01/27/2016 2:27PM

Women making their mark at NHC

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The National Handicapping Championship field is largely made up of men. It’s estimated that of the 500 or so individuals who are competing, only 30 are women. The event has been won by a woman only once, when Judy Wagner took down the top prize in 2001.

Wagner, now ineligible to play in the NHC because of her appointment to the NTRA board two years ago, was asked about being a woman in what is predominantly a man’s world when I interviewed her for “The Winning Contest Player.”

“There are more and more women coming into it and more and more women who are doing their own handicapping,” she said. “There was one incident once. After I won the NHC, I went to a contest. I almost left in tears. I went in, sat down, and then my husband walked in a few minutes later. Some old codger said, ‘Here comes the real handicapper. I knew she couldn’t do it by herself.’ Other than that rude person, I have been treated with the utmost respect. I don’t feel out of place at all as a female.”

There are two women who will be competing in the tournament within a tournament for the top 20 players on the 2015 NHC Tour at this year’s NHC. The tour is a yearlong series of contests.

Cheryl Knepper started playing in contests approximately 10 years ago at Delaware Park because of her husband, NHC Tour veteran Greg Knepper. “I like pretty much everything about contests,” Cheryl Knepper, a 52-year-old educator, said this week. “I enjoy handicapping, strategy, and, most important, the friendships made.”

She had a huge year on the tour, with 10 finishes in the top 10 percent of fields, including four top-five finishes. This will be her third NHC, and she’s looking to improve on the midpack finishes she’s had so far in this event.

Her experiences on the tour have been positive. “I enter tournaments with my husband and have met really nice people,” she said. “When it's crunch time in a contest, sex, religion, or occupation is irrelevant.”

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Cheryl McIntyre and her husband, Mike, have been playing in contests for at least a decade and have competed in the NHC approximately eight times each. She won the Woodbine contest in August and had nine other finishes in the top 10 percent on the tour in 2015.

“I have always been interested in horse racing,” she said. “We took family vacations when my kids were growing up every summer with a group of people to Waterford Park and had some really great times back then.”

At first, she played just for fun and would pick horses by their names and how they looked on the track. But Cheryl McIntyre has added to her game over the years.

“Mike has always been an excellent handicapper, and I decided if I was going to be any good at it, I better learn how to read the Daily Racing Form,” she said. “I would have to say the only issues I have faced in this predominantly male arena is the fact that I need to prove to [some players] that I can handicap and that I make all of my own bets and pick my own horses.”

That was more of an issue in her early days of playing contests. As she’s proved that she can win contests and other players have seen the work she does, she’s felt more respect.

“I really wish more women would get involved as it really is a lot of fun,” she said.

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