The first of two Sunday NHC Prequalifiers kicked off at just before 1pm on DerbyWars. By 1:30pm, Bill Downes had put his 23 foes on notice that a sizeable bankroll would be needed to take him down in this prequalifying event.
After hitting the first three contest races, Downes had accrued $50.80 into his mythical bankroll, and amount sometimes sufficient to win entire contests of similar composition. But the point at which he likely broke the spirit of his competitors came in the seventh race of the contest when his selection, a horse named Michael P, emerged victorious in Monmouth’s 4th race and added an additional $46.40 to Downes’ already swelled account. Combined with a pair of ancillary chalky scores, Downes had amassed an enviable $111.80, nearly $30 clear of the second place finisher.
Downes now moves onto the first of five DerbyWars NHC Qualifiers, set to take place on Saturday, August 3. DerbyWars will host NHC Qualifiers each Saturday during the month of August. Should Downes parlay his past weekend’s victory to a seat in next year’s NHC, it will mark the ninth time he has participating in the championship handicapping event.
“I have cashed twice in the NHC with my best finish being 15th place the year Rippy won ,” noted Downes. “I am still looking to qualify for next year. My schedule restricts my on-site tournament play now, so I have been focusing online.”
Downes has been a member of the DerbyWars community since the earliest days of the site and has been a frequent handicapping contest player for many years. Like most contest aficionados, Downes relies heavily on his own brand of strategy.
“You have to map out your strategy; you can’t just do it haphazardly,” advised Downes. “Take a look at the entire layout and find a way to get to a certain number. It used to be that you could win a tournament with two or two and a half times your starting bankroll. But you can’t just play favorites all the time.”
Downes grew up in Chicago and became infatuated with horse racing after watching John Henry win the 1981 Arlington Million. He got his first job in the racing industry doing notes for the southern California circuit, where he sometimes practiced calling races from the press box. He considers the late Luke Kruytbosch as instrumental in encouraging him to pursue the field of race-calling professionally.
Downes is the new track announcer at Indiana Downs. He has called races at Arapahoe Park, Beulah Park, River Downs, Presque Isle Downs and Ellis Park.
Left in the wake of Bill Downes tour-de-force in the early NHC Prequalifier was Matt Milligan, who put together an entirely respectable bankroll of over $80 in the first contest only to finish fourth in the field of 24 handicappers.
Not to be discouraged, Milligan doubled down in the late NHC Prequalifier which demanded a $100 entry fee but featured a smaller field of eleven players vying for a DerbyWars NHC Qualifier spot. Perhaps to the chagrin of many, including Milligan, the field included Bill Downes, who had routed many of the players earlier in the day.
The later tournament took on a decidedly chalkier feel than the earlier contest, with only one winner from twelve races going off at odds of more than 6-1. Seeing as few of the eleven players had much appetite for chalk, Milligan’s comparably paltry bankroll of $56.80 – significantly less than the bankroll he had accrued in the prior game using only ten races – was enough to claim victory and a seat at the table in the first DerbyWars NHC qualifying event on August 3.
“I like the format. With 11 people, everyone has a legitimate shot,” explained Milligan. “You can string together five or six decently priced horses and have enough to even hold off one cap horse [a horse which pays out the maximum payout a race will allow, which is $32 to win and $18 to place, or $50 total].”
Milligan was introduced to horse racing through his wife, a native of Louisville, Ky. He would play races with his wife’s family, especially during Kentucky Derby week and at the Kentucky Oaks. His interest really started to take off after he selected Funny Cide in a family pot shortly before the NY-bred gelding would go on to win the Run for the Roses.
Joining Twitter was also a watershed moment for Milligan’s growing passion for horse racing.
“Twitter turned this moderate racing fan into a racing nut!” exclaimed Milligan. “All of the sudden I was surrounded by knowledgeable people. I was no longer on an island. I could educate myself.”
Milligan signed up for the NHC Tour three years ago, mostly for the free contests. He qualified for the NHC last year and not “has the bug” to get back there next year. He is a big fan of the DerbyWars NHC Qualifying format, which he finds affordable and finds offers better odds.
“When I try to qualify for the NHC, I will play exclusively with DerbyWars and skip the others,” said Milligan. “DerbyWars offers WAY the best bang for the buck.”
For sage tournament advice from Milligan, follow him on Twitter @tracksidejive.