There’s a disease that all horseplayers are familiar with, and it can be fatal to one’s chances in a tournament like the National Horseplayers’ Championship: seconditis.
Fortunately for him, in a tournament format where the wagers are all $2 mythical win-place, David Vail did receive some compensation for his second place finishes, but he was still starting to get frustrated when he didn’t have a winner among his first 11 selections on Day 2 after he put himself in a great spot on Day 1, vaulting himself all the way up to second place.
Optimistic horseplayers — there are a few of us — will try to console ourselves when we’re just missing by telling ourselves, “At least we’re seeing the ball well.” That’s a mantra that can help a player to stay the course rather than to needlessly change a strategy that is working at its core.
“I just kept doing the same thing I was doing,” Vail said. “I kept missing by a nose here, a nose there so I just kept going with the picks that I had. I didn’t change anything. I just kept going with what I had. I knew one of them would hit for me today.”
That confidence proved prescient for Vail when he tabbed a 21-1 shot in the seventh race at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday, propelling him to the top of leaderboard, a position he’ll occupy as we head to Championship Sunday at the NHC, where 71 remaining players will determine how nearly $3 million will be chopped up between them.
The 55-year-old heads into the final day of the NHC atop the leaderboard of 564 individuals with a mythical bankroll of $310, more than $22 ahead of Ashley Taylor, who had a monster day in her own right to vault up to second with a total of $287.30.
Vail got his start handicapping harness racing but was attracted to thoroughbreds in part because of the big purses available to players via contest play.
“I got into the tournaments about 10 years ago because it was a chance to make some good money,” Vail said. “This has a lot bigger prizes and a lot more excitement here than with the harness horses.”
As for his approach today, he wants to keep plugging away.
“I am absolutely not thinking about (making it to the Final Table),” Vail added. “I’m going to go and handicap just like I did the last two days and I’m not going to think about tomorrow. I’m just going to look for winners, sit back and see how it winds up.”
Ashley Taylor, who is playing in her first NHC, came from the clouds to finish the day second overall in the standings, capturing a $10,000 entry to the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge in the process. Among her winners were 21-1 shot Admiralty Pier in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes and the 41-1 shot in the eighth at Golden Gate. Taylor earned a Day 2-high of $216.30.
Ralph Magnetti is third heading into Sunday with a mythical total of $279.50 with Michael Odorisio – who qualified by finishing second in the Last Chance competition on Thursday – now fourth with $278.50.
“I’d won an entry into the Last Chance [online-. I showed up and who knows?,” said Odorisio, who qualified after his wife Peg and brother Mark were already qualified for the NHC. “My God was with me because I haven’t handicapped like this for three days in a row in a long time. Once we won the entry, I finished second, so I got cash. I told Peg, ‘If I don’t cash another ticket all weekend, I’m happy.’ I don’t ever remember having a three-day streak like this. Hopefully I can make it a four-day streak.”
NHC Hall of Famer Trey Stiles is fifth with a total of $275.50 with Thomas Goldsmith ($272.70), Eric Bialek ($267.20), Day 1 leader Albion Benton ($246.40), Darryl Mays ($241.40) and Joel Wincowski ($230.80) rounding out the top ten.
NHC entrants were required to place 18 mythical $2 Win and Place wagers – eight on mandatory races that everyone played and 10 on any of the other races from eight designated racetracks across the country. The same was true for Friday and those Day 1 bankrolls rolled over to Saturday. Sunday’s Semifinal will consist of 10 optional plays from 28 eligible races. Bankrolls will then carry over to the Final Table, made up of seven mandatory races.
A total of 71 entrants qualified for Sunday’s semifinal.