Evidence of the recent snowstorm that crippled the East Coast was on display at the Big A for the running of the Grade 3 Withers Stakes with snow still lining the track. The Withers winner receives Kentucky Derby points and this race has produced some longevity on the road to Kentucky for the past winners, such as Far From Over and Samraat. Ironically, young jockey Manuel Franco won this race last year aboard Far From Over and repeated again this year with Sunny Ridge. This horse was coming off two strong second place finishes in two Grade 3 stakes races. Those losses were to Exaggerator and Greenpointcrusader. Not bad company. The over-bet morning line favorite, Flexibility, could only get up for fourth in the Withers. But, he deserved the credit for being the favorite considering his past performances in three graded stakes races. Flexibility finished second to Mohaymen in the Remsen and the Nashua stakes. Sunny Ridge etched his name on the Derby point list and focus soon switched from the snow at Aqueduct to the sunshine at Gulfstream Park.
More coveted Derby points were on the line in the Holly Bull Stakes at Gulfstream. The sunshine provided a beautiful day for the card of 12 races at Gulfstream, including five stake races and the pinnacle race on the card, the Holy Bull, and Holy Moly Mohaymen! If you haven’t heard of this undefeated 3-year old son of Tapit before the Holy Bull, you’ll be hearing a lot about him from now until May!
In the post parade, the handsome gray walked onto the racetrack with confidence and focus; his neck coiled and his head down. He seemed to not even notice the crowd, nor the spectacle of being in a post parade. Even when the horse in front of him freaked out and started jumping all over the place, Mohaymen remained unflappable, keeping his head down and never flinched. He has the epitome of a game face on the track. For a young horse, he exhibits maturity beyond his years. Even when he steps into the gate, he is confident.
When the gate popped, Mohaymen was off a step slow, but it didn’t seem to throw off his game at all. In fact, sometimes these young horses need time to figure out the track and learn a little bit each time. Mohaymen’s jockey Junior Alvarado knew exactly how to handle the slow start. Alvarado has been on Mohaymen in all four of his races, and they remain undefeated. Junior took Mohaymen in between horses on the first turn and Mohaymen simply slid through without a concern at all of getting pinched. This horse is the real deal. He broke away from the field to stamp his name in big, bold, undeniable letters on the Derby points list.
The aforementioned Greenpointcrusader and Conquest Big E were also in this race, and already on the Derby list, but they had nothing on Mohaymen. Neither of them has the graded stakes experience nor the maturity to pass “Holy Mo” today. Even the gallop back by Mohaymen was impressive, ears up and alert. This was the only time this horse acknowledged his surroundings. He is an extremely focused horse and very professional when it comes to doing his job. His Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin indicated after the race, that they would wait for the Fountain of Youth and on to the Florida Derby to gather up higher Derby points. And, for the record, both Greenpointcrusader and Conquest Big E have been on the same dirt as Nyquist and were no factors there either.
Speaking of West Coast Derby contenders like Nyquist, Sunshine Millions Days at Santa Anita did not disappoint. In fact, another Derby contender emerged in a race where Derby points were not awarded. But, the connections of the California Cup Derby winner Smokey Image will soon be looking for races to gather up points because Smokey Image is definitely a Derby contender. Smokey Image beat the field of seven by 10 lengths in a time of 1:43.49 seconds. Previous winners of the Cal Cup include the one-and-only California Chrome. California Chrome went on to be the Kentucky Derby winner. In the Cal Cup, California Chrome clocked a 1:43.22. Similarities continue between California Chrome and Smokey Image. Although Smokey Image is not as muscular as California Chrome, they still share the same color of coat, and, the same jockey, Victor Espinoza. He knows a thing or two about winning a Derby, a Triple Crown and well, pretty much everything. Victor may have contemplated retirement this year, but when he sat on the back of Smokey Image and crushed the field by 10 lengths, I hope the similarities to previous champions echoed in his head and he reconsiders. Again, the “luckiest Mexican in the World” finds himself on the back of another probable Derby contender. It’s good to be Victor.
I know it’s early, but my top three on the Derby watch so far are Nyquist, Mohaymen and Smokey Image. We may not have a Triple Crown winner in the bunch, but if they all stay healthy we may have a very competitive Run for the Roses.
NEWS FROM NATIONAL HANDICAPPING CHAMPIONSHIP
PAUL MATTIES WINS NHC 17
NHC Veteran Takes Home $800K First Prize, Horseplayer of the Year Eclipse Award
LAS VEGAS (Saturday, January 30, 2016) – Paul Matties of Ballston Spa, N.Y., topped a field of 629 entries to win the $800,000 first-place prize and an Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year at this weekend’s 17th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas. The NHC offered record overall cash and prizes totaling $2,778,760.
The 46-year-old Matties (b. Nov. 19, 1969) amassed a winning score of $399.50 over the three-day tournament from 53 mythical $2 Win and Place bets – 18 each on Thursday and Friday, 10 in Saturday morning’s Semifinals round and seven in the dramatic Final Table contest exclusive to the overall top 10.
Roger Cettina of Rumson, N.J., was NHC runner-up for the second time (he also did it in 2013) with $389.10, good for $250,000, as well as a $25,000 bonus and berth into next year’s NHC 18 as the highest finisher among the 2015 NHC Tour top 20. He was followed by 36-year-old Charlie Davis of Tennessee ($340.60 final bankroll; $125,000 prize) in third and the winner’s brother, Duke Matties ($337.30; $100,000) of Laguna Beach, Calif., in fourth.
The official Top 10, with final bankroll (and prize):
First – Paul Matties, $399.50 ($800,000 and Eclipse Award for Horseplayer of the Year)
Second – Roger Cettina, $389.10 ($250,000)
Third – Charlie Davis, $340.60 ($125,000)
Fourth – Duke Matties, $337.30 ($100,000)
Fifth – David Gutfreund, $331.80 ($75,000)
Sixth – Joe Perry, $319.40 ($65,000)
Seventh – Peter Deys, $307.80 ($59,000)
Eighth – Ernie Powers, $304.90 ($54,000)
Ninth – Stanley Bavlish, $284.20 ($52,000)
Tenth – Mark Richards $283.20 ($50,000)
Matties first assumed the lead during the Semifinals round with a $47 winner, R B Rainbow Dash, in the sixth race from Tampa Bay Downs. Coupled with the $17.20 place money, the $59.20 added to his bankroll boosted Matties from third to first.
“I was down to two horses and my brother Duke and I watched the replay three times and I switched from the six to the seven,” he said.
Matties maintained his lead throughout the Final Table round. In the seven mandatory races that made up the Final Table he cashed in two of them – Risetotheoccasion ($17.60 to win, $5.40 to place) in Oaklawn’s seventh and Sevens ($8.40 to place) in Gulfstream Park’s 12th.
“Horseplayers always think they’re smarter and better than everybody else so to beat all the smartest people in the world, what an honor,” cracked Matties.
Paul Matties, a frequent NHC qualifier, is the older of the Matties brothers by three years. They have another brother, Gregg Matties, a trainer in New York, and father Chick Matties was a racing enthusiast who won the inaugural Horse Player World Series handicapping contest.
“My brother Duke’s the greatest,” Matties said. “He was rooting for me more than he was rooting for himself the whole time. I’ve never seen him so nervous.”
Matties, who qualified on HorsePlayersQualify.com, likes to say he took his first steps at the Great Barrington Fair meet in Western Massachusetts. He’s the father of three sons, one of whom, Wynn, is autistic.
“Nothing has been more satisfying than to witness and help my oldest son to become one of the kindest and sweetest people you would ever want to meet,” he said.
Matties has made handicapping his career, first calculating speed figures for Andy Beyer Associates and later in a key role with NHPlay, a boutique account wagering platform and horseplayer service company.
By virtue of his victory, Matties also automatically earns an exemption into next year’s NHC finals.
The NHC was held for the fifth straight year in the Treasure Island ballroom and will return to Treasure Island for NHC 18 in January 2017.
Stanley Bavlish was attempting to become the first two-time NHC winner but checked in ninth. The 2001 NHC hero Brian Troop’s eighth-place finish last year remains the highest ever by a former champion.
In the NHC Future Wager offered by Treaure Island’s race book, Matties closed at 50-1, returning $102 on a $2 wager.
The NHC 17 finals awarded cash to the top 63 finishers (the top 10 percent overall) from a total purse of $2,304,760. An additional $50,000 went to the top 20 in today’s Consolation Tournament. Including $250,000 paid out to top finishers in the year-long NHC Tour, a $100 TI casino chip for every entrant, NHC Tour travel awards, RTN subscriptions and the $10,000 charity tournament prize, plus $30,000 worth of Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entries, the aggregate value of payouts this weekend in NHC cash and prizes totaled a record $2,778,760.
To reach the Semifinals, the record 629 NHC entrants were required to place 36 mythical $2 Win and Place wagers – 18 on Thursday and 18 on Friday. This is the third consecutive year with a three-day format including the Semifinals and Final Table.
Final Table participants were relocated to a single table on the stage of the Treasure Island ballroom that serves as NHC headquarters.
Full standings can be viewed online at NTRA.com, where the homepage features a scrolling leaderboard and sortable/searchable standings of the entire field.
The 2015 NHC Tour winner Jonathon Kinchen, who was eligible for a $2 million bonus if he could top the NHC, had two entries that each finished outside of the Semifinals cutline.
Win an entry to the 2017 NHC in Canterbury Park’s June 4 NHC Qualifier.