01/04/2017 1:21PM

Costello goes full throttle for NHC

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Kevin Costello wasn’t certain he belonged. As 2016 dawned, he was a little intimidated by his competition in the handicapping contest world.

“I remember looking at the names in the tour standings and seeing these players with two stars next to their names who were double-qualified for the [National Handicapping Championship] and thinking, ‘I wonder if I could ever be good enough to compete with these people?’ ” he said.

Costello had a good 2016. Heading into last weekend, he stood in 14th place for the full-year NHC Tour standings and 25th for the second half standings. He wasn’t done yet.

“I knew I was a huge longshot to win the whole thing but I wasn’t mathematically eliminated,” he explained. “I wanted to give it a good swing, figuring maybe I might just move into top 10 for the year.”

Costello, a Chicago-area resident, decided to fly to Surfside to play in their three contests. He also targeted Saturday’s DRF Tournaments’ NHC qualifier.

“I thought I had to win three contests to have any chance of getting first and I knew I’d have to win the online,” he said, “I went triple-barreled in all four contests.”

Playing three entries can be tricky, but through the year, Costello honed his strategy. “At first I started out playing different horses on each entry, hoping to catch a longshot on one. But the problem I found was that even if you hit with one then you were pigeon-holed to that one ticket. I started playing my best longshot on two of the three entries. When that horse hits, you open yourself up to a lot more possibilities.”

Costello recalled revealing this approach to fellow tour competitor Tony Zhou at Monmouth back on Dec. 10. He noticed a Dunkirk horse who looked a perfect two-entry play.

“But then I got lily-livered. I used the chalk on two entries and the Dunkirk on one. Of course, the Dunkirk horse won and I ended up losing. It sure would have helped to have that horse on a second entry.”

That was the turning point.

“I felt like a lab rat,” he said. “After you get zapped a few times you figure out what you’re supposed to do.”

Last weekend, Costello stuck to the plan and ended up winning the DRFT contest outright and one of the three of the Surfside contests – opening up possibilities by playing longshots like Ultra Brat and Paige on multiple tickets.

“With my three entries, there were probably guys who out-handicapped me, but I had a lot of purchasing power,” he said.

He almost did even better. On Friday at Surfside he ran third, just $7 behind his friend (and former NHC champion) Jose Arias in a mythical-money event. And on Saturday he had a big lead in Surfside’s live-bank contest before succumbing late.

“They have some damn good players out there,” he said. “I had a $1,400 lead and three guys gunned me down like nothing.”

Sunday’s contest was essentially over before half the field arrived when he hit a 19-1 on a pedigree play in the first race in the $2 win-place format.

As a result of the two big wins Costello ended up fourth on the overall tour and third for the second half, netting $10,000 for each.

“I was elated,” said Costello, “I shot high and landed high.”

Best of all, he’s proved to himself that indeed he does belong. “My experiences playing contests has exceeded my wildest expectations,” he said. “I looked at the tour standings today and there’s my name with two stars next to it.”