Front-Running Arias Nabs National Handicapping Championship

by | 01.26.2014 | 10:25pm
Jose Arias won Handicapper of the Year and $750,000 with this year's NHC victory in Las Vegas

Jose Arias of Bell Gardens near Los Angeles topped a field of 500 to win the $750,000 first-place prize and an Eclipse Award as Handicapper of the Year at this weekend's 15th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) presented by Racetrack Television Network, Sovereign Stable and Treasure Island Las Vegas.

The 36-year-old environmental safety engineer amassed a winning score of $338.20 over the three-day tournament from 45 mythical $2 Win and Place bets – 15 each on Friday and Saturday, 10 in Sunday morning's Final 50 contest and five in the climactic Final Table contest exclusive to the overall top 10. The NHC was held for the third straight year in the Treasure Island Ballroom.

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

First – Jose Arias, $338.20 ($750,000 and Eclipse Award for Handicapper of the Year)
Second – Tony Brice, $337 ($200,000)
Third – Nick Alpino, $334.10 ($100,000)
Fourth – Michael Piccola, $310.80 ($55,000)
Fifth – Daniel Kovalesky, $310.70 ($30,000)
Sixth – Paul Shurman, $302.60 ($17,000)
Seventh – Christopher Skotz, $300.80 ($14,000)
Eighth – Mike McIntyre, $299.80 ($12,900)
Ninth – Ryan Flanders, $281.80 ($12,000)
Tenth – Lynn McGuire, $273 ($11,600)

Arias, who qualified for the NHC at Del Mar's Surfside Race Place, assumed the lead on Day 1's final mandatory race and never looked back. Going into the NHC's final race – Race 9 at Santa Anita – Arias held a slim $4.10 lead. His pick in the contest finale, Tribal Smoke, hit the front entering the stretch but was passed and finished third. The race winner, Fit to Rule, was the choice of Tony Brice, who came into the last in third place, $26.60 behind.

“I didn't know because I thought that horse (Fit to Rule) was around 8-1,” Arias said. “Someone in the crowd told me the horse got bet down to 6-1 so I was trying to do the math.

“It was very hairy. I just made it. I'm still just walking on air. I can't believe it. There are so many great handicappers here and I just did what I always do and tried to get a winner. My horse didn't win this time but I'm so glad I just barely held on.”

Fit to Rule paid $15.60 and $9.80, leaving Brice just $1.20 behind in second with $337.

Total winnings this weekend for Arias, including a $6,000 Day 1 bonus he received for registering the top score on Friday, were $756,000.

The victory by Arias was a popular one with his fellow handicappers, who swarmed the Final Table with congratulatory hugs and handshakes. A laid-back California guy who rarely betrayed any hint of nerves this weekend, Arias employs a straightforward approach to picking winners.

“I use race replays and I read the DRF, that's it,” Arias said. “There's a lot of great information in the Form and that's where I get most of my information.”

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

The NHC 15 finals paid out to the top 50 finishers from a total purse of $1,470,000. An additional $75,000 went to the top 20 in today's Consolation Tournament. Including $247,000 paid out to top finishers in the year-long NHC Tour, plus $30,000 worth of Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge prizes in the form of entry fees, bankrolls, airfare and hotel, the aggregate payouts this weekend to NHC contestants totaled a record $1,862,000.

The highest finish among seven previous NHC winners at this year's event was recorded by NHC II (2001) champion Judy Wagner, who checked in 12th with a $266 bankroll, good for a $10,800 prize. No one has ever won the NHC more than once in the event's 15-year history.

Full official standings for this weekend's just completed NHC, including the Consolation Tournament, can be found at and

More than 3,200 NHC Tour members participated in 2013 qualifiers, hoping to win a coveted spot in the NHC Finals.

In its 15th year, the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers. There are no “buy-in” entries at the NHC. It is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino racebooks, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping websites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals.

Final Table Race Results
Race: Winner ($2 Win, $2 Place), Second ($2 Place)
Gulfstream Race 10: 4-Pompous Miss ($10.60, $5.60), 3-Wonderfully ($7)
Gulfstream Race 11: 10-Banzai Charge ($7.20, $4.60), 3-Sinatra ($9.40)
Fair Grounds Race 9: 7-Oh Wise One ($8.40, $4.40), 6-Fable ($6.40)
Santa Anita Race 8: 7-Lakerville ($19.60, $8.40), 2-Sweet Swap ($7.60)
Santa Anita Race 9: 1-Fit to Rule ($15.60, $9.80), 9-Warren's Tyler S. ($5.60)

  • Manny Marquez

    Congratulations Jose ! Great guy and terrific handicapper. Now on to the Santa Anita $40 Contest Handicapping Finals on Feb.9th :)

  • Tinky

    Are his winnings frozen until the results of the post-contest urine tests are confirmed?


  • takethat

    Here is another ‘handicapping win’ that Paulick is silent about. I don’t know why.

    God bless Barney Curley. Estimates of the hit taken by bookies when four horses with connections to the most feared punter of them all won on Wednesday have been as high as €18 million. This was a sweet one.

    Chances are that a sinking feeling began to manifest itself in the head offices of various bookmakers when Eye Of The Tiger won by nine lengths at Lingfield. The horse had not run for 481 days but was backed in from 10/1 to evens favourite and duly obliged. Next came Seven Summits at Catterick, scoring its first ever win over hurdles. At Kempton Indus Valley, running for the first time in 700 days, was backed in from 20/1 to 4/6 and did the job.

    Which left Low Key, returning from a 350-day lay-off in the 6.25 at Kempton. His last race had seen Low Key tail in last of seven but no-one was too surprised to see him prevail by a length on this occasion. Low Key is trained by John Butler, Curley’s former assistant at his Newmarket yard and Indus Valley by Des Donovan, who rents his stable from Curley. Eye Of The Tiger and Seven Summits had previously been trained and owned by the Fermanagh man. Overnight an accumulator on the four horses had been available at 9,000/1 and it’s believed that over £2 million was won by the originators of the gamble. Further damage was done by ordinary punters getting in on the act when they twigged what was going on.

    Paddy Power described it as, “one of the blackest days in the history of bookmaking”. You know what this is playing in the background, Paddy? It’s the world’s smallest violin.

    This isn’t the first time that Barney Curley has skinned the bookies and it probably won’t be the last. He’s certainly scotched the notion that big bookie-busting gambles like the Yellow Sam coup he pulled off back in 1975 aren’t possible in the brave new wired world.

    And you know the best thing about him? He approaches these things in the proper spirit, commenting that, “It’s not for the money, it’s for the buzz. Beat the system, you know, beat those smart arses. You go into a betting shop and see them robbing these poor fellows with these gaming machines.”

    Wednesday’s coup required planning, intelligence, nerve and guile, qualities which can serve a punter as well as a sportsman. Anyone with an ounce of sporting spirit can’t help admiring the chutzpah of a man who won not just for himself but for everyone who knows that the bookies, who turn down bets from the expert but take every last penny from the mug, deserve to have their arses royally kicked.

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