The Sweet Science Of a Handicapping Championship

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Ed DeRosa

December 1st, 2014

After landing his first punch to start the TwinSpires Online Handicapping Series Championship, Rocky Hardy had just one winner from his next 10 picks and found himself in 70th place with only three races to go.

Knocked down but not out, Hardy decided to take a swing at a longer price in the Jimmy Durante Stakes (race 6) at Del Mar and connected with “cap horse” Ol Fashion Gal.

“Getting off on the right foot was helpful, so after I got that first win I felt like things were going in the right direction,” Hardy said. “Then after that things didn’t quite go as planned, and when I dropped down to the 70s I knew I had to make a big move.”

Ol Fashion Gal moved Hardy into 11th place with three races to go, so he channeled Meat Loaf for the final stretch, figuring two out of three wouldn’t be bad and even good enough to win.

“Once I was in 11th I decided to stick with my top picks,” Hardy said. “It was a great position to be in.”

Hardy missed with Abraham in the Hawthorne Gold Cup, but Magic Lily in the Del Mar seventh moved him into third place, and the aptly named Joy to the King in the Hawthorne ninth closed out the contest and the victory, earning Hardy $10,000 cash and a trip in January to Las Vegas for the National Handicapping Championship.

“It was exciting to win the [second-to-last] race and move into third place,” Hardy said. “Then when I won [the last contest race] I knew I’d be at least third, but I had to wait for the leaderboard to update. My heart was pounding; it was a long wait.”

Hardy is one of 20 players who will represent at the aforementioned National Handicapping Championship Jan. 23-25, 2015, at Treasure Island. An additional 30 players qualified for the Horse Player World Series on March 26-28 at the Orleans. Overall, 2,058 players participated in the TSOHS this year and competed for $650,000 in prizes.

“For four years now, the TwinSpires Online Handicapping Championship has been a must-play tournament for players trying to qualify for the National Handicapping Championship and Horse Player World Series in Las Vegas, and this year was our best ever,” said tournament director Lucky Kalanges. “We had a record 420 players with 565 total entries, and we will award more than a quarter-million dollars in cash and prizes.

“And the championship was great theater. It came down to the last race with a guy named Rocky winning on a horse named Joy to the King. You can’t make this stuff up.”

Hardy, 46, classifies himself mostly as a tournament player, and this is the second time he’s qualified for the NHC. He grew up near Little Rock, Arkansas, and got into racing attending Oaklawn Park with family and friends. He just launched the medical supply company Airways Medical in Little Rock and said most of his $10,000 first prize will go toward building the business he founded with a group of Arkansas doctors.

Mary Hoedebeck, 72 and of Oklahoma, finished second, $2.70 behind the winner. They both had the aforementioned cap horse. In fact, all of the top five had Ol Fashion Gal as did 15 of the 20 who qualified for the NHC.

The final Vegas spot went to contest regular Mark Richards of Pembroke Pines, who tied Peter P. of Palatine, Illinois, for 50th, but earned the HPWS trip by virtue of selecting four winners from 15 races to Peter’s three winners. However, the pair did split the final $500 cash prize.

The TSOHS will return in 2015. In the meantime, for those looking for additional contests and promotions, click here.