A field of 465 horseplayers will head to Las Vegas this weekend for the two-day $1.5 million Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Presented by Treasure Island and Sovereign Stable.
The handicapping championship offers a first prize of $750,000, and one horseplayer has a chance of walking away with a $2.75 million check.
Mark Streiff of Mission Viejo, Calif., was the winner of the year-long Daily Racing Form NHC Tour in 2012, winning a total of $102,500 and topping the standings for this year’s NHC qualifying events.
If Streiff wins this weekend, he will earn a $2-million bonus for the being the tour leader and winning the final championship event.
The NHC has come a long way. The first contest was held in 2000, with the winner receiving $100,000 out of the total prize money of $192,000.
Streiff earned NHC Tour points in 15 different qualifying tournaments during 2012, including live events at Surfside Race Place, Emerald Downs and Turfway Park. The NHC Tour features competition at local racetracks, casino racebooks, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping Web sites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the NHC.
More than 4,500 horseplayers signed up for the tournaments, some of which are free enter. The NTRA NHC Tour page has information on how to sign up and compete.
For those who did not succeed, a “last chance” tournament will be held at Treasure Island on Jan. 24 in order to fill the remaining five starting berths in the field of 465.
Last year Michael Beychok of Baton Rouge, La., took home the $1 million first-place prize and title of Handicapper of the Year at the 13th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship.
Beychok is a political consultant who was first introduced to a day at the racetrack at Fair Grounds by his long-time friend, political strategist and commentator James Carville.
Beychok won last year’s championship by just $1 over runner-up Dave Flanzbaum after correctly selecting Glorious Dancer ($8.20 to win, $3.80 to place) at a race at Golden Gate Fields that served as the final race of the competition.
Talk about loyalty, Glorious Dancer was later purchased by Beychok at the claim box for $6,250 at Golden Gate Fields and finished in the money in three starts for the new owner including one victory. The mare has not raced since last June, and is currently on vacation in Beychok’s home state of Louisiana.
During the championship event, horseplayers make 30 mythical $2 to win and place over the two days of competition. Eight of the races are mandatory, and horseplayers can choose the remaining races. Horseplayers can choose those races among seven contest tracks: Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita Park and Tampa Bay Downs.
New for 2013 is the introduction of the “Best Bet” wager whereby a player will be able to designate one of his eight mandatory race plays each day as a best bet. That best bet will count as a $4 win and $4 place wager, instead of $2 win and $2 place.
Not just the winner will have a good weekend. The top 40 horseplayers in the championship will cash a check. Second place is worth $200,000, third $100,000, fourth $75,000, and fifth place is worth $50,000.
The NHC brings together horseplayers from all walks of life, and this year’s championship features eight former winners. No horseplayer has won the NHC twice.
Kent Meyer was the closest to achieving back-to-back wins, taking the title in 2004 and checking in 11th in 2005.
This year’s contestants are perhaps the most diverse group ever assembled and vary in age from 23-year-old Matthew Bernier of West Springfield, Mass., to 76-year-old Dick Mueller of White Bear Lake, Minn.
When not signing Kobe’s Bryant’s paychecks, the CEO of the Los Angeles Lakers Frank Mariani likes to play the ponies and will be competing in this year’s NHC.
Dick Harris, a top defensive back for the San Diego Chargers in the 1960s during the heyday of the American Football League now spends some of his free time playing the ponies and will be looking to be crowned the next “Handicapper of the Year.”
It seems every walk of life is represented at the NHC this year. Robert Schintzius owns Jerktown USA, a beef jerky company. Christian Hellmers, who goes by the nickname “Planet,” is a wellness coach. One of his specialties is giving dating advice. Don Allen is a logger.
Tim Herboth is a retired nuclear power plant designer. Patrick Gianforte owns a utility company called Pic Six LLC. Les Harris is a pilot. Cara Yarusso is a chemical engineer for General Mills. Jim Covello is a Wall Street analyst specializing in the semiconductor industry. Craig Kaufman is the poker tournament director at Hustler Casino in California.
The ladies will be well represented this year, with 38 expected to compete, including Judy Wagner, who won the NHC in 2001, taking down the $100,000 first prize. Wagner will be competing for the 10th time, seven in a row.
Sally Wang Goodall will be competing for the 11th time, while her husband Richard Goodall will be making his 10th appearance.
Some of this year’s competitors make their living in the horse racing industry. Corey Johnsen is the president of Kentucky Downs. Bill Downes is the track announcer at Beulah Park. Howard Hong is the television commentator at Turf Paradise, and his wife Jacque is clerk of the course there.
The Daily Racing Form will have live coverage of the NHC starting on Friday.
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