01/06/2016 11:56AM

Fornatale: Top 20 set for NHC battle royale

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Let the game-within-a-game begin! The 2016 National Handicapping Championship, which takes place Jan. 28-30 at Treasure Island in Vegas, will feature a field of around 500 players with a purse of $2.5 million. For the first time this year, there will also be another contest, within the framework of the larger event, that pits the top 20 players from the NHC tour against one another for an additional $25,000 and a seat at the 2017 NHC finals.

The idea for the top 20 contest was a major success, fueling participation amongst the tour’s most active players, many of whom would have given up playing after Jonathon Kinchen built a seemingly insurmountable lead on the tour. Instead, many tour regulars had added incentive to play in contests online and on-site, week after week, even after they received the maximum two NHC qualifications. This participation increased the overall NHC purse and in this way, the top 20 contest pays for itself.

The NHC tour is a yearlong series of interconnected contests. NHC tour rules use a player’s best six scores in NHC qualifying events – 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. Winners also receive a 25 percent points bonus – a new rule for 2016 that dramatically increased the importance of finishing first overall in tour events.

The names in the top 20 read like a who’s who of handicapping contest world celebrities, starting with Kinchen. This year’s tour winner, who won $75,000 and is eligible for a $2 million bonus should he win the NHC, will have a target on his back in the contest-within-a-contest as well.

Eric Moomey, the 2014 tour winner, did not give up his title easily. In fact, his contention ran deep in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, and had he won that event, he could have gone on to be the first two-time tour winner. His score was anchored by two online wins and a second at a Derby weekend contest at Treasure Island, good enough for second place and $20,000.

Joe Jarvie achieved his goal of finishing in the top 10 on the tour and will collect $15,000. He won two contests on NHCQualify in 2015, one back in March and another in to secure his spot. Jarvie was the day-one leader at last year’s NHC and will attempt to go one better at the NHC this time around.

John Nichols, the head clocker at Churchill Downs, got off to a hot start on the tour in 2015. He won NHCQualify events in January and May, but it took him until the very end of the season to secure an on-site score, which he did at Hawthorne last weekend. As a result, he finishes up fourth overall and wins $10,000.

Ryan Flanders had a great season on the tour – and it was almost a lot better. He finished in the money in all three of the Surfside contests last weekend, but what he really needed was another win. Had he gotten one, he likely would have finished second on the tour instead of fifth. Still, don’t feel too bad for the guy. He wins $7,500 for the 2014 final table participant. He is in with a shot to win the whole thing in Vegas.

Here is a complete list of the top 20, along with prize money:

Rank Name Points Earnings
1 Jonathon Kinchen 19,026 $75,000
2 Eric Moomey 16,626 $20,000
3 Joe Jarvie 16,418 $15,000
4 John Nichols 16,223 $10,000
5 Ryan Flanders 16,190 $7,500
6 Gary Johnson 15,955 $7,000
7 Tommy Massis 15,952 $6,500
8 Sean Nolan 15,821 $6,000
9 Bill Shurman 15,602 $5,500
10 Trey Stiles 15,437 $5,000
11 Cheryl Knepper 15,396 $3,000
12 James Henry 15,225 $2,500
13 Stephen Thompson 15,223 $2,300
14 Roger Cettina 14,825 $2,000
15 Cheryl McIntyre 14,799 $1,700
16 Anthony Kite 14,797 $1,400
17 Brett Weiner 14,795 $1,300
18 Mark Stanton 14,658 $1,200
19 Bob Engelhard 14,336 $1,100
20 Michael Marlaire 14,245 $1,000