For 521 players in the National Horseplayers Championship, their chase was firmly focused on the first prize of $800,000 that will be won Sunday.
It was a different story Saturday for Barry Kerbel, who had the most lucrative day of anyone playing here at the Treasure Island Resort and Casino. A commercial realtor and thoroughbred owner from Toronto, Kerbel, 65, hit the Rainbow 6 at Gulfstream Park – twice – for a return of $201,839.76.
“I put in about $1,250,” said Kerbel, who had two of the six winning tickets in the mandatory payout. “I had that 58-1 shot (Papa Y in the seventh race) because he looked excellent on the track – I’ve seen him work out before at Gulfstream – and because I happen to like that rider (Marcos Meneses). He is a hustling rider that can go to the front. I thought speed would carry, and it did.”
In the NHC itself, Robert Gilbert of Yardley, Penn., maintained his first-day lead and was the best of 67 qualifiers for Sunday’s semifinals. He parlayed his mythical bankroll of $144 into $289 with the required $2 win-place bets on 36 races over the past two days. Gilbert, 68, a retired high-school teacher and military veteran, is in his fifth NHC with a previous best finish of 37th three years ago.
Gilbert has been the embodiment of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Word in the main ballroom where the NHC is happening is that he has been making all bets before the first race starts each day and then vanishing to parts unknown.
Looking to be the first two-time winner of this contest, defending champion Chris Littleford is third, trailing Gilbert by $48 and second-place Randy Gallo by $38.80.
Among the other former NHC winners in this year’s contest, Paul Matties Jr. stood 88th and 126th with his two entries, Jim Benes 140th and 262nd, Michael Beychok 182nd and 629th, Ray Arsenault is 267th, Richard Goodall 353rd and Stanley Bavlish 404th.
As for the much more visible Kerbel, the big Pick 6 score is making up for his performance so far in the tournament. Through the second of three days he stands only 580th out of the 668 entries.
“I’m just going to bet more long shots,” Kerbel said. “I’ve always been more of a couch player than a contest player. This is the second contest I've ever been in. I won at Woodbine to qualify and come here.”
Kerbel’s track record would certainly suggest that he is more at home with horizontal bets than he is in this contest that rewards mythical wagers instead of live bankrolls.
“I hit for $1.3 million at Santa Anita a couple years ago in the Pick 6,” he said. “I won one at Woodbine for $800,000 in a Pick 6 also. I usually play the Pick 6s when there is a guaranteed payout and when the pools exceed $500,000.”
While he and his son own a modest stable with 25 horses, Kerbel has found the winning most lucrative going back to the window north of the border.
“There is no tax on lottery or horse winnings. Not in Canada,” he said. “But I can use the money – to buy more horses.”
Well Defined wires the Sam F. Davis
Well Defined (7-1) took a three-length lead in the clubhouse turn and was never threatened, leading from gate to wire to win the $250,000 Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a Kentucky Derby points prep Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs.
Ridden by Pablo Morales for trainer Kathleen O’Connell, the gelding sired by With Distinction won by 2¾ lengths, a far cry from his losses by a combined 33 lengths in his last two races.
“He is kind of a free-running horse,” O’Connell said. “His rear end slipped out from underneath him (when he finished 12th) in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and he was compromised on early position when he ran (fifth) in the Mucho Macho Man and got bottled up inside. But he’s a young horse who is improving – mind-wise and everything-wise.”
The Godolphin colt Kentucky Wildcat (5-2) impressed with his late charge to finish second, but he was vanned off after the race. His injury was described to the Daily Racing Form as an unstable right knee, an injury that was not believed to be life-threatening.
So Alive (3-1) finished another 8¾ lengths back in third. Counter Offer (32-1) was fourth, a nose ahead of the favorite Knicks Go (9-5) in fifth.
After the win, Well Defined was cut from 125-1 to 75-1 by William Hill to win the Kentucky Derby. He set fractions of 23.23, 47.09 and 1:11.68 and led by at least 1½ lengths at every call. He was clocked at 1:42.70 for the 8½ furlongs on a fast main track.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. It will also appear Saturday and Sunday during this weekend’s National Horseplayers Championship. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s edition centers on the NHC. Horseplaying author Peter Thomas Fornatale talks about the types of strategies likely to be used during the competition. Bookmaking legend Roxy Roxborough discusses Kentucky Derby futures and the impact of legal sports betting on horse racing’s future. The feature Racehorses by the Letters considers the best horse starting with “N.” The RFRP is also available at providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher.