Updated on 01/30/2013 11:40AM

National Handicapping Championship: Jim Benes of Illinois uses place horse to win by $1.20


LAS VEGAS – Jim Benes never imagined he would win $750,000 on a $3.60 place horse, but that’s exactly what put him into the winner’s circle with the $750,000 first-place prize at the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship on Saturday afternoon.

Benes, a 50-year-old professional horseplayer from Countryside, Ill., topped a field of 455 horseplayers vying for the top prize and title of Handicapper of the Year at the 14th annual horse handicapping tournament in the ballrooms at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino.

Benes trailed the leader, Roger Cettina of Rumson, N.J., by $2.40 after the final posted scoring update of the two-day tournament. In the final race of the contest, the 10th at Santa Anita, Benes used the 8-5 favorite, Hidethegoodstuff.

“I didn’t want to lose by $2.40, but I don’t like maiden races and didn’t like anything else,” Benes said. “The 5 [Hidethegoodstuff] looked good and had proved herself [finishing second in her debut]. I just hoped he [Cettina] wouldn’t have a bullet left or would use another horse since he also had to worry about the other people that could have caught him with a longshot.”

NHC finalists make 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers (with one being a $4 win-and-place best bet) each day with eight mandatory races each day and seven being player’s choice, so players have no way of knowing if their competition has any plays remaining. As it turned out, Cettina did use 25-1 long shot Bikini Bottom.

“I didn’t like any of the other horses in the race, so I don’t regret making the play,” Cettina said before the results became official.

Turning for home, Hail Mary opened the lead at 10-1 to put a scare into the leaders as there were a handful of other contestants that could have passed them, especially combined with the other late race, the 12th at Fair Grounds, but Benes’s mind went elsewhere.

“When I heard Hail Mary coming down the stretch,” Benes said while choking up, “I thought of my mother Mary, who passed away a few years ago. I wasn’t sure if she was telling me ‘I’m here for you’ or ‘You should have bet on me!’ ”

Hail Mary won the race, but none of those within striking distance used her. The $3.60 place price put Benes’s two-day total at $268.40 to top Cettina’s $267.20. The $1.20 margin of victory is the second closest in NHC history after last year’s $1 win by Michael Beychok over David Flanzbaum, who is a friend of Benes from the Chicago circuit. Benes qualified for the NHC finals at Hawthorne Race Course.

Cettina won the second prize of $200,000. He had qualified by finishing 50th on the NHC Tour (anyone in the top 100 who hasn’t already qualified receives a berth plus airfare and hotel accommodations just like regular qualifiers throughout the year). Jeff Hartz of Rummells, Iowa, (who qualified online at NHCqualify,com) finished third with a score of $244 to earn $100,000; Richard Grose of Wentzville, Mo, (qualified at horsetourneys.com) held on for fourth at $242.60 to earn $75,000, plus another $5,000 for Friday’s top Day 1 score; and Don Camoro of Tigard, Ore.,(qualified at Emerald Downs) was fifth at $240.80 to take home $50,000. The top 40 received cash prizes at the awards banquet Saturday night.

Benes, who prefers live-money tournaments because they are more like his everyday betting on the races (and he won $29,000 with a top 20 finish in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge back in November), said he approached the tournament just like he would any other day, looking for value.

“I guess I don’t feel the ramifications of it yet,” he said when asked how he felt after his win became official. “I feel like I’m the same person I was yesterday so nothing’s really different. All I can really think about is that my daughter will be set.”

Benes was second after the first day of play (earning an additional $4,000) and moved into the lead midway through Saturday when he had 25-1 longshot Offlee Fast in Gulfstream’s ninth race, the third mandatory race Saturday. Offlee Fast, whose sire Offlee Wild won the 2003 Holy Bull Stakes and helped Steve Wolfson Jr. to the NHC 4 title, paid $59.60 to win, but contest rules cap prices at $42 to win and $22 to place, so he did get full credit for the $21.20 place price. The $63.20 total was his biggest score of the tournament as he had a total of six winners and five second-place finishes.

All the prices were higher than Hidethegoodstuff, but none was bigger or will be remembered as long as the $3.60 place horse.


Mike C More than 1 year ago
yes i would like to brag about myself....i don't enter tournaments cause if i have a great day somebody will have a greater day.....I play out of Hawthorne and the surrounding betting parlors. I only play exactas. My percentage of winning is 90 percent but i only play 10 or 12 races a month. My point is you don't have to win a tournament to show your greatness
Kevin Broderick More than 1 year ago
i wish this stuff would go on tv so we can see these guys handicap,listen and learn how they come up with there pics.i think it would go over well.or is there any videos of contests out there that we could watch and learn some things.
Jerry Berres More than 1 year ago
Try this contest without a set of darts,so a west coast player could handicap and not fall way behind in the first 3 races back east ,to some NY guy winging shots just to try and get an early lead on everybody!
Lounge Lizard More than 1 year ago
Congratulations Jim and Roger. You both played outstanding. I would also like to thank Treasure Island, the DRF, and the NTRA/ Michelle Ravencraft for putting on a first class event once again this year. This is the pinnacle in handicapping each year. It has been great to have the opportunity to compete with so many dedicated Mad Cappers over the past two seasons. If you have never competed in this event, you really don't know what you have been missing. Sign up for your tour card at NTRA.com and compete for your opportunity to win next year. NHCQualify.com, horsetourneys.com, and others give you your opportunity to qualify on a weekly basis throughout the year. I look forward to seeing everyone there again next January and the opportunity of dethroning this years champion.
Jerry Berres More than 1 year ago
That's ok,Lizard,I have better things to do(especially with my money) then chase a pipe dream around 50 states all year! ...If I get the urge to spend a couple of after noons throwing Darts, I'll just go down to the bar...if nothing else , A heck of a lot cheaper! , lmao......
mikey More than 1 year ago
Try this contest without a leader board so you have to bet the horse you like not a price that you need.How about real handicapping,come in put your bets in and sit back and see who did his homework.
Jerry Berres More than 1 year ago
Ahhh , c'mon,Mikey,what do you have against darts?! , lol . Seriously,you make a good point,someone on the outside looking in would think these guys were exceptional handicappers,but that's really not the case--they're good tournament strategists,and like you say , the greater % of the time they are just betting the price they need, not who they like.Great Idea , Mikey , but don't expect the masses in here to go a long with it....in fact , you can expect some 'DARTS' ,to be hurled , your way and mine! , lmao......
Mooch J More than 1 year ago
A local Casino near me offers a handicapping contest once a week. Their leader board is a chalk board that list only the top three leaders (if they have time to write it) All picks are put down on paper and turned in with $10 before the first race starts. Every week only one of the same three people ever hits it. I had 5 winners the first and only time I played it and didn't even hit the board. With only about 50 entries are these guys world class handicappers or employees past posting ? Either way no more for me...
Jerry Berres More than 1 year ago
They're probably past posting you. There is no such thing as a world class handicapper , if there is , let me know who they are and let me spend some time with them to see how they do it , but I doubt I'll be impressed. Its sad but even in big tournaments you can't trust them,because players know employes and you can never be sure if they are in cahoots or not.....don't blame you for not playing anymore,Mooch , I've kinda given up myself.
Steve S More than 1 year ago
I pick wines at a 40% clip. Been doing it for years. Usually lead the boards until the last 3-4 races when all the LOSERS start the dart throwing. The contests are not a true showing of who is best. A true handicapping contest is to pick there entire cards (30 races BEFORE THEY START) and make one win best each race. After the 30 races, determine the winner by not only bankroll but also by the PERENTAGE of winners they picked to knock out the guy who simply pick all 20-1 shots. Total prices times the numbers of winners determine te best handicapper, thereby forcing people not to throw darts
Creighton Schoenfeldt More than 1 year ago
Congrats Jim, This is a well deserved honor. You are our horseplayers Handicapper of the Year. That will be done next year at the Eclipse Awards. creighton schoenfeldt
kingsailor2 More than 1 year ago
Would enjoy an article interviewing the finalists and finding out their favorite "plays."
Steve Pollack More than 1 year ago
I did not play in this years addition, but I did follow along with the coverage of the contest and had a few friends that finished in the money .Good job with the double play, it gives you a shot from far back to make a big move.Great job to those who picked the manditory races, all seemed to have three or four on the wire( big price runners won at least three of the manditory races yesterday) and it had to be very exciting to be there participating.
Steven Simonovic More than 1 year ago
It's so tough to have 2 great days in a row. Day one leaders have only won this thing once I believe. The BEST BET feature is a nice added touch, maybe they'll extend it to all plays - not just a Mandatory. Jim had 2 nice days. I'm also a "Chicago" player and have been on with Jim Miller for JIM VS. at Hawthorne and have had box seats at Arlington Park and been playing the races there since the track re-opened in 1989 when I was 14. There are a lot of great horse players in the Chicago area, the best in the country in my opinion. I'm so happy to see Jim win this thing.
John More than 1 year ago
So true, ANYTHING can happen in horse racing ! A funny example ! I was in a tournament at Santa Anita, the final 10 people were put into a room, and given a imaginary $2000 to play across the days 9 races ! Going into the final race, I was in 2nd place, $120 behind the leader. I selected my horse on figures, stats, bias, you name it, I used it........................my girlfriend liked another horse, "the name Sunny Blossum is prettier" so I relented, used her horse, and we won the $10,000 ! Funny funny game indeed !
Jerry Berres More than 1 year ago
See , proves my point , you're worse even than a dart thrower,and you beat out people who thought they were great horse players!.......hmm , just curious,I wonder if the people who win these tournaments,and beat real handicappers , by playing the price they need,and not really who they like,are upset with you for winning by using a horse your GF thought was pretty?!......seems like that would be a double standard to me!