03/18/2010 11:00PM

Another 19 pick up NHC berths

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There are more than 10 months until the 12th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, but the chase to qualify for the finals is well underway and really picks up steam in the next month.

The NHC doesn't have an entry fee, but contestants must qualify in advance to play for the $500,000 first-place prize and title of Handicapper of the Year at the Red Rock Resort in Jan. 29-30, 2011.

NHC XI winner Brian Troop of Barrie, Ontario, receives an automatic spot as defending champion. Also receiving exemptions are the top-five finishers on the 2009 NHC Tour - Bryan Wagner and Judy Wagner of New Orleans; Steven Hartshorn of Newport Beach, Calif; Michael Labriola of Richmond, Calif.; and Shawn Turner of Middletown, Md. Otherwise, handicappers must earn their seats this year.

Another 19 have already qualified for NHC XII, including eight at the first tournament of the year at NHCqualify.com last Saturday, when 200 contestants put up $400 apiece for the online tournament and made 12 mythical $2 win-and-place bets on mandatory races from Gulfstream and Santa Anita.

Mark Everhart of Federal Way, Wash., finished in first place with a final bankroll of $95.20. Everhart leaped to victory when You and I Forever won the final race of the contest, the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap, and paid $29.40 to win and $12.20 to place.

All eight qualifiers used You and I Forever to vault into the coveted spots. The other seven were David Conover of Middletown, N.J.; Sally Goodall of Las Vegas; Mark Bertolucci of Millbrae, Calif.; John Meyer of Chicago; Richard Goodall of Las Vegas; Paul Weizer of Leominster, Mass.; and Jim LaMattina of Stoneham, Mass.

Richard Goodall is the NHC IX champion and will be making his eighth trip to the finals. His wife, Sally, has qualified for the NHC nine times, breaking the record she had shared with NHC I champ Steven Walker.

Since the NHCqualify tournaments do not award prize money in addition to the NHC berths, the more important part of Everhart's win could be that it moved him into a tie for first place on the 2010 NHC Tour along with Tim Catlett, winner of the tour's free contest on Fountain of Youth Day, Feb. 20. The NHC Tour uses the qualifying tournaments as a circuit and awards points, with a guaranteed 3,000 points for a first-place finish; the second- to sixth-place finishers also receive a set amount of points. There is also a graduated scale based on the number of entrants in a given contest, awarding tour points to the top 10 percent of finishers up to a maximum of 30.

There was a change in the membership fees for the NHC Tour this year. A Level 1 membership costs $100, and a Level 2 membership costs $500. Members in both groups are able to play in the members-only tournaments throughout the year, the next one being the Oaks-Derby Challenge from April 30 to May 1. They can also shoot for the 10 NHC XI berths given to the top point earners who haven't previously qualified. The Level 2 members compete for the season-long prize of $75,000, and the top six finishers also earn spots in NHC XII.

Everhart is a Level 2 member, and Catlett is a Level 1 member. But one thing they're both shooting for is the $2 million bonus the tour champion is eligible for if he goes on to win the NHC finals the same year. When the rules for 2010 were first released in January, there was no mention of the bonus because the NTRA was still negotiating the insurance premium to cover the prize, according to Keith Chamblin, the NTRA's vice president of marketing and the NHC tournament director. The bonus was settled last month and was reinstated for the third straight year.

Looking ahead, NHCqualify.com is having another tournament Saturday with eight more berths on the line. It was been sold out since last month. Xpressbet.com has a tournament with six NHC seats up for grabs for its members next Saturday.

The schedule really kicks into gear in April with 11 tournaments that award NHC seats, including three more NHCqualify.com tournaments (April 3, 10, and 24); another XpressBet tourney sponsored by HorsePlayer Magazine (April 3); and tourneys at brick-and-mortar establishments such as Monmouth Park (April 10), Santa Anita Park (April 16-18), Surfside Race Place (April 17-18), Keeneland (April 18), and Sunset Station Hotel-Casino in Henderson, Nev. (April 24).