Tom Proctor’s career year helped give Leigh Vanwinkle a career score, as the 55-year-old physical education teacher used the trainer’s stakes-winning pair at Del Mar to win the TwinSpires.com Online Handicapping Series Championship on November 28.
Proctor’s trainees sport a flat-bet profit this year, and Vanwinkle used his confidence in the Maryland-based trainer’s ability to spot his horses even across the country to back both Family Meeting and Chiropractor in the TSOHS Championship.
Family Meeting won the Jimmy Durante and Chiropractor the Hollywood Derby on November 28 at Del Mar to give Vanwinkle 112.80 of his 148.40 points from 15 races. The 55-year-old physical education teacher picked two other winners and an addition two runners up.
“My approach is to mix it up,” Vanwinkle said. “If I feel like the favorite can’t be beat I’ll use him, but I’m first looking for prices. I have a lot of respect for Proctor; he’s a great horseman who wouldn’t have shipped without a chance, so his confidence gave me confidence. I was definitely screaming when Chiropractor got up to win.”
Proctor ranks 30th by earnings this year and is about $200,000 off his lifetime-best single-season earnings mark. He is a top-ten trainer by earnings on turf, but he actually has a better win percentage and ROI with his dirt runners.
As for Vanwinkle, his TSOHS Championship win earned him $10,000 plus a second entry into the National Handicapping Championship January 28-30 at Treasure Island in Las Vegas.
“Getting another entry into the NHC was a major goal, and I really love the way TwinSpires runs its contests in November with the satellites into the big one,” Vanwinkle said. “I [have two NHC entries] now, and have my vacation days saved up for the last week of January.”
Vanwinkle outlasted 415 other players and 543 entries to top the TSOHS Championship leaderboard. He is one of 20 NHC entries representing TwinSpires.com, which is also sending another 30 players to the Horse Player World Series March 31-April 2 at the Orleans in Las Vegas.
“We’re delighted to give players like Leigh the best opportunity to qualify for the NHC and Horse Player World Series of the year,” said Lucky Kalanges, Twinspires’ director of marketing and tournaments. “With 50 Vegas seats awarded among 544 entries, that’s close to a 10% chance of winning a seat, and the support we’ve received from tournament players over the past five years has been tremendous.”
Vanwinkle got into racing going to the track with his father and brother, who is a trainer in the Midwest. Together they bred and raced stakes winner Letthebigredroll and have owned other horses through the years.
Vanwinkle’s only NHC experience to date was a 27th-place finish in 2008. In dedicating himself to returning to The Big Dance, the teacher said that Peter Thomas Fornatale’s tome The Winning Contest Player: inside the minds of the world’s greatest horseplayers was invaluable in helping him improve his contest game. Now his focus shifts to preparing for this year’s contest specifically.
“The big thing for me will be to watch the NHC tracks and get to know the horses, horsemen, and bias at each of those tracks,” Vanwinkle said. “The trends will be important info for me to gather to help give me the best chance to win.”