Calia charges toward Boustany in horseplayers championship


Las Vegas

There was no change at the top of the National Horseplayers
Championship. Louisiana dentist Francis Boustany nearly doubled his total from
day 1, but five entrants were in hot pursuit Saturday to join him in the top

Trying to lead from gate to wire in the three-day contest, Boustany,
72, added $141.80 on Saturday at Horseshoe Las Vegas, lifting his total to $291.20
of mythical earnings from $2 win-place bets on 36 races.

“It’s hard to put two days back to back,” said Boustany, who
last year at this time was dealing with the effects of radiation treatment for
throat cancer. “On Thursday I was in the ‘last chance-first chance’ (qualifying)
tournament. I couldn’t hit anything. I guess I got all the bad plays out of my

Day 1: Cancer survivor Boustany takes early lead.

Boustany’s $14.10 lead through Friday was trimmed to $13.20 on
Saturday after big charges by a Midwest player who specializes in betting
Oaklawn, the leader of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, a backer of horses
coming from off the pace and one man who used the exact same plays in both his

Paul Calia, 57, who finished fourth in his only other NHC in
2021, added $213.60 to his total to surge into second place with a total of $278.00
going into Sunday’s semifinals. Calia’s second entry added $161.00 on Saturday
to bring that total to $215.20, good for 17th place and a second seat in the

“I hit a couple of good long shots at Oaklawn,” said Calia, a
Kansas City resident who earned an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup
Betting Challenge for having the best Saturday score. “That’s almost like my
home track. Prairie Meadows and Oaklawn are the two closest tracks to me. I can’t
play online, so I have to go somewhere to bet. Oaklawn is about seven hours
south. It’s brutal, man.”

All those trips to Arkansas paid off for Calia, a retired
Social Security disabilities examiner who made his biggest moves with three
4-year-old winners at Oaklawn. Lansdowne scored for him in a claiming race at
14-1, Icarus got home at 7-1 in an allowance, and Willow Creek Road delivered
at 6-1 in the sprint finale.

Gary Fenton, 54, who lives in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and
chairs the TOC board, moved into third place at $259.60, adding $170.60 on
Saturday. Formerly an entertainment attorney and executive, Fenton’s Little Red
Feather Racing has owned such horses as 2004 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Singletary.

David Browning, 55, an insurance auditor from Lexington,
Ky., upped his total with $200.20 on day 2 to move into fourth place with $243.40,
winning “about six in a row between $20 and $47,” the biggest reward coming
from 3-year-old Interlock Empire at 17-1 in a maiden race at Oaklawn. The Kenny
McPeek-trained colt closed from 10th to get the win.

“I like pressers and closers,” Browning said, “and I’m still
old school. Paper and pencil. I don’t have any computers or anything. Just
memory and the way the race sets up. If there’s a lot of speed, then I try to
find a closer. Maiden races, I like the pedigree of first-time starters. And
trainers that I’m familiar with who do well the first time out like (Todd) Pletcher.
Also Jonathan Wong at Golden Gate.”

Steven Wells, 49, who owns a bar in Fordville, N.D., gained
$133.70 to bring his totals to $239.70. Each of his identical entries is tied
for fifth place in the field of 779.

“I want to keep those two (the same) so that at the very
end, I can see if I need to separate them to make sure I made it to day 3,”
said Wells, who grew up near Phoenix. “But if both are doing good, then I want
to do the same thing, get to Sunday morning and still have two more bullets to
try and get to the final table to separate that.”

Steve Wolfson Jr., 55, a high-school teacher from Holly Hill,
Fla., was the only former NHC winner who made the 78-player semifinals. With
$176.80, the 2003 champion was 58th through Saturday. The cut line was $163.20.

“There’s a lot of randomness,” Wolfson said. “Anybody who
has finished in the top 10 before, the quality players will just have their days.
Sometimes it’ll be a tough beat. The races came together well for me.”

Each of the 78 players representing the top 10 percent of
the tournament field is guaranteed at least $12,050. Everyone has played 36
races, including 16 mandatory plays that were designated before the
competition. The semifinals Sunday morning will be made up of 10 optional plays
for each competitor.

The final table will feature the top 10 entrants playing
seven mandatory races Sunday afternoon. Each of those players will be assured
of winning at least $65,000 as they chase the first prize of $800,000 in cash.

Coverage of the National Horseplayers Championship is made possible in part by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which is providing hotel accommodations to Horse Racing Nation.

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