10/14/2016 10:40AM

Riley bounces back from tough beats

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Jim Riley wasn’t planning on playing the horses on Sunday. The 49-year-old Mansfield, Mass., native was visiting of his three sons for parents’ weekend at the University of Miami. The original plan was to sneak in some contest play Saturday and relax on Sunday.

Riley played two contests on Saturday, one a qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge on DRF Tournaments as well as another online qualifier for the National Handicapping Championship. He had a great day, cashing in eight races, including catching Dot Matrix ($36.70 win-place combined) in Belmont’s nightcap. With two races to go, he was in position to qualify.

He was happy with his final two selections, so he left to go see the Miami-Florida State game. When he got to the parking lot, he checked the contest scoreboard, figuring the last race had just ended. There was momentary excitement when he saw his name still second on the leaderboard, but he quickly realized the last race wasn’t yet official. When it refreshed, he was in fifth place, 40 cents short -- a $7,500 beat. He did still get a $2,500 BCBC entry fee, though. In the other online contest, the result was similar. He finished on the bubble, again just 40 cents from his second NHC seat for 2017.

He wasn’t happy with the results. “I was pissed,” he said, “and when I got back to the hotel, I decided to give this another shot on Sunday. Like all of us, I’m a little competitive.”

The next morning he got up, sat by the pool, and handicapped Sunday’s DRFT races, entering both the Gulfstream Conquer the Crown event and the NHC qualifier. He played the same horses in both contests and his score of $74.90 was good enough to win the Gulfstream contest outright and have another top 10 finish for the NHC Tour. That moved him from 132nd place on the Tour to 32nd.

“I wasn’t thinking about shooting for the Top 40 tournament, but I am now,” said Riley, referring to the $25,000 contest-within-a-contest that will take place during the NHC finals.

Riley now works in the wireless communications business but his first job out of college indirectly got him into horse racing. “I lived in Clifton Park" -- in upstate New York -- "heard about the races at Saratoga, checked it out, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” he said.

For his Sunday finish, he also received $300 in site credit, which he plans to use toward future BCBC qualification attempts. “I’m already going to the Breeders’ Cup,” he said, “but I’m so new to tournaments I’m not crazy about the idea of forking over the $7,500 bankroll.”

He first got serious about tournaments after hearing Steve Byk broadcast live from the 2016 NHC. Shortly thereafter, he signed up to play via DRF and won an entry in the second online contest he ever played in. Unfortunately for Riley, he’d played in one contest back in 2014, so he isn’t eligible to compete for the tour prizes for rookies – an event he’d be winning were he eligible.

Riley is also involved on the horse ownership side. He’s a partner in Five Sons Racing, where he currently has six horses in Chicago with Richie Scherer. “It’s not convenient for us, but we wanted to race the horses where they belong,” he said, “and if they’re good enough to come east they will.

“I love a lot of things about racing,” he said. “The ownership part, the gambling part, the social part. I’ve never had the time to fully pursue it and I still don’t but I stay involved where I can.”

The education he’s received on the ownership side has helped him as a handicapper as well. “When I look at a claiming race, especially if there’s a big class dropper in there, I try to think like the owner. ‘Why is this horse in there?' ” he said. “Plenty of times from a form standpoint a drop doesn’t make sense, but it does make sense from an ownership standpoint. Maybe that’s just where the horse can win or he’s out of conditions or there’s just no other race in the condition book. It’s not always that the horse is hurt and they want to get him out of the barn.”

Riley particularly enjoys going to the barn, watching works, and going to sales. “Some people do crosswords, I like reading the Form and looking at the pedigrees at the sales,” he said. “I’m a curious person and I like to educate myself about the game.”

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