John O’Neil Wins National Handicapping Championship

by | 01.25.2015 | 9:02pm
John O'Neil receives the first-place prize for the 2015 National Handicapping Championship

John O'Neil of Huntington Station, N.Y., topped a field of 606 entries to win the $800,000 first-place prize and an Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year at this weekend's 16th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) presented by Racetrack Television Network, Sovereign Stable and Treasure Island Las Vegas. The NHC offered record overall prize money of $2.363 million.

The 74-year-old O'Neil amassed a winning score of $327.20 over the three-day tournament from 47 mythical $2 Win and Place bets – 15 each on Friday and Saturday, 10 in Sunday morning's Final 50 contest and seven in the climactic Final Table contest exclusive to the overall top 10.

Ken Jordan of Farmingdale, N.J., finished second with $291.70.

O'Neil was the NHC two-day leader at the end of Saturday's races but lost the lead toward the end of the Final 50 contest that led to the Final Table. In the seven mandatory races that made up the Final Table, however, O'Neil cashed in four of them. Three of them were winners – Huntstown ($6.40) in Tampa Bay Down's tenth race, Main Man Mike ($14.40) in Gulfstream Park's 11th, and Aperfectdaytofly ($7.40) in Santa Anita's seventh.

“It was short-priced horses that got me there but that's what we had today,” O'Neil said. “Thank God for very few bombs.”

O'Neil was introduced to handicapping on visits to the old Jamaica Race Course in Queens in the 1950s.

“My brother took me one day when I was 14 or 15 and I've been doing it every day since,” O'Neil said. “It's been a journey to get here, believe me. This probably makes me even after a lifetime.”

The top three NHC finsihers, and four of the top five, qualified as a result of finishing among the top 150 on the NHC Tour, a distinction which earns guaranteed entry to the NHC.

O'Neill is a small-business owner on Long Island.

“We work 60, 70 hours per week pushing trucks and asphalt,” he said. “This will make it a little easier.”

The official Top 10, with final bankroll (and prize):

First – John O'Neil, $327.20 ($800,000 and Eclipse Award for Horseplayer of the Year)
Second – Ken Jordan, $291.70 ($250,000)
Third – Matthew Ransdell, $269 ($125,000)
Fourth – Joseph Muzio, $266.30 ($100,000)
Fifth – Myles Richards, $262.20 ($75,000)
Sixth – Joe Scanio, $260.20 ($65,000)
Seventh – Jonathon Kinchen, $256.60 ($59,000)
Eighth – Robert Pontani Jr., $247.90 ($54,000)
Ninth – Brian Troop, $245.60 ($52,000)
Tenth – Mike Ferrozzo, $234.40 ($50,000)

Kinchen completed the Final 50 stage with two entries in the top 10 but each individual is permitted only one entry at the Final Table. Kinchen's highest bankroll carried over to the Final Table while the “other” entry was automatically good for 11th-place money ($25,000).

Troop was attempting to become the first two-time NHC winner. His eighth-place finish is the highest ever by a former champion.

By virtue of his victory, O'Neil also automatically earns an exemption into next year's NHC finals.

The NHC was held for the fourth straight year in the Treasure Island Ballroom.

In the first-ever NHC Future Wager offered by Treaure Island, O'Neil paid off at 5/2 as a member of the Field, which consisted of players who qualified late in the year.

The NHC 16 finals awarded cash prizes to the top 50 finishers from a total purse of $2,215,000. An additional $65,000 went to the top 20 in today's Consolation Tournament. Including $200,000 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 prizes in the form of entry fees, bankrolls, airfare and hotel, the aggregate value of payouts this weekend in NHC cash and prizes totaled a record $2,681,000.

To reach the Final 50, the record 606 NHC entrants were required to place 30 mythical $2 Win and Place wagers – 15 on Friday and 15 on Saturday. This is the second consecutive year with a three-day format including the Final 50 and Final Table.

Final Table participants were relocated to a single table on the stage of the Treasure Island Ballroom that served as Contest headquarters.

Final Table Race Results:

Race: Winner ($2 Win, $2 Place), Second ($2 Place)
Tampa Bay, Race 10: Huntstown ($6.40, $4), Go Bernie Go ($6.20)
Gulfstream, Race 10: Dancing House ($4.20, $2.80), Resistivity ($5)
Gulfstream, Race 11: Main Man Mike ($14.40, $8.20), Caminito ($10.40)
Oaklawn, Race 9: She's Live ($5, $3), Mauk Dirty to Me ($6.60)
Santa Anita, Race 7: Aperfectdaytofly ($7.40, $4.20), Lolo El Canonero ($6.80)
Santa Anita, Race 8: Pure Tactics ($14.40, $7.80), Hay Dude ($6.20)
Santa Anita, Race 9: Sum Midnight Star ($9.60, $5.60), Militant ($8.40)

The full NHC and Consolation Tournament standings can be accessed at

The 2014 NHC Tour winner Eric Moomey, who was eligible for a $2 million bonus if he could top the NHC, had two entries – one finished in 493rd place with a $41.40 bankroll and the second in 598th with $7. A record 4,875 NHC Tour members participated in 2014 qualifiers hoping to win a coveted spot in the NHC Finals.

  • Racemaven

    Congratulations to Mr. O’Neil. Having said that, I can’t understand why the Eclipse Award is annually conceded to the winner of this contest. As a real money player, I think that ending the year in the black, and being ahead a couple of hundred thousand dollars ( give or take), is a far more difficult and impressive achievement than informed guessing that comprises the run-up of mythical $2WP wagers in a tournament format. I know many real money players are assisted by large rebates that pad their play. Nevertheless, the daily grind of winning at this game consistently is a far greater achievement than winning any contest. Just my opinion.

    • togahombre

      handicapping all starts with picking winners and thats what these formats reward, making some races a must play and keeping all the bet amounts and type the same hones this to a reward for good fundamentals, too bad alot of contestants are software assisted, i was involved in one when they first came about, we had a form we got the night before and a pen

  • Charles Smith

    Congratulations to the winner on his accomplishment. I must say that comparing tournament play with hard money betting is like comparing apples and oranges.Tournament players live in a world of mythical wagers, make believe wagers. Considering the huge financial exposure owners have, considering the challenging nature of training racehorses, considering how hard it is to reach elite status as a jockey, I can’t quite see the winner of a mythical bankroll handicapping contest standing on equal footing with Eclipse award winners, human or equine.

  • Congratulations, John! — And, incidentally, isn’t it great that the name “O’Neil” is in a headline for a racing story about GOOD news?

    • Responding to Mr Negative

      Congratulation John. Too bad you can’t keep good news good, can you Don? Seems to be your typical angle of attack response. I wonder what Freud the NY stallion would think? hmmm

      • If I need for a horse for a shrink, you’ll be the first one I’ll call.

  • KARL Bittner

    Congratulations John on your victory but you don’t deserve an Eclipse Award? First thing Monday morning I have to read these nay Sayers comments on what is really a fantastic achievement. Not to mention without John their would be no Eclipse awards. These negative comments are so wrong in so many ways.

    • Charles Smith

      No one is diminishing his accomplishment. He bought his 2 entries, he won out over 500 plus people and he won $800,000. He deserves credit for that, credit I give gladly. Does he deserve a Eclipse award for that? Racing could survive without tournament players, it did so for X number of years until the concept of tournament betting on horse racing came along. Racing COULD NOT survive without real money players fighting extreme takeouts, double taxation by the federal government and the vagaries of a very difficult task – handicapping horse races day in and day out.

  • 4Bellwether666

    “Since I was 14/15 I have been betting on the Horses every day” and maybe this got me even…He damn sure deserves the Eclipse Award hands down!!!…Remember the main thing about ‘The Game’ without the Gamblers/Punters their is ‘NO GAME’!!!…Kudos to you John O’Neil and thanks for your support to the greatest game in the Cosmos for many many moons!!!…

  • ron knox

    Congrats, John! We should all look that good at 70 ………………….

  • Matt D.

    One of the best-case scenarios for a hard working 74 year-old New York man going to Las Vegas (aka Lost Wages) : winning $800,000 – plus a 2016 Hallandale Beach winter vacation to boot!

  • David

    Congrats to John; what a fabulous accomplishment.

    I think if there is going to be an Eclipse award for handicapping, I’d prefer it go to the winner of the Breeder’s Cup Betting Challenge with a ramped up qualification process to get into that tourney. I think money management is equally important to picking winners and I feel the NHC mythical money system penalizes the best handicappers. Put a little differently, the NHC is a game of horse (think shooting basketballs) while the BC Betting Challenge is a tournament of one-on-one. You have to be able to execute a more complete handicapping awareness to win the BC challenge and that’s what the industry should award at the Eclipse show.

    • George

      bcbc is full of teams of bettors. its hardly one on one.

  • Dan Camoro

    John, a huge Congrats! I sat at the table next to you…you exude class!

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