05/15/2014 10:52AM

Fornatale: The five most important changes coming at the 2015 NHC


The official rules for the 2015 National Handicapping Championship were announced last week. Changes were made by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the NHC’s governing body, based on input from surveys sent out to all 2014 NHC participants as well as the NTRA Players' Committee.

Here, in ascending order, is a recap of the most important changes:

5. Full scoreboard should be available to all players in real time.

On Day 2 of the 2014 tournament, many players complained that they had no way of knowing where the top-50 benchmark was. NTRA senior vice president Keith Chamblin expects that to change in 2015. “Stadium Tech, our tote contest provider, currently sends a real-time leaderboard to the self-service machines in the ballroom,” Chamblin said. “We want that same link to be available to every player in the room so that every player in the NHC would be able to call up the real-time scoreboard on their mobile device, tablet, or laptop. I’m pretty confident it will happen.”

4. Multiple entries will be allowed to proceed to the final 50 and/or consolation tournament.

The 2014 contest, the first to allow multiple entries, paid out a bonus to the two players who delivered two entries into the final 50. In 2015, any player matching that feat will be allowed to continue playing two entries in an attempt to get to the final table, where only one entry will be allowed. Multiple entries also will now be allowed in the consolation tournament. Chamblin attributed this change to popular demand. “The feedback we received about allowing multiple entries was varied, but the majority of individuals who commented, whether they agreed or disagreed with multiple entries, felt strongly that individuals should be allowed to play both entries going forward,” Chamblin said. “So, we made that adjustment.”

3. Picks at the final table will not be revealed until the race is off.

There was a tempest in a teapot at the 2014 NHC when Fit to Rule, second-place finisher Tony Brice’s selection, was bet down heavily right before the race. There was much speculation that perhaps leader Jose Arias had bet the horse to try to protect his chance for the $750,000 first prize. Arias had done nothing of the sort, but the early pick reveal left room for the possibility that the contest could be manipulated in the late stages. While no official rule change was made, that scenario will be off the table this year, according to Chamblin. “We heard a lot of feedback about how we need to tighten up our protocols when it comes to announcing the selections at the final table,” Chamblin said. “It’s not a rules question, it’s a procedural one. We’re going to institute new protocols going forward.”

2. Important schedule changes on Day 3.

In 2014 on Day 3, players were required to play three mandatory races and seven optional races as the field winnowed down from 50 to 10. This year, contestants on Day 3 will play 10 optional races. This makes sense because anytime you have a cap horse in a mandatory race, you can guarantee that a significant portion of the field will have it. As Chamblin explained, “The change provides a more open playing field for those players trying to get into the final 10.”

Additionally, two mandatory races will be added to the final table to allow for more leaderboard movement, and the timing of those races will be tightened up. The idea, as Chamblin said, “is to create more excitement in the room.”

1. New payout structure

One area that elicited howls of injustice from players surveyed at the 2014 NHC was the payout structure, specifically that the winner of the consolation contest received more money than several of the players who finished in the top 10 in the overall tournament. The specifics haven’t been announced yet, but Chamblin said changes are on the way. “The changes in the purse structure won’t be announced until we get closer to the championship and we know exactly how much prize money we’re dealing with,” Chamblin said. “But we’re going to correct those imbalances.”

At Belmont Park on Saturday, Matt Bernier and I will be hosting a contest/handicapping seminar on the 4th floor of the Clubhouse starting at 12:30. The first 100 people to register will receive a free copy of “The Winning Contest Player.” Sign up now at: http://www.nyra.com/belmont/handicapping/free-handicapping-seminar/