03/30/2014 8:05AM

Horse Player World Series: Hellmers, of 'Horseplayers' fame, prevails


LAS VEGAS – Christian Hellmers, the enigmatic West Coast "guru" on the "Horseplayers" television show, played every bit the part after winning $269,640 for topping a field of 749 at the Horse Player World Series at the Orleans Casino here Saturday afternoon.

Hellmers, who turned 37 on Thursday, said he felt vindicated after winning his first major tournament after several close calls, including back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge in 2011 and 2012. Then he said he felt humbled by what he said is a God-given gift to handicap races. You didn't know whether to love him or hate him – and I heard from plenty of fellow contestants in both camps.

But all agreed that the guy can handicap.

"I felt destined to win this weekend," he said while chewing from his ever-present bag of vegan blue-green algae. "I missed three winners that I didn't put on my ticket – one because I showed up late, one because I got shut out, and one because I didn't notice my horse's odds drift up from 7-1 to 14-1. But instead of letting it eat me alive when I made mistakes, I just found more longshots."

Hellmers finished with a score of 3,559.30 in the three-day tournament that started Thursday and required contestants to make 15 mythical $20 win-place wagers, so he nearly doubled his bankroll, which is about what it takes in this format. The first $2 bet is paid at track odds, and then the remaining is capped at $40 to win and $20 to place.

Ronald Frazier finished with 3,501.40 points to earn $101,115 for second, and Duke Matties, who was the leader when the final update was posted in the Mardi Gras Ballroom around 3 p.m. Pacific on Saturday, held on for third with 3,452.80 points to earn $47,187. The top 60 cashed, and the top 10 scores each day also earned prizes.

The Horse Player World Series is the championship event – previously held in January and February but moved to March for the first time this year – of a yearlong series of qualifying events hosted by the Orleans and its sister casinos in Vegas as well as tournaments at racetracks, OTBs, and websites. But unlike the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, where horseplayers have to earn a seat ahead of time, anyone can enter the HPWS finals for a $1,000 entry fee.

Hellmers bought just one entry. On a recent "Horseplayers" episode, he was seen trying to partner up with other players, but when asked if he had a partner, he said (after laughing because he knew the reason for the question), "My primary partner was the man or woman in the sky."

Unlike most tournament champions who love to talk about their winning picks, Hellmers said he didn't want to give away any of his handicapping secrets. "But I'll say that I don't play any horses under 6-1," he said. Instead, he wanted to thank those at his table who "brought great energy" and cheered him on to victory: Jon Hurd, Eric Pineiro (who finished 12th), John Vogel, and Peter Rotondo Sr. and Lee Davis, who are also on the "Horseplayers" show.

"It was nice to not have the cameras on me for a change," Hellmers said.

Hellmers said he spent about five hours each night handicapping all nine contest tracks and listing the horses he thought he might look to use. He would then look at the races as they came up and monitor the tote board.

Hellmers was consistent throughout the tournament, as he was in the sixth place after Thursday, still in sixth after Friday, and was sitting in seventh at the last public update. However, he knew he was in the lead with about eight contest races to go because players were able to see their standing when swiping their player's card at the betting windows.

"I know it goes against game strategy that a lot of people use, but I didn't play any of the last four races because I didn't like them,” he said. “I chose to go with my stronger plays earlier. Once I had the lead, I knew they had to catch me, and luckily they didn't."

The last few races at Santa Anita, Golden Gate Fields, and Fair Grounds were won by relatively short prices, and no one was able to catch Hellmers, who praised the HPWS format for not having any mandatory races.

"This is the best format on the planet," he said, adding that he had a similar conversation with NTRA tournament director Keith Chamblin the other night. "I love that you're not forced to play any crappy races, and you have the freedom to bet whatever races you desire. The NHC needs to change its format if it seeks to honor real professional handicapping."

He said his immediate plans are to give back to the sport, and especially to the horses.

"I'm definitely going to donate some of my winnings,” he said. "I think it's important since the horses give us so much, and we wouldn't have this sport we love without them. I'm going to do my due diligence and find where there's a need."

Horse Player World Series top 10

Place, Name, Points, Winnings

1. Christian Hellmers, 3,559.30, $269,640
2. Ronald Frazier, 3,501.40,  $101,115.00
3. Duke Matties, 3,452.80, $47,187.00
4. Randy Bauer, 3,381.20, $33,705.00
5. Jay Zimmerman, 3,345.60, $20,223.00
6. Robert Bertolucci, 3,341.00,  $6,741.00
7. Kenneth Jordan, 3,257.20,  $6,741.00
8. Kevin Willett, 3,190.40, $6,741.00
9. Kenneth Jordan, 3,183.40, $6,741.00
10. Richard Eng, 3,150.00, $6,741.00