07/23/2009 11:00PM

California man sets tourney mark


LAS VEGAS - Joe Corvi is a numbers man, but then again he isn't.

Corvi, 65, of Newport Beach, Calif., outlasted a field of 148 to win the Red Rock Firecracker Shootout handicapping tournament, a Super Qualifier for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, at the Red Rock Resort here July 4-5 with a score of $299.30. That's the highest score on record for any tournament using the two-day NHC format of 15 mythical $2 win-and-place bets each day, with eight being mandatory and seven being player's choice, and payoffs capped at $42 to win and $22 to place.

The highest score under that format in the NHC finals was Steve Wolfson Jr.'s $279.60 in 2005. Corvi's score blew that away as well as Richard Goodall's $78 margin of victory in 2008. George Tommila was $92.60 behind Corvi at $206.70, with Rhonda Wall in third at $205.90, but those three all earn NHC berths, including roundtrip airfare to Las Vegas as well as hotel accommodations at the Red Rock for three days during the Jan. 29-30, 2010, finals.

Yep, that's a lot of numbers for the numbers man who downplays that part.

"I have a degree in quantitative statistics, but people are surprised when I say that it doesn't help me too much when playing the horses," Corvi said. "I know all the fundamentals of handicapping, but I'm more likely to base plays on what me and my friends call peripheral b.s. I'm more interested in reading between the [past performance] lines and thinking outside the box, guessing at the intent of the owner or trainer."

He found one of those unlikely winners earlier on Saturday, July 4, in Belmont Park's sixth race, a maiden special weight event. Offensive Attack won at odds of 35-1 and paid $73 to win and $23.20 to place. Even though the payoffs were capped, the $64 in contest points put Corvi in the lead and he never looked back. Corvi led by $45.30 after the first day, with a score of $189.10.

"I kept about a $45 lead most of the last day whenever they posted the updated standings," Corvi said, "but as proud as I was of how I was playing, I was really happy with how I finished. In the last mandatory race, I liked a horse that was 30-1 on the morning line. Most people when they're in the lead of a tournament get conservative and play favorites, but I really liked the play and made it anyway. When it won, that gave me the biggest thrill."

Dapper Gene won the allowance race for 3-year-olds and up (Hollywood's ninth) at 35-1, paying $74.80 to win and $32.20 to place.

"When people went up to check the scores after that race, they were literally jumping back in shock that I played that," Corvi said. "I didn't know I was setting any kind of scoring record, but actually I would have had even more if not for the cap."

Perhaps it was fitting that Corvi won the tournament over our country's most patriotic holiday as his father, Joseph, was a war hero and a pioneer in the Apollo space program that just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. In fact, the fictional 2000 movie "Space Cowboys" was loosely based on the elder Corvi (the character of Frank Corvin was played by Clint Eastwood). The younger Corvi is working on a book with one of the screenwriters of the movie who has taken an interest in his father's life.

Even though Corvi is a longtime tournament player, with six prior titles to his credit, including winning $110,880 in the Championship at the Orleans in April 2006, this is his first time qualifying for the NHC and the first year he joined the NHC Tour.

"I've played in a few qualifying tournaments over the year, but I've skipped a lot either due to scheduling conflicts or not liking a format," said Corvi, who picked up 3,000 Tour points for his victory and suddenly finds himself in the top 10 and with a shot at the $100,000 prize for the year-long winner of the tour as well as a shot at the $2 million bonus if a Tour champ goes on to win NHC XI.

"I guess I need to take a closer look now at the schedule the rest of the year," he said.

NHC Tour notes

Louis Constan remains atop the NHC Tour leaderboard with 6,017 points. Winners of tournaments that award NHC berths earn 3,000 points with a graduated scale that depends on the number of entrants in a given tourney. Donald McNeil is second at 4,500, with Dave Flanzbaum in third at 4,225. The full standings can be found at ntra.com/nhctour.

* This weekend has several major qualifying tournaments with Lone Star Park, Colonial Downs, and Canterbury Downs holding ontrack tournaments as well as Brisnet.com holding a free online contest on Saturday, plus Emerald Downs having its annual Ultimate Qualifying Tournament on Sunday with nine NHC berths up for grabs.

* NHCqualify.com, the official online qualifying site for the National Handicapping Championship, has already sold out its two one-day tournaments on Aug. 8 and Aug. 15. The entry fee was $400, with fields limited to the first 150 entries.

* The next Super Qualifier tourney for NHC Tour members only will be held Aug. 29 at Monmouth Park, with a $400 entry fee and a $200 live bankroll. The top six finishers will earn NHC berths, including airfare and hotel accommodations. Call Jeff Lowich at (732) 571-5580 for details.

* For a full list of upcoming tournaments, including previews with the formats for each, go to drf.com/nhc/2009/qualifiers.html.