03/02/2016 10:54AM

Fornatale: NHC returns to Friday-to-Sunday format


The new National Handicapping Championship rules were announced last week by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA). While this year’s rules are cut from very similar cloth to last year’s, there are several significant differences.

“These changes to the rules are based on feedback received from a cross-section of NHC Tour members and are intended to strengthen both the NHC Tour and the championship event in Las Vegas,” said NHC contest director Keith Chamblin.

The only change to the NHC Finals is also the biggest change in the bunch: a return to a Friday-Sunday format after a one-year experiment holding the event on Thursday-Saturday. The 2017 NHC will take place at Treasure Island from Friday, Jan. 27 through Sunday, Jan. 29.

“We believe a Friday-through-Sunday format provides all participants at the Championship with a chance to maximize their tournament plays on the best racing offered during championship week,” said Chamblin.

The NHC Tour will see several minor tweaks. Chris Larmey, the head of the NTRA Players’ Committee explained, “The main purpose for the Tour is to promote and increase participation in NHC qualifying contests and to help make contest play a little more fun and interesting. All the recent changes are directed toward improving upon that purpose.”

For the uninitiated, let’s review how the NHC Tour works. The NHC Tour is a year-long interconnected series of contests. The winner receives $75,000, plus a chance at a $2 million bonus should that player go on to win the NHC itself. Players receive Tour points for finishing in the top 10 percent of NHC qualifying events. Tour rules use a player’s best six scores – at least one of those must come at a live venue (i.e., not online). The number of Tour points awarded varies depending on the number of participants. Outright winners also receive a 25 percent points bonus.

Increased participation has enabled the NTRA to raise the purse money associated with the Tour from $250,000 to $300,000 – a 20 percent raise. The way Tour points are awarded will also be altered. Participation points – abandoned for the 2015 season – are making a comeback. Players will receive 50 points for participating in an online tournament and 150 points for participating in an on-site tournament. Participation points will be capped at 1,500.

“We brought back participation points because a lot of people let us know they were unhappy when we dropped them,” Larmey said. “Many wanted to see their name on the leaderboard and to see their point totals increase each week.”

While the participation points aren’t likely to make much difference at the top of the leaderboard, they could make a difference to those vying for the top 150 on the Tour and the automatic NHC Finals entry that goes with that distinction. In this way, the return of participation points may help increase play throughout the year.

Another old idea making its return is the Tour second-half prize. Players who finish among the top five points earners from July 31 through the end of the year will be eligible for a $10,000 cash bonus. This mirrors the process for the first half of the Tour that has been in place for several years. It gives players coming late to the party something to play for throughout the second-half of the Tour season.

There’s also been a change in the way that Tour points are calculated for the NTRA free contests. Instead of basing the Tour points awarded on the total number of players, points will be based only on the number of Tour members competing in the tournament. “Free contests are great, but some of them have thousands of entrants of which only a small fraction are actual tour members,” said Larmey. “This inflates the Tour point totals.”

The final rule change was to expand the contest-within-a-contest at the NHC from 20 players to 40. At the 2016 NHC, the top 20 on the 2015 Tour competed for an extra $25,000 and a seat to the 2017 finals at the NHC. For the 2017 NHC, corresponding prizes will be available to the Tour Top 40.

“We expanded the number eligible for the tour bonus to provide additional incentive later in the year for those in the top 100 of leader board,” Larmey explained. “This gives more people a shot at that additional Tour money.”

For a complete look at the NHC rules, go to http://www.ntra.com/wp-content/uploads/NHC_Tour_Rules_Final_02-19-16_.pdf