01/21/2015 1:38PM

Old Friends will benefit from NHC Charity Challenge


The National Thoroughbred Racing Association announced Wednesday that it will be hosting the NHC Charity Challenge as part of Saturday’s festivities of the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas. Celebrities signed on to play include political strategist and commentator James Carville, actress and model Bo Derek, and former NBA coach and ESPN/ABC analyst Avery Johnson.

“The NHC Charity Challenge is another exciting new addition to the NHC designed to raise awareness and funds for Thoroughbred aftercare and broaden exposure for the Championship,” said Keith Chamblin, NTRA’s senior vice president.

Also participating will be luminaries from the racing world, including former jockeys Jerry Bailey, Richard Migliore, and the recently retired Rosie Napravnik, national broadcasters Jeannine Edwards and Randy Moss, as well as Daily Racing Form ’s Steven Crist, Dan Illman, and Mike Watchmaker.

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The contest will consist of the eight mandatory NHC races and all picks must be entered in advance of the first post. The winner will have $5,000 donated in his name to Old Friends, the Thoroughbred retirement nonprofit with farms in Kentucky and upstate New York, and another $5,000 to a charity of their choosing.

Old Friends was selected as a beneficiary at the behest of the late Mike Mayo, former chairman of the NHC Player’s Committee and 10-time NHC qualifier.

“Mike Mayo personified all that is good in horseplayers,” said Michael Blowen, founder of Old Friends. “Without the horses and the horseplayers, there is nothing. I can’t thank Mike and the NTRA enough for their generous contribution and, perhaps more importantly, their acknowledgement that these equine athletes are valuable even when their racing days are over.”

Five players in the Charity Challenge actually won seats in the main NHC contest in 2014 as well.

Chris Fallica, aka “The Bear” on ESPN’s College Gameday, won his way into the main NHC tournament via points gained on the NHC Tour. His best finishes were a sixth and an eighth on NHCQualify.com.

Kenny Mayne, a longtime racing fan, earned his seat at the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, where he turned his initial $7,500 bankroll into $51,863 and an NHC berth. Mayne is an unabashed fan of handicapping tournaments.

“I recommend tournaments to everybody,” Mayne said, “They are a lot of fun and a there’s a weird camaraderie between competitors.”

Matt Bernier earned two NHC seats this year, with a sixth-place finish at the BC Betting Challenge and by winning the Belmont fall contest, but he is ineligible to compete in the big one because he is a Daily Racing Form employee.

Also ineligible for the NHC championship are Bryan and Judy Wagner. Judy Wagner, the 2001 NHC champ, and her husband, Bryan, the 2009 NHC tour champ, both won their way into this year’s NHC early in the year. But because of Judy Wagner’s selfless decision to become the first horseplayer to ever sit on the NTRA board, both she and Bryan had to give up competing for the NHC finals. They will compete in the Charity Challenge instead.

Other participants include Bernier’s “Horseplayers” castmates, Peter Rotondo Jr., Peter Rotondo Sr., and Lee Davis; radio hosts Steve Byk, Mike Penna, and Jude Feld; award-winning FOX Sports producer Pete Macheska; 2014 Miss America finalist Acacia Courtney; legendary racecaller Dave Johnson; and journalist Ray Paulick. Additionally, each of the seven tracks whose races make up the NHC card will have a designated analyst to compete in the tournament.

The contest is winner take all. In the event of a tie, the donations will be split among the winners. The full Charity Challenge field will be announced Friday. For scoring updates, you can follow along on Twitter via @NTRA or track the action on DRF Live.