A fairly slow weekend in horse racing approaches after quite a bit transpired over the past weekend. Let’s take a look at what happened over the course of the last seven days.
American Pharoah won two Eclipse Awards in unanimous fashion - Horse of the Year and Champion 3-year-old male. No shocker there. He also added the Longines World’s Best Racehorse laurels for 2015 which was presented in London earlier in the week. No big deal.
I didn’t do too shabby in my Eclipse voting, only missing on the top breeder (Ramsey) and apprentice jockey (Cancel). Let’s say 15 of 17 sure beats the shutout I endured in my 2015 Kreskin picks.
Kenny Mayne called a horse race at Santa Anita. It started out grand, but ended rather badly when he called the wrong horse as the winner, although quickly qualified it with “I think. Hold all tickets.” It’s not easy to call a horse race. I give him big props for trying and his opening line of “and they’ve left the machine” made me belly laugh, so there’s that.
A son of Quality Road is heading down the Derby Trail. Frank Conversation will point to the El Camino Derby at Golden Gate Fields after a solid victory in the California Derby their last Saturday. He has the same connections as 2-year-old champion Nyquist, being trained by Doug O’Neill, owned by Paul Reddam and ridden by Mario Gutierrez. Keep an eye on this one and don’t readily dismiss him because he runs well on the Tapeta. The Cal Derby was not an official Derby point race so he’ll need to start accumulating points starting next month in the El Camino.
The two Derby point races went to Mo Tom (LeComte, Fair Grounds) and Discreetness (Smarty Jones, Oaklawn). Of the two, Mo Tom seemed to have the stuff that could get himself to Louisville. Baffert’s heavy favorite Toews on Ice was flat and missed the board at Oaklawn. No point races this weekend, but two big ones are on tap next weekend in the Gotham and the Holy Bull.
Speaking of next weekend, the $2.5 million National Handicapping Championship will kickoff in Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon at the Treasure Island casino and will run through Sunday Jan. 30. The winner will take home a $800,000 first prize and the 2016 Eclipse award for handicapper of the year.
One contestant who will be trying to win the big prize is handicapper Tommy “Hammer” Massis from Toronto. A lifelong horseplayer, Massis first attended the races at Woodbine with an uncle and later would skip school to visit with friends. “One of us would jump the fence and bet the double and if we hit the double he’d go and pay the admission to get everyone into the track,” he says. “If not we went back to school.”
Massis qualified by winning the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge at Keeneland. His big wager that carried him to victory at Keeneland was a $4,000 exacta box with Arc winner Golden Horn and Found, the filly who upset the favorite at odds of 7-1. His exacta paid a whopping $86,000, catapulting his bankroll to over $90,000. Added to the $230,000 first prize, he brought home more than $320,000.
His win in the BCBC was his second ticket to the NHC, after winning a live bankroll contest at Keeneland in April. He’ll have two entries to play in Vegas. Contest play became an interest for Massis after watching his fellow Ontarian and pal Brian Troop win NHC 11 in 2010.
His interest has been sustained in part by the friendships he’s formed. For example, BCBC tournament director Tim Schram convinced Massis to enter his contest on a visit to Woodbine. “We’ve been friends ever since,” Massis says. “He’s like one of us.”
We’ll be keeping an eye on the Hammer next weekend as our friend from Woodbine attempts to keep his good luck streak going.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.