10/10/2016 12:07PM

Hellmers adds to laurels in major contest prep

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One of the best resumes in the history of handicapping contest play just got a little better. Christian Hellmers won the Santa Anita Autumn Championship this weekend. For his efforts, he keeps his $19,350 bankroll plus $40,000 in cash and seats to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and National Handicapping Championship.

Hellmers, well known from his starring role on the "Horseplayers" TV show, is now eligible for a $1 million bonus should he win the BCBC. Twice before Hellmers has run second at racing’s most prestigious live-bankroll contest.

Heading into the second-to-last race on Sunday night, Hellmers had $500 left on his starting bankroll of $3,000. He took that money and played a straight double: Gloryzapper to Mr. Roary. When Gloryzapper dueled and prevailed in the L.A. Woman Stakes, he was drawing live for over $19,000 and the win. Mr. Roary went up by two lengths in the stretch and managed to hold on for a neck victory for his connections – and for Hellmers.

In addition to the two BCBC seconds, Hellmers also owns a Horse Player World Series win, showing he’s a major threat outside of his preferred live-bank format as well. The man they call "the Guru" will surely be one of the key players to watch in four weeks, right back at Santa Anita once again.

The second-place finisher was Donna Mariani. Mariani held the lead in the two-day event after Saturday, for which she won a $4,500 entry into Santa Anita’s March contest. She played conservatively on Sunday, not wanting to bet herself out of position. She ended up with $13,745 in bankroll, $15,000 in cash, plus NHC and BCBC seats. Also winning both major seats was third-place finisher Linda Rodriguez, who also collected $7,500 in addition to her $12,530.40 bank.

Rounding out the top five were Roger McDow ($10,570 bankroll, $5,000 in prizes, NHC seat) and Steve Jaffe ($6,504.50, NHC seat). Jaffe also received a bonus for handling the most money of any player in the contest with a total of $14,224 wagered.

There was also online qualifying action on DRF Tournaments this weekend. Hellmers’s "Horseplayers" castmate Michael Beychok was one of four players to win a BCBC seat on Saturday in a BCQualify contest. His win echoed a theme appropriate to Hellmers’s win as well: In a contest, you’re never out of until you’re out of it.

“I hit the first race and then blanked on the next five,” Beychok explained. “After I hit Hoppertunity in the Gold Cup, I was in the top 20 since favorites kept winning. I texted [my brother] Ben, ‘never say never.’ ”

He closed out in style with three nice prices in a row to get his total to $104.50: Dot Matrix ($36.70 win-place), Guest Suite ($21.60), and Exemplar ($21.20). This is a crazy, busy time of year for Beychok, who works on political campaigns, so he’ll have to skip attending the Breeders’ Cup live but will take advantage of the brand new opportunity to play from home.

Saturday’s overall winner was John Kolodzej ($134.30), who collected in seven races overall. His biggest winner was Photo Call, a cap horse at $52.60, in the First Lady at Keeneland. Vaughn Blair ($109.20) finished second, also with help from Photo Call. Fourth-place finisher John Nichols took a route similar to Beychok, running the table in the last three races.

James Riley was an unlucky fifth by 40 cents in Saturday’s BCQ contest, but made up for that on Sunday with a win and a seat to the Gulfstream Conquer the Crown event. Riley finished with $74.90. In the anchor leg, Santa Anita’s sixth, Ward ‘n Jerry got him home, returning $27 win-place combined.

Also on Sunday, Cheryl McIntyre continued her amazing 2016 in an NHCQualify event. She ran second with $86.70, securing her second NHC seat for 2017 to go with the four BCBC seats she’s already won. She will have to transfer two of them. She cashed in an impressive nine of the 12 races. “I’m just playing the same way I have all year,” she said of the effort.

The overall winner was Howard Schwartz ($87.50). He collected in six of the first seven races, but still needed Ward ‘n Jerry to secure his NHC spot.

Check out DRF Tournaments for a full list of upcoming contests.