Updated on 01/26/2015 4:01PM

O'Neil becomes oldest winner of National Handicapping Championship

National Handicapping Championship winner John O’Neil (center) receives his $800,000 first-prize check from Daily Racing Form national handicapper Mike Watchmaker (left) and National Thoroughbred Racing Association President and CEO Alex Waldrop.

John O’Neil won $800,000 at the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in a field that included 606 entries. Over the three-day tournament, he compiled a score of $327.20 from 47 mythical $2 win and place bets – 15 each on Friday and Saturday, 10 in Sunday morning’s Final 50 contest, and seven in the climactic Final Table contest exclusive to the overall top 10. The NHC offered record overall prize money of $2.363 million.

O’Neil, 74, a small-business owner from Huntington Station, N.Y., described his work life.

“We work 60, 70 hours per week pushing trucks and asphalt,” he said. “This will make it a little easier.”

O’Neil is the oldest winner in the 16-year history of the NHC, but he’s young at heart. He’s a computer-oriented player, and he singled out the younger qualifiers as one of the reasons he thinks the NHC is such a great event.

“I think this was fantastic,” he said, “There are a lot of young people who played here, and it’s great for the sport. It’s the best thing that ever happened.”

He took the lead in the middle of Day 2 and commenced a protracted battle with second-place finisher Ken Jordan before pulling away at the end. In the seven mandatory races that made up the Final Table, O’Neil cashed in four of them. Three were winners – Huntstown ($6.40) in Tampa Bay Down’s 10th race, Main Man Mike ($14.40) in Gulfstream Park’s 11th, and Aperfectdaytofly ($7.40) in Santa Anita’s seventh.

“It was short-priced horses that got me there but that’s what we had today,” O’Neil said. “Thank God for very few bombs.”

He was introduced to handicapping on visits to the old Jamaica Race Course in Queens in the 1950s.

“My brother took me one day when I was 14 or 15 and I’ve been doing it every day since,” O’Neil said. “It’s been a journey to get here, believe me. This probably makes me even after a lifetime.”

O’Neil is respected among his contest-playing peers, having had success in contests on Long Island and also in Las Vegas. Impressively, five of the top 10 finishers overall qualified for the NHC via NHC Tour points: O’Neil, Jordan, Matthew Ransdell, Myles Richard, and Robert Pontani Jr. The tour is a year-long event where points are awarded based on finishes in NHC qualifying events.

The winner’s performance was tremendous, but Jonathon Kinchen of Euless, Texas, pulled off one of the most impressive feats in the history of the event, netting $79,000. Kinchen, a 32-year-old NHC rookie, landed each of his two entries in the top 10. Players can only advance one entry to the final table, so Kinchen’s lower entry was awarded 11th money ($25,000) and his higher entry ended up seventh for ($54,000).

The normally confident Kinchen seemed understandably worn out after the final bell.

 “It hasn’t really hit me yet,” he said, “I’m grateful for all the nice words that people have said to me. That’s been very rewarding.”

The story behind how Kinchen won one of his two entries is as moving as it is unusual. He ran fourth in an online contest that was awarding three seats. One of the qualifiers out of that tournament was Ron Rippey. Rippey, a former NHC winner who was inducted into the inaugural class of the NHC Hall of Fame on Sunday night, died in August, after a decades-long battle with Hepatitis C.

"I never got to meet Ron," said Kinchen, "But from everything I hear he was a great guy."

Brian Troop delivered the best finish in NHC history by a former champion, sneaking in to the Final Table by playing Dr. Spin in the third race at Oaklawn, knowing he needed only about $5 to potentially secure a spot.  In the end, it was just enough. Troop seemed embarrassed by the tactic.

 "Don't print that," he joked. "It was either very bold or very stupid."

Final standings and payouts

First – John O’Neil, $327.20 ($800,000 and Eclipse Award for Horseplayer of the Year)

Second – Ken Jordan, $291.70 ($250,000)

Third – Matthew Ransdell, $269 ($125,000)

Fourth – Joseph Muzio, $266.30 ($100,000)

Fifth – Myles Richards, $262.20 ($75,000)

Sixth – Joe Scanio, $260.20 ($65,000)

Seventh – Jonathon Kinchen, $256.60 ($59,000)

Eighth – Robert Pontani Jr., $247.90 ($54,000)

Ninth – Brian Troop, $245.60 ($52,000)

10th – Mike Ferrozzo, $234.40 ($50,000)

Full standings can be accessed here.

Kwan wins consolation tournament

The Consolation Tournament for players outside of the Final 50 was won by Wayne Kwan, who tallied a $97.20 bankroll from 10 mythical $2 win and place bets to take home the $10,000 first prize, as well as a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge package including entry fees, live bankroll, airfare, and hotel. The top 20 Consolation Tournament finishers earned cash prizes, tiered from $1,000 to $10,000. 

The full NHC and Consolation Tournament standings can be accessed Monday at ntra.com.

Final Table Race Results

Race: Winner ($2 Win, $2 Place), Second ($2 Place)

Tampa Bay, Race 10: Huntstown ($6.40, $4), Go Bernie Go ($6.20)

Gulfstream, Race 10: Dancing House ($4.20, $2.80), Resistivity ($5)

Gulfstream, Race 11: Main Man Mike ($14.40, $8.20), Caminito ($10.40)

Oaklawn, Race 9: She’s Live ($5, $3), Mauk Dirty to Me ($6.60)

Santa Anita, Race 7: Aperfectdaytofly ($7.40, $4.20), Lolo El Canonero ($6.80)

Santa Anita, Race 8: Pure Tactics ($14.40, $7.80), Hay Dude ($6.20)

Santa Anita, Race 9: Sum Midnight Star ($9.60, $5.60), Militant ($8.40)




Wayne Gunter More than 1 year ago
Watching weather channel and am thinking about how difficult it will be to get home if you live in blizzard area. I think most of them are still in Vegas. John Oneil can stay another week, no problem, but I think probably 50 players that did not cash may need to borrow cash because of extra expenses . Could you give us a update on this, Peter.thanks. Wayne Gunter
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
A few of my friends got stuck and are redeying out tonight finally. Many others did as I did and move flights up to get out of there ahead of the storm. It's one of the difficulties of having the NHC be a winter event but I believe the pluses outweigh the minuses. I think it's great that there's a weekend of racing that contest players more or less own.
Paul More than 1 year ago
Hopefully Mr. Fornatale will now realize that he was in a fantasy world before this tournament began wasting print space with his fairy tale articles on Eric Moomey. What an absolute insult to true horseplayers to even publish such rubbish. Do you realize how many people were actually getting a good chuckle out of these articles? I hope by now Mr. Fornatale that you realize how Mr. Moomey operates and how good old-fashioned studying and having self control and respect for this sport will always win over a multiple entry dart throwing fool who will eventually head into a bankruptcy court or into a meeting where only first names are used. Maybe you should write childrens books instead of insulting true horseplayers who read the DRF for what it is supposed to be. Also, if you watch your interview with Mr. O'neil, I love it when he told you that he played the 5-2 horse because he simply liked it alot. You can write all the books you want on startegy (and I do understand it in certain "close to the end" situations) but I can summarize your book in 3 words: Pick The Winner (or if you are really good, pick a bomb that absolutely LOVE for second)
Shapperdacapper More than 1 year ago
Paul, I know lots of folks have some ideas to better the event + much like all gambling/horse wagering there is certainly a degree of luck in timing, but to go to this extent to rip Peter's work seems way over the top. Its not as simple as picking the winner just like if you play at the pari mutuel windows every day the goal is not only to find winners but value. I too struggle w the multiple entries, but arent those players similar to folks who play $100 pick four tickets at the windows with one or two singles? That is what the successful tourney players are doing. Yes a few of them have probably had lucky 2014's just like some horseplayers, poker players etc, but overall Pete's strategies are designed to help new tourney players, not insult anyone. Sorry you seem upset. Tournaments can really help grow this game that needs what it can get as far as help. Just making money thru pari mutuel wagering is near impossible. Racetracks need new ways of raising revenue. Tourneys are one IMHO.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I've written many times that the best way to approach one's picks at the end of the day is to simply play who you like -- Paul Shurman recites that like a mantra. I didn't feel contradicted in the least when John said that's why he played the horse, I thought it was brilliant. As for Eric, if he's a fool, I hesitate to think what anyone else might be called. He was clearly one of THE stories going into NHC 16 based on his quest for the $2 mil bonus, and lack of success in one tournament proves nothing about his mettle, and far less about my writing ability. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
Union_Rags More than 1 year ago
Maybe someday, I can break even.
Matthew Hood More than 1 year ago
So $188 worth of bets and the top guy ends with $327. Well below doubling his money if it were real bets. Just shows how hard it is to grind out a profit in this game.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Yes as a great man Harvey Pack said the track is the only place where the windows clean the people.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
have to keep in mind that these are fixed bets -- obviously in a real day at the track one bets very differently. But the NHC is still a real test of handicapping and strategy. You wouldn't see so many of the same names on the leaderboard year after year if it weren't.
tommy More than 1 year ago
Horrible earnings!! I win about $400 each week and sometimes win up to $10,000 by taking the hole pool!!!
Kenny More than 1 year ago
Its capped at 20-1 and 10-1........these totals would be higher
Matthew Hood More than 1 year ago
What does this statement even mean? Is this what you have in your backyard Tommy, a hole pool? Saw a small indention and filled it with water and now you have a hole pool?
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
A pool with Courtney Love and her bandmates?
hwmoore More than 1 year ago
nice win and great finish to all top 10
James Pugliese More than 1 year ago
John Oneil really impressed me with his plays that put separation between him and great 2nd place player Jordan, Congratulations to all sensational handicappers, but man was Oneil straight and strong in the STRETCH!
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
He did something that is really, really hard to do: he had a great three days. He really made his mark at the final table.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Pete .Great seeing you in Vegas.I had the honor of seating with my friend Ken Jordan for 3 days.We had a great time and a lot of fun.Mr. O'NEIL and KEN are 2 of the best guy's in the game.I felt bad for Kinchen.He pulled off something that will take some beating.When they would not allow a second spot at the final table he was not treated right.Glad that Joe Scanio another top notch player/guy got into the final table.Kinchen lost his second spot he schould have gotten a breeder's cup seat or a NTRA seat next year.Thank's again for your hard work see you along the way.
William Pietschman More than 1 year ago
rules always change for the bettors so perhaps next year the 'second spot' will get a seat as well for the next year when they make up the rules...a lot of LUCK goes with the SELECTIONS made since many a horse did have running troubles of many a sort and LADY LUCK must have EYES and WINGS via horse and jock , lol,,,etc..
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Great seeing you Mikey! I think your good karma helped Ken Jordan during his amazing run. Don't be surprised if you see your name in one of my pieces soon!
James Mcrae More than 1 year ago
congrats to Brian troup from all the bows at georgiandowns up in barrie ont canadayou did us proud
hwmoore More than 1 year ago
yes, nice to see fellow Canadian in the money and all the best at hpi.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Troop's story definitely one of the best to come out of NHC16. Glad to see his name on the top of the leaderboard again.
rberto64 More than 1 year ago
Don't have two entry if you can't play then both of them in top ten this is crazy
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I get why the rule is the rule -- but I firmly believe that Jonathon deserved way better than 11th money for pulling off one of the toughest handicapping feats I've ever seen.