12/02/2015 12:57PM

Fornatale: Nilsen still trying to add to his 12 NHC chairs


Rich Nilsen is one of the most successful players in National Handicapping Championship history. He’s qualified 12 times for the prestigious event in its 16-years of existence, and he’s finished in the money four separate times, with his best placings being a pair of eighths.

As we approach the end of qualifying season for the 2016, Nilsen, 45, has yet to secure qualification number 13. It’s not for lack of trying. “I've played in quite a few tournaments this year, mostly online,” said Nilsen. “I have had two terrible beats so far that cost me an NHC spot each time, but every horseplayer has those types of stories.”

Despite his abundant success in qualifying, the feat means something to him every time. "I never take qualifying for granted,” he said. “Every year it is hard.  Everyone who qualifies for the NHC in any given year should be proud of their performance."

The flipside of the increasing popularity in tournaments is that more players also means more players who know what they’re doing. Nilsen sees this as one reason why he’s had a tough go of things this year – so far anyway. “With each passing year, the competition gets tougher,” he said. “Tournaments were always tough but in years past you had some events where several in the room had no idea what they were doing.”

Nilsen works in the industry – he’s the director of player services for Premier Turf Club and runs a small publishing company called All Star Press. While many have assumed he’s more of a live-bankroll player, he actually prefers mythical online contests. “My favorite format is the traditional $2 win-place format,” he explained. “I prefer playing the same exact races as my competition. I do like live-bankroll events, however, and have done well in some of those.”

During his successful run, Nilsen has waited until late in the game to qualify before. “A couple of years ago I had to pick the winner in the very last leg of an NHCQualify.com event in order to get enough Tour points to qualify via the back door,” he said. “It was a 9-1 shot in a turf sprint at Hollywood Park. I didn't need a longshot to move up a few spots so I was real pleased with that selection.”

Nilsen claims his chances of finishing in the top 150 on the NHC Tour are as remote as “the [Jacksonville Jaguars] winning the Super Bowl,” but that’s not true strictly speaking. He currently sits in a tie for 393rd place with three qualifying scores and just over 4,000 points total. It seems likely that around 8,000 points will be the cutoff for this year. Should Nilsen get two top 15 finishes in the four remaining NHCQ contests, he’ll be  very close to getting in on points.

In any case Nilsen is a name to look for on the NHCQualify.com leaderboard over the next month. If things go his way, he can get his NHC qualifications up to lucky number 13.