Jonathon Kinchen, the 2015 NHC Tour champion, and sibling stalwarts Duke Matties and Paul Matties, Jr. are the top individual betting interests according to player odds released for this weekend's 20th NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens™ and Treasure Island Las Vegas.
Kinchen is making his eighth appearance at the NHC this week with his best effort coming in 2015 when he had two entries qualify for the Final Table en route to a seventh-place finish. The 36-year-old Texas resident was installed at 40-1 to take the title of Horseplayer of the Year this season, the same odds given to 2016 NHC champion Paul Matties, Jr. and his brother Duke.
Paul Matties, a professional gambler and horse owner from Ballston Spa, N.Y., and Duke Matties, of Laguna Beach, Calif., finished first and fourth, respectively in 2016. Both Kinchen and the Matties brothers are dual qualifiers for this year's NHC.
The field of 'all others' from the estimated 670 entries stands as the favored 6-1 betting interest. Defending NHC champion Chris Littlemore is 100-1 on the line to become the first player to win the title twice. The 2018 NHC Tour champion, David Gutfreund, who is competing for prize money and bonuses of $6.8 million, is listed at 80-1.
Gary West has the leading Kentucky Derby contender in champion Game Winner but the noted owner will have to pull the upset if he is to be named the 2019 NHC champion. West, who is playing in the tournament for the third time, is 150-1 on the line.
Long distance longshot
Bruce Gasson figures he is going to get a crash course on Thoroughbred racing this weekend. If he proves a quick learner, he might depart with a hefty monetary declaration for his trip back to his native New Zealand.
Of the first-time NHC qualifiers playing this year, Gasson has arguably the most unique – and certainly longest – path to Las Vegas. Gasson earned his NHC spot by winning the Kiwi Punters Championship, a harness racing competition held in New Zealand over 12 heats (July through to November 2018) followed by the final.
The final was held at Addington Raceway in Christchurch on November 16, 2018 where Gasson beat a field of 35 teams to take the overall prize. Well-versed as Gasson is in analyzing the trotters and pacers, he concedes he is going to be learning on the fly a bit with his handicapping at NHC.
“I'm more of a harness racing enthusiast so the galloping I'm not really familiar with,” Gasson said. “But (I will) just look at track preferences, jockeys, distance preferences, that type of thing. I've noticed that a lot of horses who get to the front over here tend to stay pretty close to the pace. It's going to be a bit of a challenge but you never know.
“The gallopers seem to get a fairer run and you've got small fields over here too. In New Zealand there are about 15-16 horses in a race. We'll see how it goes. But I'm feeling quite confident.”
While Gasson's harness background separates him from the NHC pack, his interest in racing was sparked in similar fashion as many of his horseplayer peers. Growing up, he would go to track with his parents, developing a passion for the sport that has now literally taken him across the globe.
“It gets in your blood and you can't get rid of it,” Gasson said. “I just love it. I'll always be a punter.”
Should Gasson pull off the upset of upsets in NHC history, he says he will use the tournament's $800,000 first prize to reinvest in racehorses – just not Thoroughbreds.
“I'd buy a couple more horses that's for sure. I have owned horses, I've owned pacers over the years,” Gasson said. “At the moment I've got a 2-year-old trotter….there is good money in the trotting races in New Zealand now.”
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