10/20/2016 12:16PM

Uffmann's NHC seat spared in online contest


Hank Uffmann can’t recall a time when he wasn’t a racing fan. His interest came, in large part, through his father, an adept observer of talent, both equine and human. In addition to being a harness trainer, he was also a baseball scout.

Still a resident of Hicksville, N.Y., he has great memories of attending Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island with his father, enjoying a bowl of clam chowder after standing on a line in front of the counter stools. “When he cashed his winning tickets he would give me the breakage, which usually were dimes,” he said. “His saying was, ‘If you come home with a pocket full of dimes then you had a good day.’”

Uffmann’s childhood friend Paul Roth came with him on one of those occasions and became a racing fan for life as well. “He blames Dad,” Uffmann said. “So be it.”

Uffmann, now 70, is retired from the wine/liquor industry, and that gives him time to focus on racing. In the last 10 years, contest play has become an important part of his game. “I love going up against good competition,” he explained. “There is an incredible adrenaline rush when your plan succeeds and you come out on top.”

Last year, he did just that at the Belmont Handicapping Challenge, besting a field of 211 entries. “It was quite a thrill,” he said. “NYRA really draws a tremendous amount of handicapping talent from around the country.”

Uffmann went in with a detailed game plan and stuck to it. “It was two days of intense competition,” he said. “Winds up my initial picks held up throughout the tourney.”

He is happy to have the support of his wife in his contest endeavors. Typically, the winner of a big onsite contest gets a photo op with a big novelty check, but for whatever reason, one was not available on the day he won. When Uffmann got home, she had made him a huge cardboard replica.

For his NYRA win, Uffmann earned his first trip to the National Handicapping Championship. His friend Paul Roth also won his first NHC seat in 2015, courtesy of a Woodbine contest. “What an incredible experience,” Uffmann said of racing’s biggest contest. “The horse-handicapper community is a fascinating world.  No problem talking horses there.”

There was a learning curve for Uffmann at his first NHC. “It was intimidating at first,” he said. “Pulling the trigger on that first winner was key. My confidence returned and [I was] back to my game plan.”

His plan was great once again, but this time he failed to execute it and was also the victim of some poor racing luck. After the first day he was $15 from the top 10 cutoff. “On the second day I made good decisions but I missed playing one of my picks that won,” he said, citing the lack of time between races as the reason for the mix-up. “Late in day I had my horse DQ'd for a bump in the stretch. I missed the top cut by the same $30 I would have received if he’d won.”

The good news for Uffmann: He is headed back to the NHC in 2017, courtesy of a great performance on DRF Tournaments. In the anchor leg, he played a 14-1 longshot who ran second to a 3-1 and he knew it was going to be close – only the top two would win NHC seats out of the NHCQualify event.

“The 5-2 favorite was out of the money, so I hoped I’d get a decent place price,” he said, knowing he’d need $16 to place to get his NHC ticket punched.

“My adrenaline was pumping, and I screamed at the screen toteboard to give me $16. It seemed like an eternity.”

The prices appeared: $15.80.

His heart pounding, the old-school handicapper grabbed his ever-present pen. “I added up my total and I hit $86,” he said. “It's 10 cents over the eventual third-place finisher.”

Somewhere, Uffmann’s father smiled. All these years later, it was the dime that made the difference.