John  O’Neil

John O’Neil

John O’Neil, a small-business owner from Huntington Station, N.Y., became the 16th winner of the National Handicapping Championship on Sunday night at Treasure Island in Las Vegas. He got a check for $800,000 for his efforts. O’Neil is a handicapping contest veteran. He has won numerous smaller tournaments back East, including three in a row at one point at Suffolk OTB and two at the Meadowlands. This was the fifth time he’d qualified for the NHC – his best previous finish was in 2011 when he ended up 16th. “That was the beginning of my learning experience,” the 74-year old O’Neil said. “One year I finished with zero. The first track O’Neil ever went to was the long-defunct Jamaica Race Course in Queens in the 1950s. “It was a time where there were no OTBs,” he said. “You either had to go to the track or bet with a bookmaker. We went one day, and I got interested in racing. The information was hard to come by. ”Information is the key to O’Neil’s approach to handicapping these days. “I can’t do what I used to do, which is to look at every race, every horse, by hand,” O’Neil said. “Software helps to save time. I use it to crunch the speed numbers.” Like all the best handicappers, O’Neil is looking for horses that won’t be obvious to everyone. “I look for angles that will bring a horse up to a race,” he said. “Preferably with a bad-looking race or races in his past performances but with a real good shot today. ” With the help of the computer, O’Neil is able to cover a lot more ground than he used to. “Some guys look at two or three tracks because that’s what works for them,” he said. “I like to peruse everything. These bombs can come out of any track, any distance, any surface. I try to keep an open mind and follow my instincts."