Scott Ksionzyk wins NHC Qualifier

Scott Ksionzyk made his drive down from London, Ontario Canada worth the trip, winning the second annual National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Qualifier at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino Saturday, Aug. 19. Ksionzyk bested a field of 103 entries to earn the top spot with a final tally of $133.90, just 40 cents more than second place finisher, Kelly Smith-Lawless of Saratoga, N.Y. In a dramatic finish, Frank Sorenson scored a win in the final contest race, selecting the winner at Del Mar in Race 10 to move into third place with a final tally of $117.20 over Eric Isaacson of Indianapolis, Ind., who completed the contest with a tally of $115.80. The top three finishers advance to the $2.8 million NHC final slated for Feb. 9 – 11, 2018 at Treasure Island in Las Vegas.

The top three players in the NHC Qualifier Saturday, Aug. 19 will advance to the NHC Final in Las Vegas in February 2018. From left, Frank Sorenson (third place), Scott Ksionzyk (first place) and Kelly Smith-Lawless (second place) bested a field of 103 entries to move onto the final.

The contest was based on 12 races out of 22 options over three tracks. Races were included from Saratoga, Del Mar and Indiana Grand with five of the contest races mandatory from Indiana Grand. The first contest race of the day was the seventh race from Saratoga with a $44.20 winner. That race placed six people in the immediate lead, including Ksionzyk.

“I ended up hitting three races at Saratoga that really got me off to a good start,” said Ksionzyk. “Then, I was able to hit Race 8 at Indiana Grand (Elegant Model, $15.20), which kept me in the lead.”

Ksionzyk will be making his first trip to Las Vegas for the NHC Final. He’s played in a few contests before, but this is really his first “road trip” to try to qualify for the rich final.

“I’ve played in a couple of live contests at Woodbine before, but this is the first contest that I’ve played in away from home,” said Ksionzyk. “This contest fit my schedule and I liked the format. Plus, I’d never been to this track (Indiana Grand) before, so I wanted to come down.”

Sitting close on Ksionzyk’s heels the entire night was Smith-Lawless. She also benefitted from a good start picking the longshot at Saratoga and continued to keep her tally near the top through the end of the contest. She has her own system that proved to be a key factor in her play during the contest.

“I play in a fair amount of contests, both in person and online,” said Smith-Lawless. “I use my own sheet and calculate my own picks, which is a little different than most players. I prefer this format. We drove in the night before. I had never been to Indiana before so this is my first trip in this state. We had a fabulous time and the quality of the facility, the food and the service was exceptional.”

Third place finisher Sorenson also came to the Midwest from Bronx, N.Y. with friends to play in the contest. The group was headed to play in Ellis Park’s NHC Qualifier the very next day, Sunday, Aug. 20.

“I was $40 out with two races left,” said Sorenson, who has been a captain with the Bronx NYPD for 35 years. “The eighth race at Indiana Grand is what helped move me up. Then, I hit the last at Del Mar, which paid $15.20, to get me into third place.”

Ksionzyk, Smith-Lawless and Sorenson will all meet again in February for the NHC final. Each of the players received trophies for their win along with airfare, hotel stay and entry fees into the final.

The 2017 NHC Qualifier at Indiana Grand grew in numbers over the inaugural event in 2016. A total of 95 entries were taken last season compared to 103 this season. The contest is capped at 125 entries