Edited press release
John Conte, 68, of Oceanside, N.Y., won the $500,000 first-place prize and title of Handicapper of the Year in the 10th annual $1 million Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, which concluded Jan. 24 at Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa in Las Vegas..
Conte, a former New York Post handicapper whose “Grass is Greener” tout sheet is available at New York tracks and OTBs, was sitting in 11th place going into the final race of the two-day contest and used Raiding Party, who paid $46.60 to win (capped at $42 for scoring purposes) and $13 to place in the 11th race at Santa Anita. No one ahead of him used the horse and he finished with a final score of $228, after making 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers each day of the tournament with eight races being mandatory plays, and the other seven being player’s-choice races from among the seven eligible contest tracks.
Dennis Decauwer, 59, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., the leader going into the final race, finished second with $221.50 to finish second and earn $150,000. Paul Shurman, 54, of Dix Hills, N.Y. also used Raiding Party to leapfrog up to third place with a score of $219.00 to win $100,000. Gwyn Houston, 57, of Fallston, Md., held the lead late in the afternoon and held on for fourth place with a score of $213.80 to earn $45,000. Another handicapper who held the lead during the final day, Louis Licata, 49, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, finished fifth at $210.40 to win $30,000. Prizes were paid through 30th place.
Santa Anita’s 11th race, which—due to rain—was moved from the turf to the main track and had four scratches, was also the final mandatory race of the tournament so everyone had to play it. Players had an idea of what their nearest competitors’ scores were even though a few races had been run since the last update.
Conte considered going the safe route and trying to just improve his position slightly—but then he figured others might play the same logical horse and stay ahead of him anyway.
“I looked at Raiding Party and decided to go for it,” he said. “I’ve been an ‘all-in’ guy my whole life. She ran on Polytrack at a cheap track in Britain and showed speed and won two of her three starts. I don’t know if everyone overlooked the horse or they didn’t have the guts to play it. She probably didn’t have a chance on turf, but the racing gods took it off the turf.”
A field of 301 handicappers competed over the two-day tournament, the culmination of a year-long series of qualifying tournaments at race tracks, OTBs, casinos and websites.
Conte will also be honored as the NTRA Handicapper of the Year at the Eclipse Awards next January in Beverly Hills, Calif.
“My whole life has been a series of wouldas, couldas, shouldas,” said Conte, who has been married 21 years to his wife Arlene and has six children and 10 grandchildren. “I finally made it to the winner’s circle. If I win five more of these contests, I might be even!”