NHC Seats Awarded to Thomas Labordo and Mike Ferrozzo
Today, Brent Sumja is perched proudly atop the NHC Tour Leaderboard.
A first-place finish in the Labor Day DerbyWars NHC Qualifier helped propel him into that spot – a spot he intends to hold onto with the same tenacity that put him there in the first place. Sumja is gearing up for a grueling tournament schedule over the next several months in order to stave off any challenges to his lead.
“The grind is mentally challenging,” admitted Sumja in a phone interview shortly after his Labor Day victory. “I took the month of August off; I went to Paris, celebrated my mom’s birthday. Now I have six weeks of [tournament related] travel.”
Sumja has good reason to keep up the grind. He is one of several NHC Tour members chasing the very top prizes associated with NHC Tour placing. The top finisher on the NHC Tour Leaderboard at the end of the year is rewarded with a $75,000 cash prize. But perhaps even just as compelling, the NHC Tour leader is eligible for a $2 million bonus if he or she were to go on to win the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas next January.
“My friend Judy Wagner [a former NHC winner] told me ‘You don’t choose the Tour, the Tour chooses you!’, recalled Sumja. “After doing well early, several friends told me I should really go for the Tour.”
Wagner isn’t the only one in Sumja’s corner. Sumja cited several key influencers who recently introduced him to the contest world and guided his rapid rise into one of its top players.
“The people you meet [at handicapping contests] are unbelievably kind. They are genuinely rooting for you, not against you,” exclaimed Sumja. “Tom Quigley really laid the groundwork for me. Joe Koury has taught me to react based on what other players do. Mark McGuire, he is so sharp at figuring everything out, especially with video watching. Cara Yarusso actually was the first tournament player I met and she introduced me to Mark and Joe. She helps keep my calm, helps me find key things to look for. Oh yea and ‘Sicko’ I have to mention Sicko. Just Sicko. He’ll know.”
Sumja said he really learned from his experience at the NHC last year and intends to go into this upcoming contest with better strategy – a strategy he intends to keep close to the vest until the NHC comes.
Already a dual qualifier for the sport’s richest handicapping contest coming up in January at the Treasure Island Resort in Las Vegas, Sumja is now strictly playing for NHC Tour points. This meant that the two NHC Seats up for grabs in the DerbyWars NHC Qualifier actually went to the contest’s second and third place finishers, Thomas Labordo and Mike Ferrozzo, respectively.
Labordo was the leader of the pack throughout most of the contest, benefitting from Strong Mandate’s upset win in the Hopeful (GI) at Saratoga and then solidifying his leading position when Marcyjane’s win padded his bankroll in Del Mar’s 3rd race, the sixth race of the twelve race contest.
“I really liked Strong Mandate’s mud figures,” noted Labordo. “I lost the lead in that next race but retook with Marcyjane.”
Labordo didn’t yield his leading position until the final race of the tournament, the Yellow Ribbon (GI) at Del Mar. But although the race did cause Sumja to pass him, things could have gone much worse.
“I really had to sweat it out that last race! Oh gosh, it went on for so long!” recalled Labordo, referencing the lengthy stewards inquiry which went on for nearly ten minutes following the race’s finish, in which the stewards had to determine whether the winner interfered with the third place finisher. Had the winner, Egg Drop, been taken down and longshot Appealing moved up to first place, the complexion of the leaderboard would have been completely changed and Labordo would not have been awarded one of the two highly coveted NHC seats.
Last year was Labordo’s first time competing in the NHC himself, but not the first time he has experienced the event. Thomas’ father, Darwin Labordo, was third in the NHC two years ago. Thomas jovially holds that if his dad had taken his advice towards the end of that contest, an Eclipse Award as the nation’s best handicapper could have been in reach. This year they will both have another chance to chase that dream, having both qualified on DerbyWars; Darwin Labordo qualified in an earlier DerbyWars NHC Qualifier in August.
Mike Ferrozzo, much like Sumja, came into the contest primarily in pursuit of NHC Tour Points.
“The deal was, I was trying mostly to get points in order to qualify, so I tried to pick horses which were competitive,” Ferrozzo rakishly recalled. “But after hitting six of seven, I tried to win the thing!”
This upcoming NHC will be Ferrozzo’s fifth consecutive crack at the handicapping championship. A ten year veteran of handicapping contests, Ferrozzo has been playing on DerbyWars since the site began roughly two years ago, and took down a $10,000 Kentucky Derby Tournament on racing’s premier contest site. He has been a Thoroughbred racing fan since 1985 when Cantebury opened, when he won $250 betting on Quarter Horse racing.
DerbyWars wishes the best of luck to Sumja, Labordo and Ferrozzo in January’s National Handicapping Championship!