Monday, July 13, 2009

Qualifier Q&A: Rich Nilsen

(This is the third of an ongoing RedRockorBust series profiling qualifiers for the 2010 National Handicapping Championship.)

Rich Nilsen, 38, qualified for the 2010 National Handicapping Championship courtesy of finishing 3rd in a Keeneland contest in April. Nilsen, of Lexington, Kentucky, spoke to RedRockorBust in a July 10 telephone interview.

RedRockorBust: You qualified for the 2010 NHC at Keeneland in the spring. Tell me about the day.
Rich Nilsen: It was pouring rain all day, just a miserable day. It was an unusual day and a disappointing card by Keeneland standards. This was a real money contest, sometimes in these contests you grind it out with a slow and methodical approach, and dive in when you have a good feel. But I didn't think there were any solid show bets on the entire card, so I thought I had to attack each race individually -- think to myself, "how can I take this $200 and make a profit?"

I liked a few horses Julien Leparoux rode, and he had a couple double-digit winners. But one of my key races was in the middle of the card, a horse named Final Count was exiting a key race at Gulfstream that was won by eventual stakes runner Afirmatif. There had been a few horses who came out of that race and ran well. Final Count was well-beaten by Afirmatif, he came in 10th, 14 3/4 lengths back, but he had legitimate excuses. So I thought there were a lot of positive factors. I played him to win and in exactas and trifectas, and he won at 17-1 with Rene Douglas aboard.

I kept cashing all day and was in 6th place heading into the last race. I figured I needed to make about $1,000 to break into the top 3 and qualify. In the last race, the horses I liked best ran 1-2. I had the exacta and trifecta. Leparoux rode the winner, a horse named Cross Village, he was 5-1 on the morning line but he went off at 13-1. I made a couple thousand dollars on the race, and ended up with about $5,200 from a starting bankroll of $1,800. I finished 4th, but one of the top 3 finishers had already qualified, so I got the spot.

RRB: What is your history in handicapping contests? Have you made it to the NHC before?
RN: I've been playing contests for more than 10 years. I have qualified for the NHC seven times. I finished 8th in the 2001 event after being a co-leader on the first day. That was my best performance -- $9,000 in total winnings. Other years I've finished mid-pack or up the track.

RRB: How long have you been playing the horses?
RN: I started playing horses in New York around age 7 when my dad used to take me. I watched the Harvey Pack show as a teenager. I then decided to go to the University of Louisville for their equine business degree. I have worked in the industry ever since, serving as director of marketing for, and previously for the account wagering sites BrisBET and I am currently the tournament director at both and

RRB: Will you approach the 2010 NHC any differently than your previous Vegas experiences?
RN: I'm going to try to treat it more like any other contest. I have "overthunk" the NHC in the past, putting too much time into it while trying to do too much. I'm not going to kill myself in the days leading up to the NHC event or at the event itself. A few years ago I would try to handicap every race at every track. I couldn't bear to think that maybe a $40 horse would come in at The Fair Grounds and I didn't have it because I didn't look at the race! But I think it's an impossible task to handicap every race at every track. I'll just watch how the tracks are playing, be familiar with who the hot jockeys and trainers are at each track, and hope that the cards I'm dealt are the types of races I excel at.

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