National Handicapping Championship Kicks Off Friday; 675 Entered & $2.9 Mil. Purse

By Jim Mulvihill/Brisnet Betting Guide

More than 550 swashbuckling handicappers will scour their past performances for riches rumored to be worth $2.9 million at the 2019 National Horseplayers Championship, kicking off Friday at Treasure Island Las Vegas. More than 100 players qualified twice, the maximum allowed, so the winner of the $800,000 grand prize will have to assemble the best of about 700 entries.

MULVIHILL: NHC Q&A with Steven Shaffer

The 20th NHC – organized by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and presented by Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens, and Treasure Island (“TI” as the locals call it) – also determines who will earn a 2019 Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year.

There are no buy-ins at the three-day NHC. Every player earned their way in through the scores of handicapping contests hosted at racetracks, OTBs or online that make up the “NHC Tour.”

There are no buy-ins at the three-day NHC. Every player earned their way in through the scores of handicapping contests hosted at racetracks, OTBs or online that make up the “NHC Tour.”

There have been no repeat winners of the NHC

There have been no repeat winners of the NHC, yet time has proven that the cream does rise to the top at the most prestigious contests. Recent winners have been veteran contest players who either bet on horses professionally or have made handicapping their life’s pursuit. Among those returning this year are Chris Littlemore (2018), Ray Arsenault (2017), Paul Matties Jr. (2016), and Jim Benes (2013). 

JAY: The Super Bowl of Horse Betting is the NHC

Several entrants will play for six-figure bonuses they became eligible for by winning other prestigious qualifying contests, including a $3 million bonus for Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge winner Chuck Grubbs. All Grubbs has to do is wheel back to win the world’s most prestigious “mythical bankroll” handicapping contest three months after winning the biggest “live bankroll” contest.

The 2018 NHC Tour winner Dave Gutfreund is eligible for a $1 million bonus.

The 2018 NHC Tour winner Dave Gutfreund is eligible for a $1 million bonus. The longtime pro gambler known for many years as “The Maven” has been an outspoken critic of handicapping contests and only pursued the Tour after a series of on-track contest triumphs in the second half of the year unintentionally thrust him into contention.

“There are so many things that had to go right for me to win those tournaments,” Gutfreund said. “I was really taking it one tournament, one day at a time, focusing on what I could focus on in the moment as opposed to looking at it as a big picture.”

“I know how difficult it is to win,” he said of this weekend’s championship. “But I’ve had two top 10s, I’ve had four top 20s. It’s difficult but it’s not impossible. And I’d love to be back there on Day 3 just swinging for the fences and giving it a run.”

The NHC Field Format

The NHC field will be reduced to the top 10 percent of players after the first two days. The highest 10 cumulative scores after the Semifinal round will fill out the Final Table. Bankrolls amassed during Day 1, Day 2 and the Semifinal round will roll over to the Final Table, with the 10 finalists settling the NHC score in seven “mandatory” assigned races.

The tournament format for the NHC is meant to be the best possible test of overall handicapping ability. Players attempt to earn the highest possible bankroll based on mythical $2 Win-and-Place wagers in assigned “mandatory” races – eight per day on Day 1 and Day 2 and seven at the Final Table – as well as 30 optional races – 10 per day on Day 1 and Day 2 and 10 for the Semifinal Round – chosen by the player from eight eligible tracks. 

All players making the cut after Day 2 earn a check from the prize pool, while the rest compete in a separate Consolation tournament.

Between its prize money and an Eclipse Award, the NHC represents the pinnacle of achievement in the booming world of handicapping contests. The inaugural NHC in 2001 featured 203 players and a grand prize of $100,000 before industry-sanctioned online contests even existed. Now the serious players can compete in online contests nearly every day of the year and travel a circuit of big-money on-track contests tied to major racing events like the Pegasus, Kentucky Derby, and Breeders’ Cup, and the most popular meets like Del Mar, Saratoga, and Keeneland.

The NHC serves as a handle-boosting promotion for racetracks and ADWs and serves the industry by supporting the NTRA and its initiatives, including government lobbying and safety initiatives.

Find more information on track with the BRISnet Simulcast and Live Racing Betting Guides!

2017 Kentucky Derby Betting Championship Qualifier Mike Kappel Looks Forward to Competing

by Alastair Bull

Retired computer store operator Mike Kappel has been a horseplayer for 48 years, but nothing has matched the thrill of qualifying for the Kentucky Derby Betting Championship.

Kappel, 69, of Belleville, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, earned his spot after finishing second in a qualifying tournament Feb. 19.

His prize: a $12,000 prize package guaranteeing him entry to the second Kentucky Derby Betting Championship, which otherwise would have cost him $12,000 to enter, and a competition seat at Churchill Downs for the Oaks and Derby May 5-6 if he wishes (he also has the option of competing online via

Kappel began well the day he qualified for the KDBC, but fell back a little before changing his plan and placing a winning bet at Oaklawn Park. However, he fell back prior to the last race, a maiden claiming at Santa Anita Park, where he backed favorite Hook’ Em Kurt, who he decided was very likely to win.

“I saw I could not catch the competition leader, but I could make second depending on what the others above played, so I thought Hook ‘Em Kurt was my best chance to get second.

“Hook ‘Em Kurt won (rallying from well back to win by a nose), and I was thrilled.”

Kappel said he became interested in horse racing from the time his father took him to the track. He’s taken part in tournaments for 15 years, and said his biggest moment had been finishing first to qualify for the National Handicapping Championship at Kentucky Downs’ first all-turf contest – until now.

“My biggest win is the entry to the Kentucky Derby Betting Championship,” he said. “I look forward to competing.”

The Kentucky Derby Betting Championship runs on Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby day, May 5-6. Contestants put forward $12,000, of which $8,000 is their betting bankroll and $4,000 goes into the prize pool.

The prizemoney will depend on the number of entries. If there are 75 players entered, the winner receives $140,000, the runner-up $80,000, and the third-place finisher $30,000. All three, plus the fourth- and fifth-place finishers, also receive entry to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, which is worth $10,000.

All players get to keep their remaining bankroll at the end of the tournament.

(Coady Photography/Churchill Downs)