02/06/2014 4:16PM

NHC Tour offers cash prizes and another path to Las Vegas

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So, what is the DRF NHC Tour, and what does it mean for horseplayers?

The DRF NHC Tour is a separate competition across qualifying events for the National Handicapping Championship. Each NHC Tour begins just after the previous year’s NHC finals and goes through the end of the year. Prizes are awarded twice annually, on July 31 (an approximate halfway mark) and Dec. 31. All the qualifying events for the NHC give players the opportunity to win NHC Tour points.

The best thing the NHC Tour offers is a lottery ticket: Should a player win the Tour and go on to win the NHC finals, he will receive a $2 million bonus. There also is additional prize money; $50,000 in prizes will be awarded to Tour points leaders for the first half of the year, and an additional $150,000 will be awarded to points leaders at year’s end.

Tour membership costs $50 – the same $50 one has to pay anyway to qualify for the NHC. The schedule for the year should be finalized by March 1, but a preliminary calendar, which will be updated as time goes on, is available at www.ntra.com/en/nhc/nhc-tour-schedule.

To receive Tour points in a contest, you must finish in the top 10 percent of the field, so if a contest has 50 entrants, you must finish in the top five to get points.

There is a sliding scale based on field size that will determine how many points are awarded to each finisher in the top 10 percent. The scale is way too complicated to detail here, but there is helpful information on the NTRA website and even a spreadsheet that you can find in paragraph 6 of the official rules (www.ntra.com/en/nhc/official-rules).

In 2013, there were 64 onsite contests and 81 online contests for which NHC Tour points were awarded. To make the scoring more about quality than quantity, there is not a simple accumulation of scores – that would give too much of an edge to a person who simply was willing to play in every online qualifier throughout the year.

Instead, a number of a player’s best scores are added together to represent each player’s total. For the money awarded July 31, the best four scores are used, with one having to be from a brick-and-mortar event. For the money awarded Dec. 31, six scores are used, with one having to be from an onsite event. If you don’t have an onsite score, you are still eligible for the prize money but will take a zero for one of your scores.

One great benefit of playing on the NHC Tour is the opportunity to qualify for the NHC without having won a seat through an event during the year. The top 150 players on the NHC Tour will get seats in Las Vegas, assuming they haven’t already qualified. A player can’t get a second qualification through the Tour. The Tour is more a way to reward players who have been consistent throughout the year but just haven’t caught the breaks to qualify outright.

In 2013, 22 players qualified this way, including former NHC champion Judy Wagner, who finished 12th at the NHC finals.

The NHC Tour is a work in progress.

“It’s still very much in its infancy,” said Keith Chamblin, the NTRA’s senior vice president of marketing and industry relations, “and it’s got a long way to go in terms of our being able to provide a more structured, cleaner path to the championship.”

I agree. As presently constructed, it’s not even an easy thing to describe, let alone win. But there’s no doubt that the Tour has increased participation in NHC qualifying tournaments and has a lot to offer the regular contest player.