Saturday was a lucky day for trainer Eddie Plesa, who now has a serious Kentucky Derby contender, and also for horseplayer Jim Benes, who took down the top prize of $750,000 in the 14th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Presented by Treasure Island and Sovereign Stable.
No Bull, Itsmyluckyday a Serious Derby Candidate
The Grade 3 $400,000 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park on Saturday was a tricky race to handicap. Shanghai Bobby was going to be a really short price based off his perfect juvenile campaign, and Itsmyluckyday came into the race sporting the highest last out Beyer, but was it legit?
Shanghai Bobby was a gutty winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, holding off He’s Had Enough by a head, but the Todd Pletcher trainee did take advantage of a racing strip that was playing to speed that day.
At even money, I thought he was a serious play against, and ended up my third choice in the race.
The colt I could not figure out was the eventual winner Itsmyluckyday. The colt was no match for Goldencents and Bern Identity in a sixth place finish in the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot back in November, although he did race wide much of the trip.
Then Plesa tried him back on turf where he made a mild late rally to finish fourth in the Dania Beach going a mile over turf labeled as good.
He took on five foes on New Year’s Day in the Gulfstream Park Derby, came with a five wide run and drew away smartly to win by six lengths, earning a 95 Beyer Speed Figure.
I thought the number was on the generous side, and I ended up going with Bern identity and Frac Daddy as my top two selections. That turned out to be completely wrong, as they ran fifth and sixth while Itsmyluckyday battled with Shanghai Bobby in the stretch and drew away late to win by two lengths.
It turned out that 95 Beyer was legit after all. The colt set a new track record and earned a 104 Beyer for his Holy Bull win.
Plesa said he likely would skip the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 23 and go straight to the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 30.
While I still do not think Shanghai Bobby can handle 1 ¼ miles on the first Saturday of May, it is hard to knock an outstanding effort in his first defeat and will be a factor in upcoming Derby preps.
Benes Takes Down $750,000 Prize in NHC
Jim Benes of Countryside, Ill., came out on top of a field of 455 to win the $750,000 first-place prize and an Eclipse Award as Handicapper of the Year at the 14th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Presented by Treasure Island and Sovereign Stable on Saturday afternoon.
Benes, a professional horseplayer, amassed a winning score of $268.40 from 28 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers and two mythical $4 win and place “Best Bet” wagers over the two-day tournament.
Going into the NHC’s final race, the tenth at Santa Anita, Benes trailed eventual runner up Roger Cettina by $2.40. His $2 win and place bet in that final race was on favored Hidethegoodstuff, who finished second to Hail Mary and returned $3.60 to place, enough to secure a final winning margin of $1.20 over Cettina, a Rumson, N.J., native, who receives $200,000 for his second place finish.
For the official standings go to ntra.com.
Michael Dempsey provides his full card handicapping report each racing day from New York. His Aqueduct Report is available every day Wednesday through Sunday. Michael has covered the New York circuit daily for more than two decades.