01/25/2016 1:22PM

It all comes down to the NHC


The 17th annual National Handicapping Championship is finally here. This year’s NHC, which runs from Thursday through Saturday at Treasure Island in Las Vegas, will offer the largest purse in handicapping contest history, estimated at $2.45 million, with $800,000 to the winner. In a move meant to honor all horseplayers, the winner will also once again receive an Eclipse Award for Horseplayer of the Year.

The NHC is the one contest where players can’t buy in – your spot must be won in a qualifying event. The field consists of 507 individuals, 119 of whom qualified twice, for a total of 626 entries, the largest in NHC history and up from 606 entries last year, a record number at the time. That field size will grow larger as a result of Treasure’s Island’s Last Chance tournament, to be held on Wednesday.

As usual, the NHC field represents the cream of the crop in the contest world. Seven former champions will be competing, led by last year’s winner, John O’Neil. Also looking to become the first two-time winner in NHC history will be Stanley Bavlish (2007), Richard Goodall (2008), Brian Troop (2010), Michael Beychok (2012), and Jim Benes (2013).

:: NHC 2016: Video updates and news coverage from Las Vegas

:: Play at Home: Play online to earn a spot in the 2017 NHC at NHCQualify.com

Additionally, six winners of the prestigious NHC Tour – a yearlong, interconnected series of contests – will be competing: Tom Noone (2010), Paul Shurman (2011), Mark Streiff (2012), Brent Sumja (2013), Eric Moomey (2014), and Jonathon Kinchen (2015).

Kinchen is a particularly interesting case because should he win, he is eligible for a $2 million bonus as the current NHC Tour champion.

This year’s field will also feature the first-ever Latin American NHC qualifier. Leandro Tomas of Lima, Peru, won a Nov. 28 event at Lima’s Hipódromo de Monterrico, held jointly between the NTRA and LARC, the Latin American Racing Channel.

Tomas is attempting to become the second NHC winner based outside of the U.S., joining Brian Troop, from Barrie, Ontario, who took down NHC 11 in 2010. Tomas is new to contests but he’s already caught the bug. Should he finish high enough at NHC 17 to earn a significant check he’s already on the record as planning to reinvest it in entries to qualify for NHC 18.

Contest rules have evolved over the years and there are significant changes to the 2016 format, starting with the shift of days from Friday to Sunday to Thursday to Saturday. On each of the first two days of the tournament, players must make 18 $2 win-place bets – this is up from 15 last year. Just like last year, eight of those races each day will be chosen by a selection committee and designated as mandatory. The mandatory races will be announced Tuesday night at approximately 10 p.m. Eastern. The other 10 bets each day will be optional, and can be placed at any race held at one of six tracks on Thursday: Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate, Gulfstream, Oaklawn Park, and Santa Anita. On Friday, Tampa Bay Downs will be added to the mix for a total of seven contest tracks.

After two days, the field will be winnowed down to a semi-final round of the top 10 percent. Last year this round was limited to 50 entries. In a new rule for 2016, players with two entries may carry them all the way through the end of the contest – the so-called Jonathon Kinchen rule.

At the start of the day on Saturday, the top 10 percent, whose scores will carry over, will play 10 optional races, concluding at approximately 3:30p.m. Eastern. At that point, the top 10 entries will advance to the final table, with scores once again carrying over. The final table will once again consist of seven mandatory races.

For complete coverage of the 2016, follow along with DRF Live throughout the three days. Players also are encouraged to play along with the NHC via online tournaments on Friday and Saturday hosted by NHCQualify.com for just $50 each day. Friday’s prize pool will be at least $10,000 in site credit and/or an entry to the Ultimate Betting Challenge at Gulfstream or Santa Anita. Saturday’s contest will feature the first seat to the 2017 National Handicapping Championship offered online.

For the second straight year, players can bet on who will win the NHC at the Treasure Island sports book. The Field, consisting of players who qualified after Oct. 31, opened as the 4-1 favorite.