06/02/2015 3:09PM

Fornatale: Rule changes for 2016 NHC


Rule changes have been announced for the 17th National Handicapping Championship, to be held Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 28-30. The first major change is the days of the week just mentioned – the three-day event will now begin on a Thursday and end on Saturday, the theory being that the wide-open nature of Saturday races will lead to more leaderboard movement and excitement on the contest's closing day.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association also announced that the purse of the event is being estimated at $2.5 million. Additionally, for 2016, all players finishing in the top 10 percent of the field will finish in the money, and the same number of individuals will advance to the semifinal round on the third day, leading to the final table. Last year, only the top 50 advanced to the third day despite the record field of more than 600.

Another major change is that the number of contest races on the first two days has been increased. There will be 18 races each day: eight mandatory races and 10 optional plays across the seven designated tracks. Last year, players had to play the same eight mandatory races, with only seven optionals.

Jonathon Kinchen's impressive year on the tournament circuit continues – he now has a rule inspired by him. For 2016, a participant with two entries in the NHC will be able to carry both entries to the final table. In 2015, Kinchen landed two entries among the top 10 but was able to carry only one forward while the other earned 11th-place purse money. Kinchen eventually finished seventh and 11th overall.

"I'm glad they made the change," said Kinchen. "Do I think it's fair that I wasn't able to play two entries at the final table last year? Those were the rules, and I knew the rules going in. I think it's great that going forward someone who earned that advantage gets to carry it to the final table."

The weekend will be bracketed by two additional tournaments sure to be popular with players already in Las Vegas for the NHC. NTRA has announced that a “last chance” tournament, offering the final seats to NHC 17, will be held Wednesday, Jan. 27. A “first chance” tournament, which will kick off the 2016-17 NHC Tour and the road to the 2017 NHC, will be held Sunday, Jan. 31.

“The changes to the rules and modifications to the purse structure were made following research and input from the participants competing at this year’s contest, which by many accounts and measurements was the best in the event’s 16-year history,” said NTRA chief operating officer Keith Chamblin. “Thanks to the support of our sponsoring partners, the participating organizations that host tournaments throughout the year, and the thousands of horseplayers who have been attracted to tournament play, the stage is set to host another exciting NHC.”

The rules for the NHC have been updated and posted at www.ntra.com/en/nhc/2016-championship-official-rules/.