08/25/2016 12:18PM

Reilly wins berth through DRF Tournaments


Bernard Reilly is a contest world veteran who won his way into the National Handicapping Championship last weekend in an NHCQualify event via DRF Tournaments. While this will be his third year in the NHC, Reilly has now qualified five times overall. He’s earned two qualifications in two of the three years since more than one entry has been allowed.

Reilly, 68, has deep connections to Monmouth Park. He started attending the races there in his early 20s and these days he lives and works as an attorney in nearby Fair Haven, N.J. He credits his friend Steve Fitzpartrick with introducing him to contest play at Monmouth – where else? – in 2009. “I bet $10 on a 104-1 shot,” Reilly said. “I blew the field away and was hooked after that.”

Back then, Monmouth rewarded winners with Horse Player World Series seats. Reilly qualified for the HPWS three years running. Then in 2012, Monmouth started awarding seats to the NHC, which Reilly qualified for in short order. “It was like going from AA to AAA to the Major Leagues was how I looked at it,” Reilly said. “It was a big step up against better competition.”

That idea of competing against the best is an important part of the appeal of contests to Reilly. “Having been to the NHC now more than once I know who the name players are,” he said. “I don’t consider myself in that league, but it’s nice to be able to compete on equal footing against those big names.”

After discovering the NHC, he added online play to his repertoire. “Online play is great because it allows you to play often and the DRF site is convenient from anywhere,” he said.

While much of his success has come playing in live format contests, Reilly still prefers all-in events. “To me, it’s a truer handicapping experience than playing live, where you’re tailoring your bet to where you are in the standings,” he said. “In the business of life it’s tough to sit there for three or four hours and if you don’t do that in a live contest you’re compromising your chances.”

Reilly’s success on Saturday came in part because he looked at the contest races as a whole as opposed to just going race by race. Seeing scratches at Saratoga and short fields at Del Mar later in the sequence forced him to focus elsewhere. “I thought the only real opportunity was in the seventh race in the lineup, a $500,000 stakes on the turf at Woodbine for 3-year-olds,” he said, referring to the Breeders' Stakes. “It looked like a perfect race for a lightly raced unknown to step up at high odds.”

The horse he landed on was Camp Creek. “He had only raced four times with three mediocre synthetic starts, but in his last start on turf he broke his maiden with a good come-from-behind performance,” Reilly said. “It appeared that he really liked turf and, if he stepped up again, I thought he could win.”

Reilly’s confidence in his selection was bolstered by the fact that connections – Hillsbrook Farm – had paid a $12,500 fee to late enter Camp Creek. The gelding went off at 27-1 and provided the cap payoff that Reilly was hoping for.

Still, his job was far from over as 20 other players in the contest had Camp Creek as well. He stood in fifth place with three seats on offer but the pack was very tight around him.

“In the last five races, I stayed away from longshots and selected horses I was reasonably confident would come in first or second,” he explained. “I believed that the strategy of small but consistent payoffs would advance me up to second or third.”

Thankfully for Reilly, that’s exactly how it worked. While others reached for prices to find that one horse to vault them to the top, Reilly kept grinding away. He ran the table in a sense – one winner and four place horses to close out the card and secure his second seat for the 2017 NHC.

Reilly was thrilled at the prospect of being written about in Daily Racing Form. “I’m always telling my wife that I’m really good at this,” he quipped. “Now at least I’ll have something to prove it.