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!

Strategies for Betting in Tournaments

Betting Parlour
Betting Parlour (Photos by Z/TwinSpires.com)

What to think about in horse racing tournament betting strategy

Despite the dire statistics about the overall horse racing handle’s steady decline, horse racing tournament participation has grown steadily, especially the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) held each January in Las Vegas. While there are a number of variants on tournament play, most involve a one-time buy-in followed by regulated, simulated bets on a number of races.

Strategy varies based on the type of tournament you play, including online qualifiers. While the basic principle of selecting contenders and then deciding among those contenders who to bet is a preferred pattern, a tournament player must be able to look ahead. You don’t want to be making selections as you go because you need to be setting up the endgame even in the very beginning.

There are certain races within the sequence of races that you’re playing that are key. You should try to identify a few races where the favorite is real vulnerable. Your tournament results will often hinge on a couple of your longer-priced plays, and identifying vulnerable favorites in a race increases your chances to have you’re longer-priced horse win or place to award you points and money.

In nearly every race there will be one or more horses that are dropping from a higher Class race or moving up from a lower Class race. Many of the long shot winners in a contest are horses moving up or down in Class. The biggest drop in Class is often from Maiden Special Weight to Maiden Claiming, but understanding the true difference in class and being able to identify horses that are ready to run better or against a weaker group will allow you to select more long shots and higher-priced horses for a bigger payoff.

You may be able to pad your score with some favorites in selected races, and if the favorite looks like the most likely winner and you cannot find a suitable alternative, then pick the favorite. It’s better to collect $10 (win plus place) on a 7-5 favorite then to get nothing. However, you’ll ultimately need to identify some long shots that can win or place to improve your standing in a tournament. A tournament has a finite ending point, and so being aggressive while identifying value with longer-priced horses against false favorites that are more vulnerable will reward you in tournament play.

TwinSpires.com is a common stop for tournament players and their Kentucky Derby Betting Championship is a must.

by Fairway Jay

The Super Bowl of Horse Betting is the NHC

The National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) precedes the Kentucky Derby Betting Championship (KDBC) and is the Biggest Betting Event of the Year.

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.

by FairwayJay