06/29/2011 2:45PM

National Handicapping Championship super qualifiers make debut

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Super Size. Supermarket. Superman. Super Bowl. Super Qualifiers.

We all know that when something is named “super” that it means bigger and better.

This weekend begins a series of Super Qualifiers for the Daily Racing Form /NTRA National Handicapping Championship, the year-long program that will culminate with the finals at the Treasure Island in January 2012, when an expected 500 horseplayers will shoot for a record $1 million first-place prize out of a record $2 million purse.

This weekend’s events will be held on each coast, with the Monmouth Park NHC Super Qualifier on Saturday, July 2, and the Hollywood Park Firecracker NHC Super Qualifier held over two days on Sunday, July 3, and Monday, July 4.

Most NHC qualifiers award a spot to the winner or the top two or three finishers. Now, the NTRA has tinkered with “super qualifiers” in the past with events at Monmouth and Del Mar Surfside giving out six NHC berths apiece, but this weekend’s events will each send the top 10 finishers to Treasure Island. Important note: To earn a spot in the NHC finals starting this year, hopefuls must pay a $45 NHC Tour membership fee prior to competing in an event where they’re trying to qualify (Further note concerning this weekend: Players can only earn one berth in the NHC finals, so if someone who has already qualified finishes in the top 10, that spot would go to the next highest finisher, so with many contestants trying to earn NHC Tour points, you might only have to finish in the top 15 or so to earn a trip to Vegas).

“There have been some online sites such as NHCqualify.com and TwinSpires.com that have held tournaments with nine or more seats given away,” said Keith Chamblin, the NTRA’s vice president of marketing, “but the closest things we’ve had to this at a racetrack was the annual tourneys at Emerald Downs. They scaled back a little on theirs this year, but these new tourneys give people a chance to qualify with a strong showing without having to win over so many people.”

These super qualifiers weren’t on the original NHC Tour schedule earlier this year and were added in early June. Chamblin said there will eventually be between eight and 12 super qualifiers held by the end of the year.

“We’re still working on the schedule,” Chamblin said. “We want to spread out the tournaments on the calendar as well as geographically. We also want to be cognizant not to impact tourneys that are already on the schedule.”

With the exception of the Wynn Las Vegas $150,000 Guaranteed Handicapping Challenge on Aug. 5-6 that will award two NHC berths, no Nevada casinos have announced any tourneys yet, including Treasure Island, which will have the most.

“Most of the Vegas tournaments, as well as the majority of our super qualifiers, will take place in the third and fourth quarters of the year,” Chamblin said. “While interest in racing may fall off in some markets after the Breeders’ Cup, in many ways interest in qualifying for the NHC accelerates as there are fewer spots available and more tour players chasing them. It should make for an exciting end of the year leading to NHC XIII.”

The Monmouth Park NHC Super Qualifier costs $400, with $250 of that being the entry fee toward the prize pool plus an additional live bankroll of $150. Contestants must wager at least $15 on win/place/show (or any combination) on at least 10 races Saturday from Monmouth, Belmont, and Hollywood (race 1-5 only), with at least five of those races being at Monmouth. There are no maximums on races played or dollar amounts.

The Hollywood Park Firecracker NHC Super Qualifier costs $450, with $300 as the entry fee and $150 as a live bankroll. In this contest, players must bet exactly $5 to win and place on a horse in 15 Hollywood races over the Sunday and Monday cards.

NHC Tour notes

While highlighting the opening holiday weekend, the super qualifiers are just a small part of the NHC Tour calendar heating up in July.

DRF Bets, Daily Racing Form’s newly launched account-wagering site, starts another month-long contest for its members on Friday. Contestants make a $2 wager each Wednesday through Sunday during the month, with the person compiling the highest bankroll getting the NHC seat. Previous DRF Bets customers earning NHC berths have been Nicholas Alpino in the first contest in April and Thomas Sykes in May. June’s tourney concludes Friday.

◗ Other online tourneys include the Del Mar Internet Contest (starting July 20 and running through the end of the meet), the BCqualify.com Round 2 contest (July 23 as that site is now awarding NHC berths in its two-round tourneys in addition to spots in the $10,000 buy-in Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge), and the NTRA’s free online contest (July 24) as well as ongoing long-term tourneys at HPqualify.com and TwinSpires.com. See those sites for details.

◗ Other in-person tourneys at brick-and-mortar racetracks/OTB/casinos include Northville Downs (July 10), Del Mar Surfside (July 15), Hawthorne (July 16), Del Mar Surfside (July 16-17), Foxwoods Resort & Casino (July 23), Woodbine (July 24), Keeneland (July 30), and Del Mar (July 30-31).

The full schedule of NHC qualifying tournaments can be found at ntra.com/nhctour.

◗ In addition to DRF and the NTRA being the title sponsors and Treasure Island signing on as the new host, Sovereign Stable has joined the NHC team as a presenting sponsor. Sovereign Stable also will be sponsoring a free online contest hosted by ntra.com on Saturday, Aug. 13, with one NHC berth up for grabs.

◗ At the halfway point of the calendar year, Ken Seeman of Wantagh, N.Y., leads the NHC Tour standings with 7,966 points in the quest for the $75,000 first-place prize in the year-long contest as well as a shot at a $2 million bonus for pulling off the NHC Tour/NHC XIII double. Christopher Skotz of Campbell, Calif., is in second place with 6,100 points, and Las Vegas resident Sally Goodall, the first person to qualify 10 times for the NHC, is in third with 5,380 points. NHC Tour members earn 3,000 points for finishing first in a qualifying tourney and there is a graduated scale based on the number of entrants.