Updated on 01/26/2015 4:01PM

O'Neil becomes oldest winner of National Handicapping Championship

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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)