01/20/2017 11:36AM

‘Philly Joe' takes aim at NHC for first time


It’s standard advice to never gamble against a man who has the same first name as a city. If that’s true, then the field for the 2017 National Handicapping Championship had better beware of Philly Joe.

Philly Joe, 36, born Joseph Metka, was indeed born and raised in Philadelphia. He qualified for the NHC for the first time last weekend in a DRF Tournaments contest (note: Sunday is the final opportunity to qualify online for the 2017 event).

Metka knows about the game as a gambler and as an owner. After a brief foray owning harness horses in the early 2000s, trainer Chris Landicini convinced him to give Thoroughbreds a go. Thus, Metka Racing Stable was born.

“When the casino came in at Parx, the purses were insane: $5,000 claimers were running for $30,000,” said Metka, who received his racing license in 2011 and hasn’t looked back. “It’s been one of the best experiences of my life.”

Metka is part of a family law firm that does estate planning and administration. Over the years, he’s gotten his family members involved, too.

“They’ve always been very supportive of whatever kooky idea I have,” he said. “Everybody in the firm knows we don’t schedule appointments on days we have horses running so we can go to the races. It’s been special in that regard.”

He had a plan heading into last Saturday’s contest. “I thought it was going to be chalky, with a lot of live chalk and an off-the-turf race at Santa Anita,” he said. “It was a good example of what can be done when you try to look at the contest as an event rather than race by race.”

Metka’s first big hit in the contest was at Gulfstream with Morticia, but Flatlined was the key to his day. “He’d run huge last time against Heart to Heart with no pace setup, was now getting more ground, and had been working well, according to DRF clockers,” Metka said, before adding that things looked bleak halfway through the race. “I didn’t think it was going to happen, but the late surge got the job done.”

The back half of the contest was also interesting. At that point, he had enough points in theory and could mainly think about playing defense. “But so much chalk won that no one was able to really make a move on the leaderboard,” Metka said. “It’s much easier playing from in front.”

This is Metka’s first time as an NHC participant, but he’s been to Las Vegas for the big event twice to support his contest-playing friends, including Nick Tammaro, 2016 NHC Tour champ Jonathon Kinchen, and Hawthorne’s contest ambassador, Eric Bialek.

“I’ve known Nick for a long time, and I met those other guys out there [in Las Vegas] two years ago,” Metka said. “I wasn’t a contest player before that, but seeing the camaraderie made me say to myself I should start playing in them.”

Metka enjoys talking with his friends about contest play and racing in general. “It’s great to have the ability to throw ideas out at each other,” he said. “One minute, we’ll be talking about a stakes race at Santa Anita, and the next a $4,000 claimer at Penn National that might be the key to the late pick four.”

His friends have definitely helped him to up his game. “I’m always learning new things to add to my arsenal,” he said. “You need every little thing to make it in this game, that’s for sure.”