Friday marks the crystal anniversary of the National Handicapping Championship as approximately 500 of North America’s sharpest handicappers invade Las Vegas, NV for the 15th time in attempt to take home the $750,000 lion’s share of the $1.5 million prize pool in the NTRA's National Handicapping Championship.
Unable to buy their way into the tournament, players had to qualify at tracks across North America and through online contests. This year marks the first time the championship will be contested over 3 days, rather than previous 2 day format. Additional changes have been made to ratchet up excitement for this weekend’s festivities.
First, players were allowed two entries. 78 entrants were fortunate enough to qualify twice, led by 2013 champion Jim Benes. Next, similar to professional golf, the NHC will implement a cut after day 2. Only the top 50 after Saturday’s play will be able to win the top prize Sunday, while the rest will compete again each other in a consolation tournament. If a player has 2 entries in the top 50 they will only receive 1 spot in the final on Sunday. Finally, the final 50 will be whittled down to 10, similar to big poker tournaments. The final table of 10 will play 5 designated races, and whoever accumulates this largest bankroll (based on a mythical $2 win/place bet on 1 horse in each race) will be champion.
In addition to the notoriety and $750,000, the winner will receive a ring (similar to a World Series of Poker bracelet), an Eclipse Award as the nation’s top handicapper and a birth into next year’s NHC.
Many familiar faces highlight this year’s field. In addition to Benes, 6 other past champions are here John Doyle (2011), Richard Goodall (2008), Stanley Bavlish (2007), Ron Rippey (2006), James Michelson Jr. (2005) and Judy Wagner (2001). Esquire Network’s new reality show on the sport of kings, Horseplayers, chronicles some of this weekend’s participants (Lee Davis, Christian Hellmers, Kevin Cox), and some still struggling to get into the field, such as 2012 NHC champ Michael Beychok.
Horse Racing Nation’s sister site, Derby Wars, accounted for sending 7 players to the NHC: Scott Pulcini, Mark Hackworth, Thomas Labordo, Darwin Labordo, Ryan Roberts, Mike Ferrozzo and Brent Sumja. In fact, it was Sumja’s win in a DerbyWars NHC qualifier that propelled him to the lead of the NHC Tour and a $75,000 prize as tour champion. If Sumja is able to pull off the NHC Tour/Championship double, he will receive a $2 million bonus.
Horse Racing Nation/Derby Wars parent company, Immerse LLC, is sending a strong contingent to Las Vegas as well. Co-founders and managing partners, Mark Midland and Mike Shutty both qualified earlier in the year. DerbyWars spokesman and partner, John Doyle (2011) is trying to become the first multiple winner of the event. Tounament veteran and DerbyWars partner and advisor, Dave Gutfreund will be making his 10th trip to the NHC. Mark’s brother and Bombs Away blogger, Mike Midland has 2 entries into the NHC.
Good luck and safe travels to all of the participants and I look forward to competing against everyone in 2015!