Stanley Bavlish, a 54-year-old owner of three Subway restaurants from Virginia Beach, Va., earned the $400,000 first place check and the title of "Handicapper of the Year" after defeating 253 fellow Thoroughbred handicappers to win the $836,750 Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at Bally's Las Vegas on Saturday.
A handicapper who qualified at Delaware Park in October, and playing in his first-ever National Handicapping Championship, Bavlish rebounded from a slow start (89th place) on Friday's opening day of the two-day tournament, to amass $189.20 in mythical money. Bavlish will also receive an Eclipse Award at next year's Eclipse Awards dinner.
Ken Massa (NHC qualify.com) finished second, totaling $182.40, and earned the $150,000 second place check.
The winning total was the lowest in the history of the 8-year-old event, while the winning margin ($6.80) was the second smallest in NHC history.
Susie Grensing (Keeneland, $177.60) finished third and collected $75,000, while Myles Richards (Calder, $175.60) and Russell Weber (Aqueduct, $172.60) wound up fourth and fifth, respectively, and earned $40,000 and $25,000.
Bavlish was unbowed after an opening day total ($47.60), and he used a pair of longshots during the latter portion of the second day's session to catapult toward the top of the leader board. He tabbed outside, McCann's Mojave ($42 and $22, tournament capped numbers) in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park, and followed up with first-time starter Debie Ginsburg ($25.40 and $10.60) in the eighth race at Santa Anita.
"After the first day, I didn't change my strategy, and just decided to keep grinding away," said Bavlish, who owns Subway shops on military bases in Portsmouth, Va. "It was just a case of getting my horses to run well when I needed them to. I knew that McCann's Mojave was capable of running big races that are 'off the charts' and decided to take a chance.
"I don't have any special strategy. I watch the oddsboard and look for opportunities. I'm a longshot player, but I'm also intuitive."
All handicappers were required to make 15 mythical $2 win and place selections each of the two days, with eight of the races each day being mandatory "wagers."