11/19/2015 1:55PM

Fornatale: Clock ticking for NHC hopefuls


The clock is starting to tick for players looking to qualify for the 2016 National Handicapping Championship, where the winner will walk away with at least $800,000. The event will be held at Treasure Island in Las Vegas from Jan. 28-30.

The NHC is the world’s most prestigious handicapping contest. For one thing, it’s the richest, with a total purse exceeding $2.5 million. In addition to the prize money, the winner receives an Eclipse Award as Handicapper of the Year. The NHC is also unique in that it’s the only contest you can’t buy into – you must prove your mettle by winning your way in via another tournament.

The most popular method to win your way in is through the official qualifying site of the NHC, NHCQualify.com. Saturday’s contest requires a $165 buy-in, and up to four NHC slots will be awarded, with two guaranteed. Winners also receive a four-night stay at Treasure Island and a $500 travel voucher.

The online qualifier consists of 12 races. Contestants must pick one horse in each race for a $2 win-place wager. The money is mythical, not real, meaning the cost of the wager is factored within the buy-in, and no further cash outlay is needed. Players do not get to keep the money in their mythical bankrolls at the end of such a contest.

:: Click here to purchase a copy of “The Winning Contest Player” by Peter Thomas Fornatale

This differs from “real-money” formats like the contests on DRFBets.com and live-bankroll formats like the one used at the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. The upside of the mythical-money format is that it allows low-bankroll players to wager very aggressively. Finishing in the first spot out of the money is the same as finishing last, so you might as well go for broke with your selections. As the contest continues, if you’re far back, there’s no reason not to play longshots, even if they look a little crazy on paper.

Also on Saturday, qualifying action returns to BCQualify.com. The buy-in is $190, and up to four $10,000 spots at the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge will be awarded. Last weekend, 40 players won their way into this qualifier via a feeder contest. Look out for more feeders on the Daily Racing Form contest sites in the coming weeks and months.

Here are the races for Saturday’s qualifiers (all times Eastern):

3:50 Aqueduct 8

4:13 Delta Downs 5

4:20 Aqueduct 9

4:45 Churchill 9

5:00 Del Mar 4

5:15 Churchill 10 (G3 Cardinal)

5:15 Delta Downs 7 (G3 Delta Jackpot)

5:45 Churchill 11

6:00 Del Mar 6

6:15 Delta Downs 9

6:30 Del Mar 7

7:00 Del Mar 8 (G3 Red Carpet)

It’s a great sequence for a quiet Saturday of racing, featuring seven stakes races, three of them graded. The Delta Downs Jackpot drew an interesting, competitive field, with Exaggerator coming off a three-length defeat to Nyquist in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. There are five turf races and three maidens, ensuring that there is something for every style of handicapper. The spacing looks fantastic apart from the conflict between Churchill’s 10th race (the Grade 3 Cardinal) and Delta’s seventh (the Grade 3 Jackpot), but those races both needed to be included because of their quality. The third graded stakes goes as the anchor leg, the Grade 3 Red Carpet from Del Mar, which attracted a field of 11.

As always, DRF classic past performances are available on the contest sites. To win your way into the NHC, go to www.nhcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx. To secure your seat for next year’s BCBC, check out www.bcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx.