01/08/2014 3:27PM

2013 Eclipse Awards: Jim Benes

photo by: Horsephotos/NTRA

The winner of the $750,000 first-place prize and the title of 2013 DRF/NTRA Handicapper of the Year at the 14th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship last January was Jim Benes, a 51-year-old professional horseplayer from Countryside, Ill.

The NHC is the pinnacle of all tournaments for horseplayers and the culmination of a yearlong series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino race books, offtrack betting facilities, and horse-racing and handicapping websites. The NHC has enjoyed tremendous popularity over the past decade. The first NHC in 2000 had a total purse of $212,000. The purse of this month’s 15th annual NHC will be $1.5 million, with half going to the winner.

Benes, who qualified for the NHC at Hawthorne Race Course, was in second place at the conclusion of Day 1 and stayed at or near the top of the pack throughout Day 2. Going into the NHC’s final race – Race 10 at Santa Anita – Benes trailed eventual runner-up Roger Cettina by $2.40. His $2 win-and-place bet in that final race was on the favored Hidethegoodstuff, who finished second to Hail Mary and returned $3.60 to place, enough to secure a final winning margin of $1.20 over Cettina.

“My mother passed away a few years ago,” Benes said. “Her name was Mary, and when they were coming down the stretch of that last race and I heard a horse named Hail Mary on the lead, I wasn’t sure whether it was my mom trying to tell me, ‘I’m here for you,’ or, ‘You should have bet on me!’ ”

The NHC, presented by Sovereign Stable and Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, will be held Jan. 24-26 at Treasure Island.