02/07/2018 1:10PM

Polk won WCH on bang-bang plays

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Frank Polk had a simple plan heading in to Day 1 of the World Championship of Handicapping: “It would be nice to make the lead certainly but the goal was just to make the cut,” he explained.

Polk came up empty in the first three events, but with 15 races on the menu, he knew he still had time to make an impact.

“I always feel a bit better if I get a decent start,” he said. “So once Krampus won for me in the fourth race I felt a lot better.”

Seven races in, Krampus was still his only winner. Sutton Impact got him another $13.60 to bring his total to $24 – not a bad spot because there were seven races left and the cut line was expected to be in the neighborhood of $40. He wound up exceeding expectations and cashing three more times on Day 1, the largest coming in the Bob Lewis at Santa Anita thanks to Lombo ($29.80). “He just ran away from everybody,” Polk said, “and at that point I said, ‘I’ve made the cut so all’s good.’ ”

Polk started Day 2 in 17th place of the remaining 56 entries. He came out hot, hitting with My Candy Forest ($18.40) and place points on Spunky Down, before going cold and getting nothing else in Round 2. “I thought I wasn’t going to make the cut,” he admitted, “I thought I was done.”

He ended up holding on, 24th of the 28 entries to go on to play for the $555,000 in prize money, including the winner's prize of $138,750. “[The cold spell] was pretty discouraging but it was a relief to at least have made it to the finals,” he said.

Throughout the first two days, he’d had plenty of close calls – horses who had ran third, instances where his second choice had won. Counterintuitively, thinking about the lost opportunities actually bolstered Polk’s confidence. “To me, that was a good sign that I was picking well,” he said. “That’s the way horseplayers have to think.”

He also felt good because he knew there were some good prices coming up. “A lot of times when you like prices that means you’re going to get zero,” he commented.

Then came the most notable short span at the inaugural WCH. Two prices won in rapid succession, and Polk had both of them: Tapitha Bonita ($32.60) and Shonshone Brave ($64).

“It was the best five minutes I’ve ever had in handicapping,” he said.

Both horses fit on the numbers Polk uses, fit on form, and were overlays. “Shoshone Brave had steadied twice last time in a 5 1/2-furlong turf race,” he said, “and he ran through that. To me, he was a competitive horse in a race where a lot of the horses looked similar, and he was 30-1.”

Several players shared in the Tapitha Bonita hit, but Polk was the only one in the field to have Shoshone Brave, who took him to the lead. “That’s how you win these tournaments,” Polk said, “with a max horse.”

Polk kept grinding away, accruing $14.40 more along the way. He kept expecting others in the field to pass him, especially when his second choice won the last race and he only managed place points with the horse he played.

“I didn’t think I’d hold on at the end there,” he admitted, “but when I refreshed the leader board I had won. It was a great tournament for me.”

In the aftermath, Polk went out of his way to praise the tournament format. “There were so many innovations that made the tournament attractive,” he said. “It had an improved qualifying procedure with better qualifying ratios then other tournaments. It’s fantastic that there was no takeout. I loved that you could buy in – I only decided to play the morning of the tournament. All of these are improvements over what has been offered up to now in the tournament world. In addition, the format was great, with a good selection of races, and the two different cut process makes for a more competitive tournament.”

Polk was multi-tabling on Sunday, simultaneously playing in the WCH finals and also in the qualifier for this weekend’s National Horseplayer Championship, which begins on Friday in Las Vegas. He ended up winning an NHC seat as well and will try to parlay his WCH success this weekend.

“Normally I feel very stressed going into the NHC,” he said, “but this year I feel pretty good about it.”

Thanks to his big cash at the WCH, it’s easy to think of 138,750 reasons why.