04/05/2017 12:48PM

First time's the charm for Puhich in HPWS

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Pete Puhich’s exacta at the Horse Player World Series may or may not be the greatest achievement in the history of contest play but it’s definitely the most surprising. Get this: The 59-year-old retired Boeing line mechanic says he’d never even played in a contest before his $370,000 plus score last weekend.

Puhich grew up in a racing milieu. His younger cousin Michael is a trainer and farm manager and the two teamed up to have some success over the years winning races together. Puhich’s uncle Ivan was the jockey agent for Mario Gutierrez when he won the Kentucky Derby aboard I’ll Have Another and was a longtime fixture at Longacres.

Longacres is a place near to Puhich’s heart. He grew up in Renton, Wash., where the track was located. His father owned a Chinese restaurant that also had a bar. His dad would run bets down to Longacres for his customers (for a fee of course) and being a handicapper himself he occasionally looked for a bigger edge. “He’d book the bets on horses he didn’t like,” Puhich explained.

Puhich is an old-school handicapper. “I learned to read the Racing Form from my Dad a long time ago,” he said. “He would take us racing all year long, Yakima, Exhibition Park, or down to Portland, all of his buddies would jump in the Cadillac.”

When pressed about his handicapping techniques, however, he demurred, “I’m not going to give away my secret.”

The story of how he scored out last weekend started back in February. It was Valentine’s weekend and he was at the Orleans playing in a keno tournament (who knew?) when he saw a sign for the Horse Player World Series. “I said to myself, ‘I’m going to do this,’ ” Puhich said.

He spoke with Debbie Flag at the Orleans and she suggested he play a second entry, as many players do at the HPWS, which has unlimited entries. Puhich went into negotiation mode, agreeing to play a second entry if Flag could secure him a room with a hot tub. After informing him that there were no rooms with hot tubs at the Orleans, Flag still managed to twist his arm into buying a second entry. “I figured what the hell since there was a lot of money involved,” he said.

Because of that little conversation, Puhich made an extra $100,000.

Puhich doesn’t lack for confidence. “I’m a good handicapper,” he said, “and I just knew going in that I’d at least get one of the places. And once I got going it was just like in that movie ‘Let It Ride,’ I knew I was going to win.”

The journey was not without its bumps and bruises. Puhich admitted to being nervous and getting only three hours of sleep each night. He also had a hiccup on day three. He had put in all his bets at the start of each day and realized toward the end of the contest that one of his picks had been scratched. This was at a critical point late in the contest when one of his entries had just been passed for second.

“I was looking for a winner,” he said, “and I picked a 5-1 shot at Santa Anita who placed and moved me back up into second. That was the only pick I changed in the three days.”

Puchich’s strategy was to look at all the races on each day, narrowing them down by process of elimination and targeting longshots. The HPWS requires 15 optional plays on each of the three days. On the first day, he couldn’t narrow down to 15 races. “I broke up my entries on the first day most because there were different races that I really liked,” he said.

On the second and third days, he played all 15 bets exactly the same. His logic was simple: “I’m gonna bet my horses and take it all,” he said.

And that’s exactly what he did.