01/08/2016 1:03PM

Fornatale: Tour points give 39 players entry to NHC


The back door to the 2016 National Handicapping Championship is now closed. In the end, 39 players punched their tickets to Las Vegas by finishing in the top 150 on the NHC Tour. The cutoff for the top 150 was 8,567 points.

The tour is a yearlong series of qualifying contests for the NHC. Players finishing in the top 10 percent of contests receive tour points, and the larger the field, the more points are awarded. NHC Tour rules use a player’s six best scores in NHC qualifying events, and at least one of those must come at a live venue (i.e., not online). The top 150 players on the tour who haven’t directly won their way into the NHC qualify via the tour.

The idea is to reward consistency and fuel player participation. In this way, the tour 150 pays for itself and has been a tremendous success. At last year’s NHC, five of the top 10 players qualified via the tour, including the overall winner, John O’Neil.

Chris Littlemore was the highest tour finisher to qualify via points, ending up in 36th place with 12,547 points. His best finish in 2015 came in Woodbine’s August contest, where he was sixth, but he got even more tour points for his 20th-place finish in the season-long Del Mar online contest because of the much larger field in that event.

There are many well-known names among the tour qualifiers, including two past NHC champions, Brian Troop (2010) and Michael Beychok (2012). Troop used a combination of live and online scores to get there, including two top 10 percent finishes in Del Mar’s online contests and a 12th at Monmouth Park. His biggest points collection came with a seventh at NHCQualify.com last March. Troop made a run at becoming the first two-time NHC champ last year, reaching the final table and finishing ninth.

As for Beychok, he got valuable tour points this summer at Saratoga and added five online scores, including a ninth-place finish in an online event worth 2,154. Beychok, believed to be No. 1 on the career earnings list for tournament players with more than $1 million, will be back in Las Vegas to pad that total.

Ken Seeman, one of the most successful and consistent players in NHC history with three top 15 finishes, will be in the field once again thanks to the tour. Seeman earned 2,773 points for finishing seventh in Aqueduct’s November contest and added five online scores.

One surprising name among the tour qualifiers is tour veteran Joe Koury. His name is surprising because he won a major tournament this year, the Players’ Challenge in South Dakota. But the Players’ Challenge offers a choice between a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat and an NHC seat, and Koury, knowing that he was in a great position to qualify for the NHC via the tour, chose the BCBC seat.

The tour 150 also was good to Daily Racing Form’s own contest site Publichandicapper.com. PH founder Scott Carson gutted out a 13th-place finish in the final online qualifying event, just enough to put him over the top. His 90th-place finish in the Public Handicapper Challenge, which last six months and is free, also was critical to his success. He earned 2,355 points for that effort.

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Dan Camoro played in the 2014 NHC because he qualified by winning the Public Handicapper Challenge. Camoro once again proved to be the master of qualifying for the NHC without spending much money. He got in via the tour this time, and three of his six scores came in contests with no buy-in: two NTRA free contests, where he was 70th and 28th, and the Del Mar November online contest, where he ended up 96th.

Two contests Sunday

There are two contests in the DRF universe on Sunday. On BCQualify.com, players can put up $110 to compete in a Round 1 event for the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. Players who finish in the top 10 percent in Round 1 will advance to Round 2 on Sunday, Jan. 18.

On DRFQualify.com, there is a qualifier for the Gulfstream-Santa Anita Ultimate Betting Challenge. The buy-in is $95, and up to two $4,500 seats will be awarded, with one guaranteed.

Here are the races for Sunday’s contests (all times Eastern):
3:35 Gulfstream 8
3:50 Aqueduct 8
4:05 Gulfstream 9
4:20 Aqueduct 9
4:30 Santa Anita 3
4:35 Gulfstream 10
5:00 Santa Anita 4
5:05 Gulfstream 11
5:23 Fair Grounds 7
5:30 Santa Anita 5
5:52 Fair Grounds 8
6:00 Santa Anita 6

To start your journey to the BCBC, go to https://www.bcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx. To win your way into the Ultimate Betting Challenge, go to https://www.drfqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx. As always, free DRF classic past performances are available on the contest sites.