Updated on 06/29/2016 12:23PM

Harvard grad first in Santa Anita Gold Cup Betting Challenge


Hesham Ragab, a 55-year-old horseplayer from Los Angeles, Calif., has won the 2016 Santa Anita Gold Cup Challenge with a final bankroll of $25,050. In addition to his bankroll, Ragab takes home $45,000 in cash, as well as a seat to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. Ragab is already double-qualified for the National Handicapping Championship, so he received an additional $5,000 in prize money in lieu of the seat.

Ragab is a graduate of Harvard University who finished second on the NHC Tour in 2010. He was in fifth at the end of day one with a bankroll of $9,040. That total had dwindled to $8,770 heading into the last contest race, a maiden special weight going six furlongs on the dirt. Ragab bet $5,000 to win on the winner Hank the Tank ($7.60) and a $300 exacta ($10.60 for $1) with second-place finisher Candy Promises to narrowly eke out the overall win over Robert Traynor.

Traynor, a 55-year-old packaging sales rep from Oceanside, Calif., finished with $24,220. The winner of the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, Traynor had two entries in position coming in to day two but his lower one, at $7,000 to start, blew up early. Traynor focused his energy on the later races on his good ticket. He got hot late, with his key bet being a $5,300 win bet on Soi Phet ($5.80), and he topped up with a $200 double ($23.40 for $2) to Hank the Tank. Traynor takes home a BCBC seat, an NHC seat, and $15,000.

Any player who wins a Santa Anita contest is eligible for a $1 million bonus should he or she go on to win the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, and an additional $1 million should he or she then go on to win the National Handicapping Championship. For Traynor, that factored into his motivation.

“I’m a gambler,” he said. “Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose but the million dollars definitely makes things a lot more interesting.”

The scores were high despite short fields over the two days. This is likely a sign of how well the million-dollar bonus worked, encouraging players to bet more money for the chance at a life-changing score.

Traynor joked that one of the best parts about doing so well in the tournament was proving that he wasn’t just a one-hit wonder after his BCBC success. “That was really just something I said to help motivate myself,” he said, “but it sure feels great to be able to get the job done.”

Nick Mariani took the lead in the Soi Phet race. At the end of day one Mariani sat in fourth with $9,090. His bankroll stood at $17,870 ahead of the last race. He hit as well, and ended up with $20,210. In addition to his bankroll, he’ll walk with $7,500, plus NHC and BCBC seats.

Florine Sima, also a winner in the last race, ended up fourth with $14,740. Sima wins an NHC seat and an additional $5,000.

Overall, a total of 73 entries competed in the Santa Anita Gold Cup Betting Challenge. The prize pool included $67,500, three entries to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, and five entries to the National Handicapping Championship.

Buy-in for the Gold Cup Challenge was $4,500. Of that total, $1,500 went to the prize pool and the remaining $3,000 acts as a live bankroll over the two days. There is only one contest track: Santa Anita. Win, place, show, exacta and daily double wagers are permitted.  For Saturday, players were required to play at least four races at a minimum of $250 per race. A player-friendly rule change removed a minimum requirement on races for Sunday – a result of small fields. Players still had to bet at least $3,000 total over the two-day event.  There were no maximums on wagering. Players could go “all-in” whenever they wish.

 Players were also able to win their way in to the Gold Cup contest through the new DRF Tournaments platform. In addition to weekend qualifiers, DRF Tournaments also ran weekday tournament feeders for this contest, potentially allowing someone a chance to win north of $1 million for an initial buy-in of only $25.

Here is a look at the final top 10:

Hesham Ragab $25,050 + $45,000 + BCBC

Robert Traynor $24,220 + $15,000 + BCBC + NHC

Nick Mariani $20,210 + $7,500 + BCBC + NHC

Florin Sima $14,740 + $5,000 + NHC

Nisan Gabbay $13,220.50 + NHC

Dan Kaplan $13,045 + NHC

James Henry $10,600

Kevin Geraghty $7,946

Mark Streiff $6,318

Jerry Benowitz $6,104.80