10/29/2010 3:49PM

Horseplayers jockeying for spots in NHC finals

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This week brings Election Day on Tuesday and the Breeders’ Cup on Friday and Saturday, and that seems fitting as the horses and human competitors in our sport are wrapping up their campaigns and trying to gather votes for the Eclipse Awards.

There is one Eclipse that won’t be decided next weekend – the one for the Handicapper of the Year that will be determined at the Daily Racing Form /NTRA National Handicapping Championship on Jan. 28-29, 2011, at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t an important time of year for those on the NHC Tour.

The big NHC-qualifying tournament next weekend is the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, which is being held on-site Friday and Saturday in the sixth floor Gold Room at Churchill Downs with a $10,000 buy-in. Players will use $7,500 of that for a live bankroll to wager on the BC races, with the other $2,500 going to the prize pool for the live bankroll format. Contestants have to wager a minimum of $600 on at least five races on Friday, with a minimum of $900 per race on at least five races Saturday.

Ken Kirchner, manager of Breeders’ Cup wagering, said it looks like the field will have between 90 and 95 players. Obviously, not everyone has $10,000 to put into a handicapping contest, so there were satellite tournaments held (like they do in the World Series of Poker) in which players could try and earn seats and a shot at the big money. Kirchner said that there were 16 people who made the field at pre-qualifying tourneys at BCqualify.com and another five at TwinSpires.com, with 11 of those making it to next weekend’s event for just a $100 buy-in. They’ll have the same chance as everyone else who bought in at the prize pool that will be at least $250,000, with about $135,000 to the winner (in addition to the live winnings they earn from their wagers). The top six finishers will earn berths in the NHC finals and a shot at the $500,000 first-place prize. For those looking to enter at the last-minute, they should contact Chris Bahr at (858) 792-4294.

Time is running out for NHC hopefuls to qualify, but there are plenty of opportunities still available.

The most accessible option for most people, requiring no travel and just an Internet connection, is the tournaments at NHCqualify.com, which has added a two-round format tourney with $100 buy-in pre-qualifiers on Saturday, Nov. 13, Saturday, Nov. 20, and Saturday, Nov. 27. Those are capped at 300 entries apiece, with the top 30 finishers in each playing on Saturday, Dec. 4, for nine NHC berths. The first two events went on sale last Wednesday (and as of 11 a.m. Pacific on Friday, there were 140 slots left for the Nov. 13 pre-qualifier and 207 left for Nov. 20). The Nov. 27 event won’t go on sale until Tuesday, Nov. 23.

NHCqualify.com also will host one-day formats, with a $400 entry and another nine NHC berths up for grabs in each, on Saturday, Dec. 11, and Sunday, Dec. 19.

Other upcoming qualifiers in November are a free online contest sponsored by TVG at ntra.com/nhctour on Saturday, Nov. 13, and a $400 buy-in tourney at Aqueduct Racetrack in Jamaica, N.Y., on Nov. 13-14.

For a list of all remaining qualifying tournaments and the rules for each, including December contests at Keeneland, Turfway, Beulah, and Surfside Race Place, go to http://www1.drf.com/nhc/2010/qualifiers.html

Recent tournament results

The NHC Tour wrapped up its schedule of five members-only qualifiers on Saturday, Oct. 9, with separate contests for its Level 1 and Level 2 members. Level 1 members paid $100 to participate in five members-only events this year as well as the right to be eligible for the $2 million bonus if they topped the year-long points standings. Level 2 members paid $500 to also be eligible for year-long prizes based on points.

Sheldon Usprech of Thornwall, Ontario, won the Level 1 tourney with a score of $127.10 from 10 mythical $2 win-and-place bets on mandatory races at Belmont, Keeneland, Monmouth, and Woodbine. Finishing second and third and also earning NHC XII berths were Bradley Cressy of Fountain Hills, Ariz., and Lance Williams of Bellevue, Wash. This will be Usprech’s second trip to the NHC finals, while Cressy and Williams qualified for the first time.

In the Level 2 tourney, Charlie Davis of Seattle compiled a score of $105.50 (which wouldn’t have placed him in the top three of the Level 1 tourney) to punch his ticket to Vegas along with Dave Picarello of Baltimore and Tommy Massis of Toronto. All three are making their first trip to the NHC finals.

◗ The free TVG-sponsored tournament at games.ntra,com on Oct. 2 was canceled midway through the day due to technical difficulties and was rescheduled for Saturday, Oct. 23, where it went off without a hitch. Frank McCloud, Robert Trask, and Don Johnson earned NHC berths. The same site and format is being used for the TVG-sponsored tourney on Nov. 13.

◗ A check of the NHC Tour leaderboard show Thomas Noone widening his lead with 11,775 points, which are accumlated in NHC-qualifying tournaments with 3,500 for a first-place finish and a graduated scale depending on the number of entries in a given event. Only a player’s top five scores during the year are used for the official standings in determining who wins the $75,000 year-end prize. Heading into the stretch run of the year, Hesham Ragab is in second place with 9,424 points, followed by Brian Chenvert at 8,127, James Henry with 7,825, Eric Yee with 7,159, and Dennis Decauwer with 7,103. The top nine on the leaderboard are all Level 2 members.