01/21/2015 2:15PM

Big money up for grabs at National Handicapping Championship


The 16th annual National Handicapping Championship kicks off this weekend at Treasure Island in Las Vegas. The three-day event will be the biggest and richest handicapping contest in history: At least 601 entries will compete for more than $2.3 million in purse money, with $800,000 going to the winner, along with an Eclipse Award for Handicapper of the Year. That represents massive growth over last year, when 500 entries competed for $1.59 million.

The NHC is the one contest where players can’t buy in – your spot must be won in a qualifying event. This year’s field is as deep as it is wide. The 2014 champion, Jose Arias, is back to defend his title along with nine other previous event winners: Stanley Bavlish (2007), Jim Benes (2013), Michael Beychok (2012), John Conte (2009), John Doyle (2011), Richard Goodall (2008), Jamie Michelson Jr. (2005), Brian Troop (2010), and Steve Wolfson Jr. (2003).

Additionally, five winners of the prestigious NHC Tour – a yearlong competition among tournament players – will be competing: Tom Noone (2010), Paul Shurman (2011), Mark Streiff (2012), Brent Sumja (2013), and Eric Moomey (2014).

Moomey is one of 82 double-qualified players at the 2015 NHC and is a player to watch. Should Moomey take first, he will receive a $2 million bonus in addition to the $800,000 prize for first. Moomey, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, knows the odds are long, but he also sees this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I have a shot to become a multimillionaire this weekend,” he said. “If it’s my day, I think I can do it.”

On each of the first two days of the tournament, players must make 15 $2 win-place bets. Eight of those races each day will be chosen by a selection committee and designated as mandatory. The mandatory races were scheduled to be announced Wednesday night. The other seven bets each day will be optional and can be placed on any race held at one of seven tracks: Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita, and Tampa Bay Downs.

:: DRF LIVE FROM NHC: Get real-time updates and insights from DRF reporters and handicappers, including live video

After two days, the field will be winnowed down to a final 50. Unlike last year, this year players may advance two entries to the final 50. At the start of the day Sunday, the top 50 entries, whose scores will carry over, will play 10 optional races, concluding at approximately 3:30 p.m. Pacific. At that point, the top 10 players will advance to the final table, with scores once again carrying over. Players are allowed only one entry at the final table. In the unlikely event that a player gets two entries to the final table, the second entry will receive 11th-place money.

Last year’s NHC saw the debut of the final-table format. There will be two tweaks at this year’s final table. Instead of five mandatory races, the final table will consist of seven mandatory races, allowing for more movement and drama. Also, the picks of the final-table contestants will not be revealed this year until after the gates have opened.

For the first time, there will be extensive live coverage at the NHC. DRF Live will be broadcasting each day from the start of racing on the East Coast. Each day, DRF handicappers will provide a breakdown of what’s happening out in Las Vegas along with in-depth analysis on races from coast to coast. There will be special NHC pregame coverage on DRF Live on Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. Also, HRTV will be reporting live from the NHC throughout the day Sunday.

For the first time this year, Treasure Island is offering bets on who will win the NHC. The NHC future wager will close Thursday at 11 p.m. Players also can play along with the NHC from anywhere via NHCQualify.com.