01/23/2013 3:47PM

National Handicapping Championship adds a daily best bet

Handicappers will be allowed to select one race Friday and Saturday that will be worth double the usual bet.

LAS VEGAS – Finalists at the $1.5  million Daily Racing Form / NTRA National Handicapping Championship this Friday and Saturday will be able to double their pleasure by making a best bet on each day of the contest.

For the first time in NHC history, and in the first format change since dropping from 20 plays per day to 15 after the inaugural NHC, contestants will be able to make two “best bets” – one each day– on a mandatory race of their choosing. The best bets will count as a $4 win-and-place wager, twice the normal amount. All prices are capped at $42 to win and $22 to place.

The best bets will add further strategy to the contest as players decide whether to use those double-plays on a longshot to make a big move on the leaderboard or on a shorter-priced “sure thing” to double their odds. Most are expected to hold it for the final mandatory race, especially on Saturday.

NTRA senior vice president Keith Chamblin said Tuesday night that tournament organizers will make sure not to put a mandatory race at the end of the day to lessen the number of people just taking a stab in the final race and getting double points.

[NHC 14: Live updates and video from Vegas, tournament leader board]

A field of 459 handicappers are expected to compete over the two-day event in the ballrooms at the Treasure Island Resort & Casino, which is hosting the NHC finals for the second straight year. Contestants, who had to earn their way into the field over the course of the past year (no one can buy their way into the finals this weekend), make 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers each day with eight races being mandatory and the remaining seven to be chosen by the player from the designated contest tracks.

The NHC champion will be the contestant compiling the highest score over the two days and will win a $750,000 first-place prize (down from the $1 million prize won last year by Michael Beychok of Baton Rouge, La.) as well as a championship ring and a trip to next year’s Eclipse Awards to receive their trophy as Handicapper of the Year.

The runner-up will receive $200,000 – which was the total purse at the first NHC in January 2000 and was the winner’s share in the sixth NHC in 2005. Last year, second place was worth $150,000.

Prizes are paid out to the top 40 finishers as well as daily prizes ranging from $5,000 for each day’s top score down to $1,000 for fifth.

The estimated $1.5 million purse will be finalized (and some of the minor prize amounts adjusted) after the “Last Chance” qualifier at Treasure Island on Thursday. That tournament, which costs $500 to enter, with 70 percent of entry fees going to the NHC purse, used to be held on the Wednesday before the finals but was moved to Thursday because many tracks raced Monday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day instead of Wednesday.

Beychok is back to defend his title, which he won by $1 last year when Glorious Dancer got up at the wire in the final contest race at Golden Gate Fields. Beychok, a political consultant, said in his acceptance speech at the Eclipse Awards last Saturday night how he claimed Glorious Dancer to guarantee she enjoyed the rest of her life as thanks for changing his life. He also said he would donate 10 percent of his winnings this weekend to Thoroughbred retirement and aftercare charities, and he appealed to his fellow competitors to do the same.

The contestant who could make the biggest possible contribution would be Mark Streiff, a 56-year-old financial consultant from Mission Viejo, Calif. He won the year-long NHC Tour and earned a total of $102,250 in the process as he won the $75,000 prize for the most Tour points over the course of the year, another $7,250 for having the third-highest score in the first half of the year, an additional $10,000 for having the second-highest score in the second half of the year, plus $10,000 in bonuses that give $5,000 for each Tour win after a player’s first. He is the only one eligible for a $2 million bonus – for a payday of $2.75 million – if he goes on to win the NHC finals.

Daily Racing Form is providing updated coverage and videos at drf.com/NHC and real-time updates both days on Twitter – @DRFInsidePost.

The weekend will conclude with Treasure Island hosting a “Wager to Win” contest on Sunday with a $200 entry fee (limit one per person). Two seats to the next year’s NHC will be up for grabs. You must sign up for NHC Tour membership at Treasure Island prior to the start of the tournament to be eligible to win the NHC berths. All entry fees are returned as prize money in this contest.

The 14th NHC champ will earn an automatic exemption into next year’s field, so that person won’t have to play. But everyone else will welcome the second chance.