Updated on 02/05/2013 5:04PM

National Handicapping Championship expanding to three-day format

Jim Benes of Chicago won this year's National Handicapping Championship, held at the Treasure Island in Las Vegas.

The National Handicapping Championship will go from a two-day format to a three-day format in 2014, the organizers announced on Tuesday, with the top competitors in the first two days squaring off for the final prizes during the third day.

The change is the first major revision of the format since it was launched 14 years ago. In addition to the establishment of a "final table," the organizers also said that players will now be allowed to have two entries in the championship, though only one can be used to advance to the third day. Both entries will have to be earned in qualifying tournaments.

According to Eric Wing, a spokesman for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which organizes the championship with Daily Racing Form, the field for the third day will whittled down to approximately 50 or 60 players, though that number could vary. About halfway through the third day of competition, the top 10 or 12 players will advance to the "final table," Wing said.

The players who do not qualify for the third day of competition will participate in a consolation tournament on the third day, the NTRA said. The tournament has been held in past years on a Friday and Saturday.

The top prize for the tournament is expected to be $750,000 in 2014. Total prizes for the championship run to $1.5 million, though there is also a bonus of $2 million if the top points leader in the National Handicapping Tour also wins the championship.

Wing said that the NTRA will be "closely monitoring" qualifying tournaments to see how the field is shaping during the year, based on the new rule allowing players to earn two berths. Berths are many times based on the number of players in qualifying tournaments, and it's uncertain whether the two-berth rule will increase demand for seats in the qualifiers.

"We really don't know yet if we're going to have 455 players with 600 entries or 350 players with 450 entries," Wing said. "That's something we're just going to have to closely watch. As long as it doesn't affect prize money."

This year, 455 players competed in the National Handicapping Championship, held Jan. 25-26 in Las Vegas. It was won by Jim Benes, a professional horseplayer from Chicago.

Players qualify for the championship by earning berths in a number of tournaments held throughout the year, including free online qualifiers available to members of the NHC Tour. The NTRA said that those free qualifiers will award 20 berths this season, up from 10 during the previous season. There also will be an increase in the number of NHC Tour point earners guaranteed entrance to the finals, from 100 to 150.

Membership in the Tour, which costs $50, is required of anyone earning a berth to the championship.