01/27/2017 9:57PM

Retired firefighter leads after Day 1 of National Handicapping Championship


Pat Nufrio is the leader at the 2017 National Handicapping Championship, the world’s richest handicapping contest. He finished with a $188.70 bankroll at the end of the first day of the three-day tournament at Treasure Island in Las Vegas.

Nufrio, 56, collected points in 10 of the 18 races on Day 1, cashing for more than $20 five times and further boosting his bankroll in the other five races he hit. As Day 1 leader, Nufrio earned a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge berth worth $10,000.

“Basically, I hit 10 out of the 18 races we had to play, and they were all middle-priced horses,” Nufrio said. “The highest-price horse was $19.40. And I ran second in a few races, so I got points.”

This is Nufrio’s second NHC appearance, and he is already faring better than in 2012.

“I feel a lot more focused and prepared than I did then,” said Nufrio, who describes himself as an old-school Daily Racing Form handicapper. “There are certain things that I look for, and I know them when I see them.”

“Basically, everything went my way today,” he added. “I had a lot of photos go my way. I was seeing the cards good. One day to the next, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Everything fell in my lap today; tomorrow could be a total different story.”

Nufrio is a retired New Jersey firefighter who was part of the massive 9/11 recovery at Ground Zero.

Chris Larmey and Thomas O’Connor are in a tie for the runner-up spot with $168. The top 10 was rounded out by Chris Olsson ($167.70), 2003 NHC winner Stephen Wolfson Jr. ($148.30), Thomas Reed ($148.10), David Lam ($146.90), Harlan Malter ($140), Michael Ray ($133.20), and Stephen McNatton ($132.50).

NHC entrants were required to place 18 mythical $2 win-place bets – eight on mandatory races and 10 more across the eight designated contest tracks.

Sam Alipio is the only player with both of his entries in the top 40 – 16th ($123.60) and 39th ($114.80).

A pair of former NHC Tour champions are in strong position after Day 1. Paul Shurman, the 2011 champ, sits in 31st place with $119.20. Regardless of what happens the rest of this weekend, Shurman will be on stage in Sunday night’s winners’ ceremony – he is one of two players being inducted into the NHC Hall of Fame, along with Steve Wolfson Sr. Last year’s tour winner, Jonathon Kinchen, is right behind Shurman in 32nd place.

Another interesting subplot involves the man currently in ninth place, Michael Ray. Ray is the playing partner of Chick Matties, who is the father of last year’s winner, Paul Matties. Ray and Paul Matties won the inaugural Horse Player World Series and are looking to keep the first-place NHC trophy all in the family.

Joe Appelbaum, the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge winner playing for a $3 million bonus, has an entry in 165th place with $79.60. Unfortunately for him, it’s his second entry, not the one he designated as bonus eligible. That entry is in 532nd with just $27.20. Cheryl McIntyre, this year’s tour winner, eligible for a $2 million bonus, had a similarly frustrating day with both of her entries, finishing in 493rd ($34) and last place ($0). George Chute, the third player eligible for a seven-figure bonus, finds himself in 377th place with $49.10.

The NHC continues Saturday at Treasure Island. Day 1 bankrolls will carry over to Day 2, which will once again feature eight mandatory races and 10 optionals. The top 10 percent of the field after Day 2 will continue on to the semifinal round Sunday, and the top 10 will play at the “final table” to determine the final rankings, including the $800,000 grand prize and Eclipse Award winner as Horseplayer of the Year. Players outside the final cut will play in a separate $50,000 consolation tournament on Sunday with reset mythical bankrolls.

For more information about the tournament, including a searchable leaderboard, visit www.ntra.com.