09/04/2009 12:00AM

Restricted qualifier draws protests


LAS VEGAS - The Thoroughbred Owners of California held a Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship qualifying tournament at Del Mar on Aug. 22. Depending on whom you ask, it was either just another NHC qualifier or it had the makings of a scandal.

The event, which was free, has caused some controversy because it was open to licensed TOC members only and wasn't listed on the NHC qualifying tournament schedules at drf.com and ntra.com. Note: DRF is a title sponsor but leaves the rule-making and running of the NHC up to the NTRA.

The TOC ran the same contest last year, but the issue was brought out in the open when former NHC champion Judy Wagner posted a message about it on the discussion board at the htr2.com website of tournament player Ken Massa.

Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of communications and industry relations for the NTRA, defended the decision.

"In this case, the TOC is a dues-paying member of the NTRA and wanted to get involved in a successful program like the NHC and get their members to participate," Chamblin said Thursday. "We felt we reached a middle ground by allowing them to have a tournament for members only but not to offer NHC Tour points. Their fee to host the qualifier is going directly toward the NHC purse.

"Unfortunately, we have other tournaments that are also not open to everyone like some of those hosted by account-wagering sites. We wish all tournaments could be open to everyone but the reality is that's not always possible."

Massa, who finished second in the ninth annual NHC, countered: "I see a big difference in the ADW restrictive contests and this TOC event. There is no effort to hide those from the public and it is not the NTRA's or the ADW's fault that some states have legal restrictions. Those contests are open to the public per the local laws, which the ADW and NTRA would gladly see removed so everyone could participate."

Chamblin said the decision not to list the tournament on the schedules was because it wasn't part of the NHC Tour.

Massa pointed out on his site that the official rules on NTRA website state: "Any tournament which is approved by the NTRA and which offers a qualifying spot in NHC XI will be part of the NHC Tour as long as it takes place no later than December 31, 2009."

Massa is a longtime advocate of tournaments, but says he is now boycotting the NHC.

"Unless the NTRA promises that all contests will be open to the public, I will no longer participate," he said. "I assume many others will do the same - and what a blunder that they would to sacrifice some of their most loyal players for a sweetheart deal with the TOC."

As for the actual tournament, 62 TOC owners signed up and made mythical $2 win-and-place wagers on the 10 races at Del Mar that day. Cresencio Dacayanan, 32, of Cypress, Calif., won with a final bankroll of $82, with Andy Pham, 24, of Alisa Viejo, Calif, taking second with $80.80. Pham was near the top of the standings all day long. Dacayanan took over the lead when his selection, Flirting Love, won the ninth race and paid $24 to win and $12.20 to place. Heading into the final race, Dacayanan and Pham were in first and second place and both used 3-5 favorite Tamarack Smarty, who paid $3.40 to win and $2.20 to place.

Another Owners Challenge, again only open to licensed TOC members, will be held Oct. 24 at Golden Gate Fields with the winner joining Dacayanan and Pham in representing TOC at the 11th NHC finals on Jan. 29-30, 2010, at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas. The field is limited to the first 150 eligible entrants. See toconline.com for details.

Twinspires offers BC Challenge qualifier

Taking an idea from the poker world, twinspires.com will be holding two online satellite tournaments to the $10,000 buy-in Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge at Santa Anita on Nov. 6-7. Twinspires.com is still finalizing details, but Jeremy Clemons, the account-wagering site's vice president of marketing, said it would be held Sept. 19 and Sept. 26 with an entry fee of just $100.

"Twinspires is excited to offer horseplayers a chance to parlay $100 into the $150,000 to prize at the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge and a berth in the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship," Clemons said.

Each tournament will guarantee at least one $10,500 prize package with $10,000 to cover the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge buy-in and the $500 presumably to be used for travel expenses. You must have a twinspires.com account to participate.

The tournament is 100 percent payback and and twinspires.com will award one seat to the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge for every 105 entries, Clemons said.

Clemons added that for every three entries over 105, TwinSpires would award an entry into its tourney on Nov. 21 that awards NHC berths to the top 15 finishers and 10 seats in the Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans.

Each tournament will be a $100 buy-in and each twinspires.com account holder can purchase up to three entries.

* As correctly predicted in this space last month by former leader Michael Labriola, the NHC Tour has a new leader in Ricky Zimmer, 31, of New York City. Zimmer vaulted into the lead with a third-place finish in the Dog Days of Summer Handicapping Tournament at Canterbury Park on Aug. 22-23 and has 6,898 Tour points. Shawn Turner of Middletown, Md., who was second in that same tourney, is second on the Tour leaderboard at 6,750. Zimmer finished fifth on last year's Tour and earned an automatic berth into the 11th NHC, but he still joined the tour again and is shooting for the $100,000 prize that goes to the yearly champ, who is then eligible for a $2 million bonus if he goes on to win the NHC finals.

* For a list of upcoming qualifiers, go to http://drf.com/nhc/2009/qualifiers.html (with the twinspires tourney to be added when it's official).