Welcome to my first live blog, covering the 2020 NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC)! I’ll be onsite at Bally’s Las Vegas tracking Mike Somich, my cohost of The Magic Mike Show podcast, as he makes his NHC debut and tries to take home the first-place prize of $800,000.

Follow along Friday 2/7 through Sunday 2/9 and refresh this page for as many updates as I can provide! I’ll place the most recent posts at the top, so if you’re joining the blog after the NHC has begun, please scroll to the bottom and read upward (all times are Pacific time zone).

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Sunday, February 9

12:02 PM – That’s going to be a wrap on Mike Somich’s 2020 NHC experience. Mike will finish with a three-day total of $198.20. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Thanks again to everyone who followed along all weekend. It was nothing if not interesting and entertaining. As a thank you, a live post-NHC podcast will be coming your way soon!

11:59 AMMike’s final two plays for Day 3 of #NHC2020 have been made. At this point, I don’t think he’ll mind me tipping them early.

Oaklawn Park Race 2 #2 FRIGID.
Fair Grounds Race 4 #3 SILENT TRICK.

11:39 AM – Next swing is going to be in Race 5 at Gulfstream Park, #2 MISTER MAESTRO.

11:32 AM – Chalk ate up both races.

11:30 AM – Mike played #3 in Race 3 at Fair Grounds and #1 in Race 1 at Oaklawn Park. Hitting one puts him back into contention. HItting both sends him near the top.

11:18 AM – A pair of major-league swings are coming. Mike’s looking to hit bombs in Race 1 at Oaklawn Park and in Race 3 at Fair Grounds.

11:06 AM – Wing and a prayer time for Mike, but judging how it went for Days 1 and 2, that’s not terrible. He’s playing #4 PAID UP in Race 4 at Gulfstream Park.

11:00 AMNext pick is in! In Race 2 at Fair Grounds, Mike is picking #3 KRAFT’S RATE.

Mike said that if this doesn’t hit, then he has to start swinging at 20/1 bombs from here on out.

10:52 AM – Had the horse but not the pace pressure needed to close properly. Onward to the next one.

Through his first three optional race uses, Mike has cashed $5.40.

10:48 AMNo time to fret over a missed bob – next pick is in! Mike is taking #8 WICKED WITCH in Race 3 at Tampa Bay Downs.

10:46 AMWoof, that one hurt. Really needed the photo to go in Mike’s favor. However – if this was Day 1 or Day 2 of the NHC, then Mike’s luck would’ve put the #2 fourth. This is a vast improvement. Taking the leaderboard help ($5.40 to place) and moving on.

10:35 AMNext pick is in! Race 3 at Gulfstream Park, Mike’s rolling with #2 AFRICAN HERITAGE, currently trading at double-digit odds. Tremendous value if you already liked him at 6/1.

10:17 AMMike wanted to play #6 in R2 at Tampa Bay Downs, but not at anything under 12/1. With 0 MTP, the horse is 7/1. Mike says double-digit runners or GTFO today!

10:03 AM – Just an FYI, I’m not going to be tipping Mike’s picks today until the horses are entering the gates. Don’t want any of the competitors finding out what he’s doing, on the off chance any of them are following along here.

8:15 AM – Good morning from Day 3 of NHC at Bally’s Las Vegas! The semi-finals round is all optional races. The 71 entries (three tied at 69th place) must pick any 10 of the following 28 races:

  • Aqueduct: Races 1-5
  • Fair Grounds: Races 1-4
  • Gulfstream Park: Races 1-6
  • Laurel Park: Races 1-6
  • Oaklawn Park: Races 1-2
  • Tampa Bay Downs: Races 1-5

Once those races all end, the top 10 bankrolls move to the Final Table, where it’s all mandatory plays:

  • Gulfstream Park: Race 9
  • Aqueduct: Race 9
  • Tampa Bay Downs: Race 10
  • Oaklawn Park: Races 8-9
  • Golden Gate Fields: Race 7
  • Santa Anita Park: Race 8*
    • If this race is taken off of the turf, then the NTRA has announced that it will be replaced by Race 8 at Golden Gate Fields

As a reminder, these are not necessarily plays that Mike would normally make on a regular day. Because he’s still $30 outside of the top 10, he’s going to have to continue taking swings (like the 40/1 bomb that he hit at Golden Gate Fields on Day 2). Please keep that in mind and take caution trailing his selections at the window.

Mike and I want to thank everyone for following along through the first two days. It’s going to be fast and furious during the semi-finals, so I may not be able to update as often as I have. Win or lose, this has been fun and we can’t wait to see how Day 3 plays out.

In the words of the great Eurico Da Silva: “Good luck, everybody!”

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Saturday, February 8

7:55 PM – An evil Internet gremlin ate my last few updates. Anyway, here’s the moment that Mike found out how he finished Day 2…

Mike is officially qualified for the semi-finals on Sunday! What does this mean? Well, first, it means that he’s guaranteed a prize of at minimum $10,000. He’s only $30 (or one Somobomb) outside of the top 10 finishers. Once the semi-finals’ mandatory races are finished, then the top 10 entries (from 69) are sent to the Final Table, where they will play for a top prize of $800,000.

This is officially nuts. About eight months ago, Mike made the goal of qualifying for the NHC. He accomplished that in his first year. Then he hit a 40/1 longshot late in Day 2 that vaulted him from the 300s into the semi-finals. Some would say he’s playing with house money; Mike wants the real money.

We’re off to study up for Day 3 of NHC. Good luck to the other 68 entries! You’re going to need it.

4:53 PM – One race down, one race to go. Race 9 at Golden Gate Fields finishes with a 2/1 over a 3/1. Waiting on the updated leaderboard, but Mike should still be safely within the top 69 here. It’s going to be close and come down right to the wire, but there’s still a chance.

4:42 PM – Two races remain for the day. Both are at Golden Gate Fields. Mike is currently 65th, which means (along with being a qualifier for the semi-finals) he gets paid a minimum of $10k at the end of the weekend.

Magic Mike Army, pray for chalk over chalk to fill the exactas in the final two races!

4:23 PM – So you’re saying there’s a chance! #9 MEET MISS KITTY closes from out of the clouds to win at 40/1. We won’t know for a bit if it was enough to put Mike into the final cut (top 69; 10% of the 692 entries), but what an exciting finish to an otherwise rough day.

Start cold, finish hot (at Golden Gate Fields). That’s the Mike Somich way this weekend, it seems.

4:19 PMRace 8 at Golden Gate Fields is the final mandatory play of Day 2 at NHC. Mike’s swinging for the fences with #9 MEET MISS KITTY, as he needs a big bomb horse (20/1 odds or greater) to win in order to make the semi-finals cut for Day 3. If this horse doesn’t win, then he’s entered into Sunday’s consolation tournament.

3:40 PM – There’s a nice bomb! Mike played #8 CAMINO DEL PARAISO in Race 7 at Santa Anita Park, a 50/1 bet that paid $33.80 to place. The NHC cap is $40 to win and $20 to place, but even with the reduction, that helps Mike. Waiting on the updated leaderboard to see where he stands after this.

3:29 PM – Second-to-last mandatory play for Day 2 at NHC is Race 7 at Santa Anita Park. Mike’s only chance, as I said earlier, is hitting with a massive longshot, so he’s playing #8 CAMINO DEL PARAISO. I’m not suggesting that this is a strongly-recommended play; it’s just his only option at this point.

2:51 PMMike’s trying to get back into this yet! Optional play at Oaklawn Park, Race 8 #6 Home Run Maker. Wing & a prayer time!

2:31 PM – Mike’s only hope of making the cut to Sunday is to get absolute bombs home in every remaining race (two mandatory, two optional). If you played Goldeneye as a kid, this is the equivalent of “spray-and-pray” combat.

2:16 PM – After a very lengthy discussion, the stewards opted to keep the order as-is for Race 10 at Tampa Bay Downs. The room definitely exploded, as I wanted, but with happiness. Winner pays the maximum $40 to win, along with $16 to place.

2:10 PM – We could see some angry, angry participants depending on what happens with the Inquiry & Objection here in Race 10 at Tampa Bay Downs. The 21/1 winner #3 ADMIRALTY PIER crossed first, but third-place #1 MARCH TO THE ARCH has objected against a pinch at the top of the stretch.

If the winner is taken down to third, that would make #2 DEVAMANI win at 5/1, with March to the Arch second at 5/2. Value would be completely gone, and with it, several entries’ hopes of blasting up the NHC leaderboard.

What do I think? I think I want to see this room explode. As Sir Michael Caine once said, “Some people just want to see the world burn.”

2:02 PMNext mandatory race for the NHC is coming in Race 10 at Tampa Bay Downs. Mike’s pick is #6 HALLADAY.

1:59 PM – Finally got Mike some go-go juice in the form of Bulleit bourbon. Time to turn things around!

1:50 PM – We had a baaaaaaaaad feeling the moment #2 QUETTA’S IN CHARGE didn’t get the lead into the clubhouse turn. Not exactly the kind of break/early position that you want to see from a sprinter stretching out to two turns.

He actually ran okay in the stretch, and credit to jockey William Antongeorgii for not giving up, but he just didn’t run well enough to get better than fourth.

1:41 PM – Mike’s making his next optional play his first of the day at Golden Gate Fields, where he was red-hot to end Day 1 and put himself on the Top 100 leaderboard. His pick (and also my strongest opinion in this race, regardless of odds) is #2 QUETTA’S IN CHARGE. Mike needs him to win at every penny of that 12/1 price.

1:37 PM – Huge sigh of relief from Mike just now as he finally gets another horse home. #8 TURTLE TRAX scrapped up late to take second and pay $10 to show.

No one was catching the winner in Race 9 at Tampa Bay Downs just now, who ran just 2/5 of a second off of the stakes record.

1:31 PMNext NHC mandatory race is coming soon: Race 9 at Tampa Bay Downs. Mike’s firing on the #8 TURTLE TRAX.

1:27 PM – Yet again, Mike handicapped the race correctly, expecting the pace to fall apart. He just didn’t have the right horse coming through to clean up the mess.

1:24 PMNext optional play: Mike is firing on #7 POLAR BEAR PETE at Aqueduct, Race 8.

1:22 PM – Neither #2 DEVIL’S HALO nor Mike’s second choice, #4 HE WILL, ran a step when it mattered.

1:18 PMNext mandatory play for NHC is coming up soon: Race 5 at Oaklawn Park. Mike’s pick is looking like #2 DEVIL’S HALO, currently presenting nice value at 16/1. A true rarity for a Karl Broberg trainee; let’s see what happens!

1:06 PM – Jockey Ruben Fuentes had #6 COLOMBIAN GOLD in just the right spot through the far turn, but she didn’t have enough to stay on.

Have I said yet this weekend that Mike’s theme is good capping but unfortunate results?

1:00 PMLast-second optional play for Mike coming in R2 at Santa Anita Park. #6 COLOMBIAN GOLD.

12:27 PM – Mike picked #2 SUDDEN SURPRISE in Race 6 at Aqueduct. Had an easy lead but couldn’t hold off the late-running #8 THESIS for second. The theme continues.

12:18 PM – Next mandatory race for NHC is coming soon: Aqueduct Race 6. Mike is close to finalizing his selection in a scratch-shortened 7-horse field, but it’s hard finding any value. For tournament purposes, he has to decide between #2 SUDDEN SURPRISE, #3 BLUE BELT, & #9 MO DIDDLEY.

11:54 AM – Right race to fade the favorite, but wrong horse chosen. #6 BLONDE MOMENT never really picked up her feet. #2 SURPRISE AGAIN made a huge move to win going away late.

11:44 AM – Next optional pick is made. Mike took #6 BLONDE MOMENT in Race 6 at Tampa Bay Downs.

11:38 AM – Mike’s pick looked like she could’ve made a run in the stretch, but the second she took some kickback, #8 LUCINDANSHADY faded hard. Mike feels that he still capped it well enough, but the kickback really did in the first-time starter.

11:28 AM – Next optional pick is made. Mike took #8 LUCINDANSHADY in Race 2 at Oaklawn Park.

11:18 AMThe lone speed angle almost held on at a major price, but that final 1/16 of a mile hit #8 TOLERANT right square between the eyes. Still, at least Mike got some leaderboard help. 15/1 1st over 11/1 in 2nd returns $14.40 for place.

Congrats to any NHC players who had #11 GOLDEN TAPIT there!

11:04 AM – Next mandatory pick is Race 5 at Gulfstream Park. Mike’s pick is #8 TOLERANT.

10:54 AM – Tyler Gaffalione tried every step to get him interested, but it took way too long for #4 WIND RIDGE to begin running.

10:52 AMStep away for one minute to get a coffee refill and Mike makes another play! R4 at Tampa Bay Downs, Mike’s pick is #4 WIND RIDGE.

10:45 AM – #7 MALIBU MUSIC showed some interest, but he wasn’t fast enough to catch #2 SOLAR. Fourth won’t pad the leaderboard at all, but Mike is at least content knowing that he correctly faded the two big favorites, who finished well behind Mike’s pick.

10:38 AM – First mandatory race of the day is Race 4 at Gulfstream Park. Mike’s pick is #7 MALIBU MUSIC on the class drop. 

10:15 AM – While #10 KASHAN broke much better and didn’t quit when headed, the winner was simply much the best. Nearly held onto second before losing it late. Good tournament handicapping, just didn’t get the result.

10:10 AMSecond pick of the day is another optional. R3 at Gulfstream Park, Mike’s picking #10 KASHAN. Likely because it’s an 11-horse field, there were a lot more people playing this optional race than you saw yesterday. Much more like a mandatory race in terms of the betting window lines.

9:48 AM – Well, #9 STATED was well-positioned early, but she faded when the real running began. Mike felt that the 15/1 final price seemed like too much value to pass up.

9:30 AM – Potential first play of the day is coming up, pending how #9 STATED holds her price in Race 2 at Gulfstream Park. Currently 20/1 on the board. 

8:00 AM – Good morning from Day 2 of the NHC! Now that he has a full day under his belt, Mike feels confident that he will do better today. With a little better racing luck yesterday, Mike would be much higher on the leaderboard.

In the past three years, the average two-day total needed to make the Final Table (the top 10% of all entries) was $181 and change. Mike’s goal coming into the tournament was to make $100 each day, so hitting that would put him at $182.40. Mike thinks that it will take less than $181 to qualify this year because Friday’s early races were heavily chalk.

Good luck to everyone playing today! Let us know on Twitter if you’re following along. 

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Friday, February 7

5:20 PM – After a celebratory drink in the lobby bar with Mrs. Somich, we’re heading back to record the podcast. Mike ends Day 1 on the board thanks to several key late plays at Golden Gate Fields. Thanks to everyone who followed along today! We’re already studying hard to find some big-price winners tomorrow!

4:21 PMWow, he ran huge! Couldn’t have asked for a better ride or effort from #4 IRREFUTABLE and jockey Francisco Duran. Close second to an even-money favorite who I’d heard earlier was supposed to be loaded? We’ll take that. His $7.40 place payout definitely helps Mike climb the leaderboard.

4:13 PM – Final mandatory play (I mean it this time) for Day 1 at NHC comes at Golden Gate Fields in Race 8. Since Mike needs to price hunt, he’s picking #4 IRREFUTABLE. No other horse in the field is nearly as fast as he is – just have to hope he can hold on late!

4:06 PM – Decent fourth from #8 OLIVE YOU MORE won’t pad Mike’s leaderboard, but under the circumstances (needing a price, fading the heavy favorite), we agree that the 8 was a good bet.

3:59 PM – Second-to-last mandatory play is Race 7 at Santa Anita Park. Mike’s rolling with #8 OLIVE YOU MORE.

3:52 PM – What a finish in Race 7 at Golden Gate Fields! Mike and I convinced the rest of our table to play #3 SMILING BANDIT and we were by far the loudest people in the room. This puts Mike officially into the black for the day, with $74 earned ($72 is the break-even point). Next play coming in the next-to-last mandatory race.

3:43 PM – Mike’s final optional play will be #3 SMILING BANDIT in Race 7 at Golden Gate Fields. This horse was my top pick when I capped, so let’s see if we can get a nice price home.

3:33 PM – Race 9 at Oaklawn Park, the pick is #7 PAST VISIONS.

3:24 PM – FINALLY!! Mike gets a juicy 10/1 price on #7 HARDY CHISEL at Golden Gate Fields in Race 6. Paying $23 to win and $9.60 to place bumps Mike up to $52 for the day. Still need to finish strong, but this was a huge help.

Check out video of the stretch call here: https://twitter.com/curtiskalleward/status/1225922822658088960

3:16 PM – If #7 HARDY CHISEL wins Race 6 at Golden Gate Fields, that would be a huge boon for our entire table.

2:51 PM – With half of the field in Race 5 at Santa Anita Park coming from trainer Doug O’Neill, Mike is playing the longest shot on the board. #6 BIG RETURNS with my boy Ruben Fuentes aboard.

The pressure is on to find a price winner: Mike has 4 open optional slots still to fill, but there are only 6 optional races left. Another player at our table has to fire at every single race.

2:48 PMPretty much firing at major swings here. #2 BUB in Race 5 at Golden Gate Fields is the play. Let’s see what happens!

2:45 PM – That was rough. #13 TRAPPEZOID got knocked sideways out of the gate, which didn’t do him any favors. He made a good effort in the stretch, but that doesn’t help Mike on the leaderboard.

On the positive side, Mike’s tendencies and strings of luck often dictate that a day of hard-luck efforts is followed by a hot one. Let’s hope that comes to fruition again this weekend.

2:35 PMFinal mandatory pick for Day 1 is Race 10 at Gulfstream Park. Mike is taking a big swing with #13 TRAPPEZOID, who drew in thanks to early scratches. Earlier efforts going 8 furlongs here were good, so with improvement, he has a shot.

2:30 PM – Getting hard to keep up here!

Next pick is in: Santa Anita Park Race 2, #2 Semi Sweet.

This was my top pick in the race, too. She’s 3-for-7 winning & 6-for-7 hitting the board at this mile distance. Plus she returns to a former trainer who is 29% with a positive ROI when routing, and jockey Eswan Flores is a better rider than his record reflects.

1:33 PM – Next mandatory pick is in: Oaklawn Park Race 5, #5 SANDBAGGER AL.

1:30 PM – Just realized my tweets aren’t posting for some reason. Wonder if I’m in Twitter jail? Anyone know?

1:25 PM – Next pick is in: Fair Grounds, Race 7, #6 YES GORGEOUS.

1:00 PM – Didn’t have time to post about Mike taking #6 SQUALOTORO in Race 1 at Santa Anita Park. This was my top pick, but he was a bit too far back too early and the winner was running away with it regardless. Ran out of time to get second. It was the right pick for the price (7/1); just didn’t work out. He lives to fight another day (Oaklawn Park Race 5, to be exact).

12:45 PM – Picks are coming in faster now that we’ve had lunch. Race 1 at Golden Gate Fields, Mike’s picking #4 KITTEN’S ROYAL, the rare Jonathan Wong trainee giving value.

12:40 PM – Finally on the board! #8 ENDER came flying late and would’ve gotten the W had there been 20 more yards or he started his last-to-first move just a few seconds earlier. Still, $7.60 to place gets Mike on the board.

12:30 PM – Mandatory pick #1 is in! For Oaklawn Park Race 3, Mike’s pick is………..

#8 ENDER!

12:10 PM – Tough luck seeing Bomoseen take a bad step in the far turn. Nice to see that he didn’t seem to hurt himself and did finish the race, but waaaaaaaay behind.

12:05 PM – The next pick is in! Mike is playing #6 BOMOSEEN in Gulfstream Park Race 5.

11:45 AM – While we wait for Mike’s next play selection, a few people have asked to give an overview of the rules for NHC. Each entry plays 18 races each day: 8 are mandatory for all entries to play, while the other 10 can be made on any other race from any participating track (Aqueduct, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita Park, and Tampa Bay Downs). Make a mythical $2 Win/Place bet on one horse in that race (multiple horses per race not allowed) and pray for the best price possible.

Now, today is unique in that Aqueduct canceled the card before it began, and Laurel Park canceled after Race 4. None of the mandatory races were at Laurel Park, but Aqueduct had one. With the cancellation, the mandatory race turned into an optional choice to be made anywhere else. Luckily for Mike, he wasn’t in love with anything at Laurel Park or Aqueduct.

11:20 AM – Well, that didn’t go well at all. Mike liked #4 PACT because of her price + adding blinkers + a strong local jockey aboard, and Mike was willing to forgive her poor start in her career debut. She broke just as poorly today, ran wide through the clubhouse turn and down the backside, then quit going into the second turn. Ah, well. 

11:15 AM – The first play is finally in! Tampa Bay Downs Race 4, Mike took #4 PACT. Let’s see how it goes!

10:30 AM – No plays from Mike yet; his past life as a professional poker player is on full display. His patience and calm demeanor are borderline freaking me out. Of the possible races to play so far today (just Laurel Park and Tampa Bay Downs), it’s been quite chalky, save for one race.

Normally, Mike would hate seeing all chalk, but the mentality of an NHC competitor changes that. If you didn’t play a race that comes up chalk, that’s exactly what you want to see! It means that any competitors who did play it either a) got a low return for the Win/Place bet, or b) didn’t get any payout because they played a longer shot.

7:55 AM – Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds are both off the turf. This ruined Mike’s plan of playing a nice price in Race 2 at Gulfstream Park, where Races 9 and 10 (both mandatory) were both originally scheduled for the main track. At least every NHC player won’t be too affected there? Fair Grounds doesn’t have any mandatory races today, but again, Mike’s plan of playing a price somewhere is now kaput.

7:00 AM – Good morning from the Bally’s Las Vegas Events Center! Room is probably 25% full right now, but the first mandatory race isn’t for a few hours, so expect more players to trickle in as the morning progresses. Mike has a very intricate spreadsheet going tracking his plays. He says that he learned a lot from yesterday’s Last Chance/First Chance Contest and feels more confident going into Day 1 of the NHC. Mike’s goal is to earn $100 each day in order to qualify for the Final Table on Sunday.

More later – the breakfast buffet lines just opened.

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Thursday, February 6

3:00 PM – Mike is spending the day playing in the optional Last Chance/First Chance Contest as a warm-up for the three-day weekend. When I asked him how it was going, he said, “Horses are getting in trouble today so not much luck. Hopefully, Day 1 (Friday) goes better than today!”

Anyone who’s followed Mike’s Somobombs will tell you, his play style results in highly volatile betting performances. Let’s hope that he’s just getting all of the bad juju out today!

Mike opened at 140/1 odds to win the NHC. Of the 550+ participants, the shortest odds are 60/1, so everyone’s got a chance!

I get into town later tonight, so my live onsite coverage will begin at breakfast on Friday. Get some sleep, #BombSquad, and let’s start tomorrow on a high note!

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About the NHC

The NHC is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino race books, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping websites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. There are no bye-ins to the NHC. Each year, the NHC winner joins other human and equine champions as an honoree at the Eclipse Awards. For more information on the NHC, visit NTRA.com/nhc.