01/25/2017 12:43PM

Huge payouts in the offing at NHC 18

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Three players are drawing live for life-changing, seven-figure scores in the 18th annual National Handicapping Championship, which runs Friday through Sunday at Treasure Island in Las Vegas.

The event will offer the largest purse in handicapping contest history – over $2.5 million, with $800,000 to the winner. In addition, huge bonuses are on the table for Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge champ Joe Appelbaum ($3 million), NHC Tour champ Cheryl McIntyre ($2 million), and NHC Cyberstars winner George Chute ($1 million) should they go on to win the whole thing. All eyes will be on them this weekend, especially the newly crowned tour champ McIntyre, who has had a year to remember.

“I can’t really put my finger on what exactly I did differently this year or why,” said McIntyre, a NHC veteran whose remarkable run in 2016 also included earning five berths to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (although she could only play the allowed maximum of two). “I just kept doing the same things I’ve always done and it seemed every once in a while I’d have a great day and come in first place.”

McIntyre and her husband, Mike, are among the tour’s most serious and committed players, traveling to as many on-track contests as possible while also competing in online qualifiers. “If there are three or four contests every weekend, multiply that by however many weekends there are in a year and that’s how many we played in,” McIntyre said.

McIntyre is the ninth NHC tour champion and the first female to join that group of elite horseplayers.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” McIntyre said. “It’s kind of cool, especially being a woman and knowing that not as many women play this game. But I’m seeing more of us every year.”

McIntyre is one of eight tour winners competing in this year’s event. She will be joined by Bryan Wagner (2009), Tom Noone (2010), Paul Shurman (2011), Mark Streiff (2012), Brent Sumja (2013), Eric Moomey (2014), and Jonathon Kinchen (2015).

Additionally, nine former NHC champions will vie to become the first-player to ever win the prestigious event twice: Judy Wagner (2001), Stephen Wolfson Jr. (2003), Stanley Bavlish (2007), Richard Goodall (2008), Michael Beychok (2012), Jim Benes (2013), Jose Arias (2014), John O’Neil (2015), and Paul Matties Jr. (2016).

The NHC is the one contest where players can’t buy in – your spot must be won in a qualifying event. The field consists of 525 individuals, 125 of whom qualified twice, for a total of 650 entries, the largest in NHC history and up from 629 entries last year.

The field will be finalized Thursday afternoon with the completion of Treasure Island’s last-chance tournament, which also offers double-qualifiers the chance to win a spot in the 2018 NHC.

For many in the field, qualifying for the NHC is annual ritual. Three players will be making their 15th appearances: Sally Goodall, Paul Shurman (consecutive, 2003-17), and David “Trey” Stiles (consecutive, 2003-17). Four players will be making their 14th appearance: Louis Constan, Patrick Gianforte, Duke Matties (consecutive, 2004-17), and Bill Shurman (12 consecutive).

As usual, California is the state which the most players call home with 94 individual horseplayers representing the Golden State this year (as of Jan. 23). Second is New York with 55 players, followed by New Jersey (42), Florida and Illinois (26 apiece), Texas (24), Pennsylvania (20), Kentucky and Massachusetts (18 apiece), and Ohio (17). Canada is represented by 27 handicappers, with Ontario leading all provinces with 16 individual players. In all, 42 U.S. states (including Alaska) and five Canadian provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec) will be represented at the NHC.

On each of the first two days of the tournament, players must make 18 $2 win-place bets. Eight of those races each day will be chosen by a selection committee and designated as mandatory. Prices are capped at 20-1 ($42) on the win end and 10-1 ($22) for the place.

In addition to those mandatory bets, the other 10 bets each day will be optional and can be placed at any race held at one of eight tracks on Friday: Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate, Gulfstream, Laurel Park, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita, and Tampa Bay.

After moving day on Saturday, the field will be winnowed down to a semi-final round of the top 10 percent. At the start of the day on championship Sunday, the top 10 percent, whose scores will carry over, will play 10 optional races, concluding at approximately 3:30 p.m. Eastern. At that point, the top 10 entries will advance to the final table, with scores once again carrying over. The final table will once again consist of seven mandatory races and will conclude at approximately 7:30p.m. Eastern when a new NHC champ will be crowned.

Previous NHC winners

2000 Steven Walker

2001 Judy Wagner

2002 Herman Miller

2003 Steve Wolfson Jr.

2004 Kent Meyer

2005 Jamie Michelson

2006 Ron Rippey

2007 Stanley Bavlish

2008 Richard Goodall

2009 John Conte

2010 Brian Troop

2011 John Doyle

2012 Michael Beychok

2013 Jim Benes

2014 Jose Arias

2015 John O’Neil

2016 Paul Matties