01/18/2008 12:00AM

Handicapping series will lead to NHC

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The two sponsoring organizations of the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship on Thursday announced the creation of the NHC Tour, a series of qualifying tournaments that offer bonus money to players.

Starting next month and leading up to the January 2009 finale, members of the NHC Tour will earn points based on their performance in designated tournaments, and the handicapper earning the most points will win $100,000. Second place will earn $50,000, with $25,000 for third, $10,000 for fourth, and $5,000 for fifth. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top 50 point earners. In addition, the top three finishers will receive an automatic berth into the NHC finals if they have not already qualified.

If the NHC Tour winner also wins the NHC, he will earn a $2 million bonus.

"Just like in the past, the qualifiers will be open to everybody to try and earn a berth to the NHC," said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. "But now the most avid tournament players will be rewarded for skill and consistency. This will help identify our sport's best handicappers but will also be an incentive for people to join the tour and play more often."

There is an annual $125 membership fee, and registrations will be accepted starting Feb. 15 at ntra.com/nhctour. Among the membership perks are enrollment in the Horseplayers' Coalition, an NTRA-sponsored lobbying group, and eligibility to participate in NTRA Advantage, which offers preferred pricing on sponsor products.

Chamblin said the idea for a tour started a year ago during the NHC at Bally's.

"We talked about ways to grow participation throughout the year, and one thing that kept coming up was to establish a tour like they do in other sports and poker," he said. "It picked up steam over the summer, and then with meetings with marketing executives at the Breeders' Cup and at the Racing Symposium. We also received a lot of feedback from literally hundreds of tournament players in a focus group in October and in an online discussion group."

Chamblin gave credit to the veteran tournament player Mel Moser for helping solicit feedback from other players.

Chamblin said the tour concept may be expanded in future years.

"What we'll see, maybe not in this first phase, will be tournaments that are more similar in nature to smaller buy-in tournaments like they do in poker," he said. "We're also discussing things like a rookies' bracket for first-year players to compete amongst themselves instead of against more seasoned veterans, and perhaps officially sanctioned tournaments limited to tour players only."

This year's National Handicapping Championship - the ninth - will be held Jan. 25-26 at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas. The purse is $1omillion and first prize is $500,000.

Last Chance tourney at Red Rock

The last chance to qualify for the 2007 Handicapper of the Year title at the NHC will take place Wednesday at the Red Rock.

The entry fee for the Last Chance Qualifier is $500, with the top five finishers earning berths into the $1 million NHC finals. Seventy percent of the entry fees will go toward the NHC purse, with the remaining 30 percent to the top finishers on Wednesday.

Deadline for registration is 10 a.m. Wednesday. Complete rules are available at redrocklasvegas.com/

gaming/Red_Rock_NTRA.pdf

Orleans tournament starts Thursday

The Orleans is holding its Horseplayer World Series tournament next Thursday through Saturday.

The final qualifying tournament was held last Thursday at the Suncoast in Las Vegas with a $100 entry fee and 10 berths on the line. Victor Pratt won the $9,905 top prize with a score of 1,672 points to win comfortably over Gregory Pasch, who earned $5,660 for second.

The World Series is unlike the NHC in that anyone can buy into the finals with a $1,000 entry free. Registration ends at noon Thursday.