luck and good handicapping to all who are in the NTRA/DRF NHC Handicpping Tourney this week! The format change will be interesting to follow, but I sure wish they did not allow multiple entries in this most prestigious tournament. . .
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Beychok is indeed the man. I think he'll be appearing more in coming weeks.
Mark Vaughn More than 1 year ago
2 entries is a joke for this event. thats like having a rebuy in wsop main event or giving a golfer a mulligan. How can you say its a fair or even competition when some players have two entries and can actually take two different horses in the same race. I really think this policy need to be evaluated
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I disagree. First of all, many players have had two entries (or more) for years, just in other people's names. Second of all, if you earn two entries on the square, why not get the rewards? There is really no way to prevent multiple entries anyway, even in a contest like the BCBC, because people can simply use shills or team up.
mikey More than 1 year ago
This show better be a fast closer.Got out of the gate real slow.They did not tell us anything new.This is not going to bring new fans to a hurting game.Racing fans watching know what a p4 p5 or p6 are.The Breeders races did not even have the real race caller.Do it right or skip it.
Wonderagain More than 1 year ago
Watched debut last night. Hellmers bet big on Zagora, Little Mike and Fort Larned in 2012 Breeders Cup and still came in second. Tough beat though payoff for 2nd place wasn't bad. In the BC betting challenge format, I've read it's a $10k buy-in of which $2500 goes to prize pool and $7500 is for live bankroll. Hellmers' reactions were incredibly low key as he made three (3) $20k+ hits w/live bankroll wagers. No wonder The Brooklyn Cowboy takes issue w/Hellmers. He wears a headband, incorporates aromatherapy into playing, has a good looking girlfriend and is a scary good horseplayer. Looking forward to next week's episode. FYI - the wife hates the show. Makes it even better!
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
LOL, Funny stuff, Wonderagain. I look forward to your review of the next episode. Perhaps episode 8 will feature the Kevin Cox - Christian Hellmers steel cage match?
David G. More than 1 year ago
That's if we even get there on time Peter the way this wether is cooperating in the NY Metro area. Flights departing for tomorrow are already 3-4 hours delayed as of now. That means with the residual delays when matters start to clear up, some of us may be at the airport waiting to leave a good 5-7 hours. Good luck to all leaving Thursday from the north east coast. Fly safely.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Yes, I was supposed to fly out tonight and had to move to Thursday -- total bummer as I was looking forward to hanging out with my contest brethren before the madness. But better late than never I suppose. . .
MultiraceWagers More than 1 year ago
Peter - Is the 480 the number of entries or players. Obviously relevant given the 2 entries allowed in 2014. Also, be interested in the actual takeout of the NHC as compared to something like the BC betting challenge.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
actually looks like the number of entries will be more like 495 upon further review, depending on what happens in the Last Chance on Thurs. 78 of those folks are dbl qualified, the rest single entries. As for takeout, Keith Chamblin is on record saying the NHC takeout is 18% whereas the BCBC actually has no takeout -- in fact, more value gets paid out than money goes in. Of course, it's a different animal entirely. Many folks have told me that the NHC is less about value per se and more about the experience itself -- and that sounds about right to me. I think players should decide for themselves and choose their spots accordingly.
Chris Evers More than 1 year ago
Has Chamblin presented numbers that show how the NHC takeout hits out to 18%? I don't think horseplayers can put much stock in a number that may be derived from thin air. We need to see calculations. ie (money taken in - money paid out) / money taken in.
Marvin Friedman More than 1 year ago
I think its channel 900438
Marvin Friedman More than 1 year ago
Is that the same channel Larry king is on?
Nicholas Briglia More than 1 year ago
What, exactly, is the Esquire Network?
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
It's a new cable TV network. I believe it's in the NBC family of networks, channel 118 or 689 here in New York. For more information, check out: /tv.esquire.com/
Chris Lowe More than 1 year ago
Used to be Style Network.
Ronald More than 1 year ago
"Style network" That's why us Horseplayer's have no idea where it is
Marvin Friedman More than 1 year ago
I watched the priemier Tuesday night,:-)I doubt they could haveb found more unlikable people to follow,I thought Jockeys was a much better show,Ill probably watch again ,just to see how quickly they all get cleaned out
sonofjazzman More than 1 year ago
Just saw it tonight. it's not on Time Warner but you can download it off the internet on a site called "Graboid". It's terrific!