07/05/2012 3:57PM

NHC Tour bonuses fulfill goal: get players to play


Mark McGuire doesn’t need any added incentive to play the ponies.

The 52-year-old owner of the Magoo’s sports bar and grill in Newbury Park, Calif., went to Los Alamitos with his parents when he was 12, hit a 60-1 longshot, and has been in love with the sport ever since.

But like many tournament players since the Daily Racing Form /NTRA National Handicapping Championship launched in 1999, he needed incentive to keep playing more tournaments, especially after qualifying for the finals. Prior to 2008, those who earned a berth in that year’s finals would only be able to play for purse money in the tournaments the rest of the year, and with an increasing number of tourneys starting to offer just NHC seats, there was no incentive at all in those events.

In 2008, the NTRA launched the NHC Tour that rewards those who accumulate the most points in qualifying tournaments with prize money to top finishers as well as $2 million if the year-long champ goes on to win the NHC finals. This year, there are even more reasons for continued participation in contests – there are cash prizes for the highest point total for the first half of the year (ending July 31), with another second-half contest to follow the rest of the year and a $5,000 bonus for winning more than one qualifying tournament (up to three such payoffs).

So it was that McGuire, who had qualified for the NHC finals the past three years, was in Las Vegas the first weekend of April to play in a Wager to Win tournament at Treasure Island, the NHC host hotel. He didn’t qualify that Saturday, April 7, but he stayed in his hotel room Sunday, April 8, and won a Horsetourneys.com online contest to secure his spot in NHC XIV.

“I was already planning on playing in the tournaments at Surfside Race Place [in Del Mar, Calif.] the next weekend as that’s one of my favorite places,” McGuire said. “But if there wasn’t a tour to shoot for or the $5,000 bonus, I probably would have passed. The tour is doing what it meant to do. This justifies us players doing more tournaments, and it helps [contest organizers] have bigger fields. It’s a win-win.”

For McGuire, it was win-win – literally – as he won the Friday, April 13, mini-contest. That event didn’t have prize money, but he became the first-ever NHC Tour member to cash in on the $5,000 bonus. Those back-to-back victories also vaulted him atop the NHC Tour leaderboard with 6,919 points (note: previously, any tour win was worth 3,000 points but this year there is a more complex sliding scale based on number of entrants in each contest; see ntra.com/nhctour for complete rules).

McGuire then stayed around for the Saturday/Sunday contest and finished in fourth place for an additional 1,750 points to open up a lead that he has held for nearly three months.

“That was a nice eight-day run,” said McGuire, showing a knack for understatement.

That early April run makes up the bulk of his 9,722 tour points. McGuire is trying to hold on for the $15,000 first-half bonus that concludes July 31. The top 10 point-earners will earn prize money down to $1,000 for 10th.

Rhonda Sylvester of North Little Rock, Ark., was second in the NHC Tour first-half standings heading into the weekend with 8,661 points; Mark Streiff of Mission Viejo, Calif., was third with 8,223 points; Christopher Larmey of Kennewick, Wash., was fourth with 7,872; and Edmund Teicht of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., was fifth with 7,550. Sylvester, who won the Treasure Island qualifier April 7 (the day before McGuire started his hot streak) and Streiff have subsequently also won $5,000 bonuses for having two tournament wins each.

Those are the favorites to cash the big prizes in the first half, but there are many experienced tournament players lurking right behind them, including Ken Seaman, Steve Terelak, William Shurman, Sally Goodall, and 2011 NHC Tour champ Paul Shurman, who is in 17th place with 4,863 points.

McGuire said he will be at Surfside Race Place again for its mini-contest on Friday, July 13, and the two-day tourney on Saturday and Sunday, July 14-15, as well as online contests at the end of the month at Horsetourneys.com and TwinSpires.com. He then plans to travel to the Wynn Las Vegas $150,000 Guaranteed Wynn Las Vegas Challenge and the Saratoga NHC qualifying tournament on Aug. 8-9. He said the pursuit of money and the competition is obviously a big part of playing in tournaments, but he also loves the camaraderie.

“I have met so many great individuals playing in tourneys over the years,” he said. “I’ve competed all my life in golf and tournament softball, but you might have 50 percent of the people being jackasses. But I’d say that 95 percent of the people I’ve met at tournaments have been great. If you can’t win, you end up cheering for your friends or people at your table, and they do the same for you. You don’t get that in other sports.”

McGuire still plays softball, though he says he has had to pass on some tourneys as those also tend to take place on weekends when he’s playing in handicapping tournaments.

Hopefully, those teammates are cheering for him as much as the friends he’s made on the handicapping tournament circuit.