01/29/2016 10:19PM

NHC: Gutfreund rides O'Neill first-timer to Day 2 lead


Over a decade ago, David Gutfreund boldly predicted that he would one day win the National Handicapping Championship. After a huge day on Friday at Treasure Island in Las Vegas, Gutfreund is in position to make that dream a reality.

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Gutfreund, still known to many by his old nickname “The Maven,” leads with a total of $237 after Day 2 of the three-day tournament. After Friday, the field was reduced to the top 10 percent – 63 entries.

Gutfreund is a racing media personality, contest veteran, and partner in Derby Wars whose biggest win came in 2012 at the Players Challenge at Bettor Racing OTB in South Dakota, where he took home $65,000. He has qualified for the NHC more than 10 times.

Gutfreund took the lead for the first time on the day’s final available race, Santa Anita’s eighth, with 8-1 shot Gathering Evidence.

“I didn’t like the favorites and it was a Doug O’Neil first-starter that looked live,” he said.

Other key plays for Gutfruend on the day included Jamie’s Dancer, the $27 winner of Gulfstream Park’s seventh; All Up in Lights, the $57.80 winner of Gulfstream’s ninth; and Creme Brulee, a $33.80 upsetter in Fair Grounds’s eighth.

A 54-year-old Chicago native, Gutfreund said he would study for the NHC Semifinals “the same way I prepared for today, same way I prepared for yesterday, same way I’m going to prepare for next year and the years after that,” referencing his old-school handicapping style.

He plans on bearing down this evening. “I gotta get some dinner and then get to work,” he said “I got work to do.”

Gutfreund was nearly denied the lead by Charlie Davis, who ended up fourth with $232.60. Davis said he meant to wager on the horse in Santa Anita’s nightcap who ended up second, but somehow the wager didn’t go in. Fortunately for Davis, unmade optional bets are just credited at zero and are not cause for disqualification the way mandatory bets are.

Those that made the cut with bankrolls at or above $170 will continue on to the Semifinal round Saturday, and the subsequent top 10 will play at the Final Table to determine the final placings, with an $800,000 grand prize and Eclipse Award to the winner. Players left outside the final cut will play in a separate $50,000 consolation tournament on Saturday with reset mythical bankrolls.

The highest score on Day 2, $175.80, went to John Downey, who earned a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry for the feat.

NHC Tour leader Jonathon Kinchen, who had two entries in the top 50 coming in and was playing for a $2 million bonus, ended up missing the cut with both his entries. “I just couldn’t get anything going,” said Kinchen. “I don’t often have days like this and I’m a little disappointed.”

The last spot in the top 10 percent went to Randy Bauer, recently profiled by Daily Racing Form, who inched his way in with place points in the last optional race.

For a full leaderboard check out ntra.com.