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Countryside Resident Wins Handicapping Contest
Countryside, Ill. native, Jim Benes, won the title of Handicapper of the Year at the Daily Racing Form and National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s National Handicapping Championship (NHC) on January 26. Benes received the title by besting 455 handicappers in the contest and winning the $750,000 top prize in the fourteenth annual NHC, held at Treasure Island Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
Benes, a professional handicapper, went to the two-day competition with what could have been a big disadvantage—he typically only bets on Illinois racing, of which there is none at the time of the competition. Benes stated, “In my real life, I only bet in Illinois. I grew up betting on live racing at Sportsman’s (Park) and at Hawthorne. My dad would take me to the track and there was no simulcast. You could only bet on live racing and that’s what I still do.”
Wagering on live races means that Benes typically only handicaps nine or ten races a day. Handicapping 15 races for each day of the two-day tournament was a challenge for Benes. The other major challenge for Benes was unfamiliarity with the horses he was wagering on. Benes handicaps by watching live races, analyzing replays and knowing everything about the horses, trainers and jockeys at Hawthorne. For the NHC competition, Benes was not able to utilize his knowledge and fell back on handicapping the tournament races using only a Daily Racing Form (most contestants use more sophisticated handicapping tools).
When asked about how he overcame this obstacle, Benes said, “All handicapping uses the same tools for me. For this competition, I wasn’t able to use all of my tools, so I had to rely on reading the Form. I studied the Form closely, and there was some luck involved.” Benes went on to explain that, as a professional handicapper, he comes to the track every day. Overall, he loses more days than he wins, but like any business person, Benes’ hope is to show a profit at the end of the year. “There have been plenty of times that I lost every race I bet for two days, three days, a week in a row. That could have happened in this competition as well. That’s where the luck comes in. I always try to pick the best horse at the best price, but its racing. You don’t know what’s going to happen,” claimed Benes. Benes may have had some luck in the NHC competition, but he did not win by chance—he also placed in the top 20 in last November’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.
For Benes, though, life has not changed following the significant windfall he received at the NHC. He will be back to work as usual on Hawthorne’s opening day, February 15, and plans to save his winnings for his 10-year-old daughter’s future and his own retirement. “I love live racing,” stated Benes, “Whether you are a serious handicapper or a casual fan, live racing is so exciting to watch.”