Live coverage of Championship Sunday will resume at 2 ET/11PT. Follow along with me and Steve Byk.
Robert Gilbert, a 68-year-old former high school teacher and military veteran, is still on top after Day 2 at the NHC. Gilbert has proved an elusive interview throughout this year’s NHC, largely because of his unorthodox, pick and pray style. According to multiple reports, both days he has come to the ballroom early, punched in his plays for all 18 races, and promptly left the room! No word if he’s gone up to his room to watch from there, headed out to catch a matinee somewhere around town, or gone on a shopping spree at Mandalay Bay.
But whatever he’s doing, it’s worked. Gilbert had a mythical bankroll of $198.20 after Day 1 – the second highest score since the NHC went to an 18-race per day format in 2016. He continued to add to that margin on Saturday, finishing with a total of $289, including hits in the third race at Tampa Bay Downs, the third race at Santa Anita, and the eleventh race at Tampa Bay Downs.
A big name in the tournament and general horseplaying world has risen up from nowhere to mount a serious threat to Gilbert and the other 65 remaining entries: professional horseplayer Randy Gallo (pictured). After being blanked for much of the first day of action and the early portion of Day 2 of the NHC, Gallo had a string of longshots deliver to give him a mythical bankroll of $279.80 – at one point he reportedly hit six optional races in a row, most at prices. I first interviewed Gallo in the early 2000s and he remains one of the sharpest minds in the game even if he’s too humble too admit it.
“Last year, I was out here at 4 a.m. in the morning doing all the work and….I didn’t even have a place in 36 bets,” Gallo said. “[Sometimes] the magic happens. I was doing nothing today and then all of the sudden I got horses knocked down. It seemed like everything I wrote down late came in.”
Gallo earned a bankroll of $228.20 on Saturday alone, the highest total of any of the NHC competitors on the day. As the Day 2 leader, Gallo earned a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry.
Third overall is last year’s winner, Chris Littlemore, with a total of $241. He is bidding to become the first player to ever win the event twice, as well as the first player to ever make the final table in consecutive years.
Littlemore was 18th after the first day of action and continued to build on that momentum to put himself in the top three.
“I looked at the races and I figured there were going to be lots of scores because of the big fields,” Littlemore said. “I was hoping to get one or two of them and I managed to get one at 40-1 at Gulfstream and picked up a couple smaller ones to stay in the game. I just kind of persevered through the day.”
Littlemore’s prep plan included a trip to the Golden Knights game last night before resuming his handicapping Sunday morning.
“The odds are extremely high for me to be in this position again,” Littlemore said. “I’m going to watch the hockey game and not even think about horse racing until the morning. I’m not going to study or anything like that. I’ve been here for eight hours now and…enough is enough.”
Jim Meeks ($236.40) is fourth with Christian Hellmers ($236) fifth. Each player is looking for a unique double as both have won the Horse Player World Series in the past, as has James Henry, 43rd with $195.20.
For Sunday’s Semifinal round, the remaining 67 entries will make 10 optional plays from 33 eligible races. Bankrolls will then carry over to the Final Table, made up of seven mandatory races. Only the top 10, including ties, will advance to the Final Table.
Full unofficial results can be viewed online at NTRA.com.