01/28/2017 10:41PM

$100 winner helps propel Arsenault to top of National Handicapping Championship leader board


Ray Arsenault of Thornhill, Ontario, leads the National Handicapping Championship after Day 2 – moving day – at Treasure Island in Las Vegas. Arsenault found four double-digit winners Saturday – including a $100 winner in Gulfstream Park’s fourth (worth the maximum $64 for contest scoring) – to vault himself atop the standings with a mythical bankroll of $289.50 entering the semifinal round of the three-day tournament. The barrage of longshots also gave Arsenault the highest Day 2 total, netting him a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat.

 The top 10 percent of the field – 66 players – will continue on to Sunday and the subsequent top 10 will play at the final table, where the winner will walk away with $800,000 and an Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year.

Arsenault had what he thought would be his final pick of the day scratch at the gate at Golden Gate, leaving him scrambling to find a play in the last two eligible contest races from Fair Grounds. That selection, Friend to Me, paid $24.80 and $10.40 to give Arsenault the lead.

 “I looked at the Fair Grounds and asked my buddy about it,” Arsenault said. “He hated the favorite and said he liked the one or the two. I looked and said, ‘I like the two.’ The two won and the rest is history.”

 Arsenault was ebullient about his Day 2 prize.

 “That makes me more excited than anything,” Arsenault said. “Because where you finish here today doesn’t really matter because tomorrow is another day. Last year I was second going into the final day and I ended up 26th. Anything can happen.”

 Dan Kovalesky, who led for part of the day Saturday, held second with $260.80. The Top 10 was rounded out by Frank Mustari ($251.40), Eliot Honaker. ($248.50), Michael Ray ($246.50), Sheldon Usprech ($243.90), Kevin Jones ($231.80), Travis Pearson ($227.30), Louis Filoso ($226.90), and Dennis Johnson ($224.50).

NHC entrants were required to place 18 mythical $2 win-place wagers – eight on mandatory races that everyone played and 10 on any of 71 other races from eight designated racetracks across the country.

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 This is the seventh NHC appearance for Arsenault, a transportation broker who fell for racing as a child during visits to Woodbine and Greenwood with his father.

 As for the $100 winner, Arsenault explained: “I didn’t have a strong opinion in that race and I thought I’d take a shot. That was a race where some of the other horses were coming from behind and [jockey Corey] Lanerie loves to save ground. I figured he should improve a little bit and got a perfect trip.”

Allan Sadler is the only player with both of his entries in the semifinals – 37th ($123.60) and 58th ($114.80).

 Among the notable semifinals players are Chick Matties (11th, $221.30), father of last year’s NHC winner Paul Matties, as well as his other son Duke Matties (tie-24th, $206.40), a 2016 Final Table participant; Stephen Wolfson Jr. (14th, $220.30), the 2003 NHC winner and son of 2017 NHC Hall of Fame inductee Stephen Wolfson Sr.; Chris Larmey (28th, $203.20), NHC Players’ Committee chairman; powerhouse couple Sally Goodall (30th, $202.90) and 2008 NHC winner Richard Goodall (48th, $191.70); Bill Shurman (51st, $190.70), perennial NHC tour contender; Stanley Bavlish (59th, $186.70), the 2007 NHC winner and another repeat final table participant; and Pete Dresens (63rd, $183.60), the winner of the NHC rookie tour.

For a full list of all 66 players who advance to the semifinals check out www.ntra.com

 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge winner Joe Appelbaum, who was eligible for a $3 million bonus if he should win the NHC with his second of two entries, finished in 515th ($69) on the bonus-eligible entry. The 2016 NHC Tour winner Cheryl McIntyre, eligible for a $2 million bonus, finished in a tie for 568th ($55.4) with one entry and last on the other ($0). George Chute, winner of the NHC Cyberstars contest, playing for an extra $1 million, ended up with his two entries in 596th ($49.10) and 598th ($47.60).

The NHC concludes Sunday. All second day bankrolls will carry over to the semis, which will consist of 10 optional plays from a menu of 35 races ending at about 12:30 p.m. Pacific. Bankrolls will also carry over to the final table, where the cash prizes range from $800,000 for down to $50,000 for 10th. The final table will consist of seven mandatory races with estimated post times from 1:30-4:30 p.m. Pacific.

 Those left outside the final cut will play in a separate $50,000 Consolation Tournament on Sunday with reset mythical bankrolls.

 For full coverage of championship Sunday at the NHC tune in to http://stevebyk.com/listen-live-siriusxm/ starting at approximately 2:30 p.m. Pacific.