Updated on 09/17/2011 9:44AM

Handicapping the handicappers


LAS VEGAS - Following are profiles of the key individuals and teams in the fourth National Handicapping Championship, which will be held Friday and Saturday at Bally's Las Vegas. Hometowns and qualifying tournaments (in parentheses) are given for each of the individual players.

Tommy Castillo, Dallas (Bettor Racing OTB)

Castillo is one of the best-known players on the tournament circuit. He plays in more than 15 events a year and has won several, including a first prize of $120,000 in the inaugural Suncoast Invitational in 2001. Castillo will be making his second straight trip to the national championship after qualifying last year at Fair Grounds.

David Gutfreund, Chicago (Aqueduct)

Gutfreund has held several titles within the racing industry, including jobs as a contributor to Youbet.com, attheraces.com, and the Churchill Downs Simulcast Network. He's also had past stints as television host for The Racing Network and the New York City OTB Channel. Gutfreund has won multiple handicapping contests dating back to the 1980's, including back-to-back victories in the Pick the Ponies Invitational and the Sam's Town Ultimate Challenge in Oct.-Nov. 1995. The "Maven" will be playing in his second NHC after qualifying last year at Turf Paradise.

Howard Hong, Phoenix (Sunland Park)

Hong is well known to simulcast players for being the television handicapping host at Turf Paradise in Phoenix since 1990. A graduate of the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program, Hong won the Sunland Park Handicapping Tournament on Aug. 3-4 in order to qualify for the NHC. Hong also won a grand prize of $10,188 for his victory in Belmont's Internet SHOWdown contest in 2002.

Gwyn Houston, Forest Hill, Md. (Maryland Jockey Club)

Houston is one of only five three-time qualifiers to the National Handicapping Championship. He is a former winner of Penn National's World Series of Handicapping, and also recorded a third-place finish ($10,000) in NHC II in 2001.

William Jackson, Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. (Belmont)

Jackson is a force to be reckoned with in any tournament he enters based on his recent track record that includes back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Sports Haven Handicapping Challenge in 2000 and 2001 and his victory in the Belmont Handicapping Challenge in 2002. Jackson is part of an elite group of players who will be playing in their third NHC finals this year.

Rick Lang, Chalmsford, Mass. (Aqueduct)

Lang is a public handicapper and former turf writer for the New York Post who now hosts the OTB Central show on the New York City OTB Channel. Lang qualified for NHC IV with his win in the Aqueduct Fall Handicapping Challenge on Nov. 16-17. The victory was the latest in a long line of tournament successes for Lang, which also includes a win in Autotote's $102,000 Sports Haven Handicapping Challenge in 1999 and a pair of third-place finishes in the World Series of Handicapping at Penn National. Lang survived a very serious recent battle with cancer, and will be making his first visit to Las Vegas since 1975.

Paul Messell, Pembroke Pines, Fla. (Sunland Park)

Messell is the co-host of the "At the Post" Thoroughbred racing radio show that airs on weekends on WAXY 790 AM in South Florida.

James Mineo, Plantation, Fla. (Gulfstream Park)

Mineo will be seeking his second $100,000 grand prize in the past 12 months thanks to his win in Gulfstream Park's Turf-vivor Handicapping Contest on Feb. 22-24.

Tom Quigley, Beverly Hills Calif. (Bradley Teletheater)

Quigley is the "punting publisher" of The Horseplayer Magazine, a periodical devoted to horse handicapping. He is also an avid handicapper and tournament player who has participated in hundreds of contests around the country.

Stuart Rubin, Bronx, N.Y. (Sports Haven)

Rubin, known in racetrack circles at "Stewie Beef," is a fixture at New York and south Florida tracks where he is known an as avid fan and bettor. Beef and partners have cashed several pick six tickets including a $59,000 payoff at Saratoga in 1996.

Steven Walker, Lincoln, Neb. (Prairie Meadows)

Walker became the first DRF/NTRA Handicapper of the Year in 2000 when he won the inaugural $100,000 National Handicap-ping Championship. Walker qualified for this year's finals with a second-place finish at Prairie Meadows, and now holds the distinction of being the only player to play in all four National Handicapping Championships after qualifying four years in a row.

Donald Wright, Eastpointe, Mich. (Bettor Racing OTB)

Wright enjoyed a very successful year of tournament play in 2002, scoring wins in both the Bettor Racing OTB Midwest Classic in June and the Fair Grounds DRF/NTRA Qualifying Tournament in December. The two wins combined netted Wright prize money of $18,300.

In addition to competing as individuals, all National Handicapping Championship qualifiers also compete as part of four-person teams for a separate prize pool of $32,000 in team prize money. The field is divided into 53 teams based on qualifying site.

Favorites to win top team honors this year include Team Bettor Racing OTB that has both Castillo and Wright, and the Keeneland "B" Team that has two players, Tim Holland of Midway, Ky., and Tony "T.J." Taylor of Burlington, Ky., who are both three-time National Handicapping Champion-ship qualifiers.

Other top teams are Team Maryland Jockey Club, which has former NHC qualifier Sopha So of Cherry Hill, N.J., (19th in 2001) and is led by Gwyn Houston, who anchored the Maryland Jockey Club's championship-winning team at NHC II in 2001. Others to watch are the NYRA-Aqueduct team, with both Gutfreund and Lang; Team Sunland Park, which has both Hong and Messell; and Team Reno Hilton, which has former NHC III qualifier Sally Wang of Las Vegas and her son-in-law, Chris Goodall of Metairie, Louisiana.