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The Road to the Kentucky Derby may be in full stride with 16 Derby prep races completed and the biggest races coming in March with the Championship Series. But this weekend in Las Vegas is the horse handicapper’s largest event of the year. THE “Super Bowl” of horse racing where horse players participate in the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Feb. 9-11, before taking on the Kentucky Derby Betting Championship in May.
The NHC is the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping tournament of the year for horseplayers. The event culminates following a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino race books, off-track betting facilities, and horse racing handicapping websites. Each of which sends top qualifiers to the national finals in Vegas. There are no “buy-in” entries at the NHC, but getting into the field through qualifying events is a big accomplishment.
Tournament play has been the fastest growing segment in the horse racing industry. The NHC was first held in 2000 at the MGM Grand and has been held in Las Vegas every year since. And big money is played for during the NHC at the Treasure Island (TI) Hotel in Casino on the Las Vegas strip. In 2016, the NHC purse was $2.77 million with a first place prize of $800,000 going to Paul Matties. In 2017, the 18th Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) boasted a record field of 654 entries who competed for the largest purse in horse handicapping tournament history – $2,900,600 in cash and awards. First place was again $800,000 and Canadian Roy Arsenault, a 64-year-old transportation broker, was the winner and awarded horse racing’s official title of “Horseplayer of the Year.”
I was on site at the 2017 NHC in Las Vegas, following and listening to the excitement as the ballrooms were buzzing. By Sunday, the field had been paired down to the top-10 percent of the field, and the top 66 players earned a minimum cash prize of $5,000 with 50 players earning $10,000 or more.
But in talking with horse players and other handicappers including Las Vegas-based Richard Eng, who writes and reports on horse racing for various publications and online outlets, it’s clear that tournament play is a skill set far different from playing the races daily. It requires a strategy in which the tote board is your friend. The higher the odds on a horse you like, the more likely you are to play it.
You can’t rely on $6 and $8 horses as you might in real life. You need $20 winners and up to compete with the best tournament players. Thus, playing it safe in a tournament is playing to lose. Even the best horse players and handicappers can struggle with that concept.
The 2018 NHC will be another superb success as the horse players watch their horses storm down the stretch on numerous TV’s and video screens at the Treasure Island.
“We are delighted to once again host many of the pre-eminent horseplayers, and coolest people, in the world,” said NTRA Chief Operating Officer and NHC Tournament Director Keith Chamblin. “It is only through the support of so many horseplayers and participating organizations that we are able to realize another record year of growth for the NHC – by far the single largest promotional program in Thoroughbred racing.”
A full scoreboard will be updated regularly at NTRA.com, where fans and players can also find each day’s contest race menu and news updates. Additional news and exclusive content will be shared on Twitter via the official NTRA account, @NTRA.
News updates also will be available throughout the contest on At the Races with Steve Byk, who will broadcast live on Sirius XM satellite radio from Treasure Island during the show’s regular hours, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. EST, beginning Friday morning.
Many of the NHC bettors will appear again during the biggest weekend in Thoroughbred Racing. The next tournament on player’s radars is the Kentucky Derby Betting Championship (KDBC) presented by TwinSpires, which encapsulates Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby days. With a real money handicapping contest that awards prizes, including the chance for seats at the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) in the fall, the opportunity to wager big on an already pool friendly card is enticing. Find more information on the TwinSpires Tournaments website.