01/19/2009 12:00AM

Tourney offers last chance for NHC X


LAS VEGAS - The 10th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship takes place here Friday and Saturday at the Red Rock Resort with the biggest finals in its history.

A record 301 contestants will be shooting for the $500,000 first-place prize, which ties the record prize won last year by Las Vegas resident Richard Goodall. The purse is expected to hit $1 million, including entry fees from one last qualifying tournament Wednesday.

The defending champion each year is given an automatic exemption to the following year's final, and so far 295 other handicappers have qualified at NTRA-member racetracks, OTBs, casinos, and websites. The final five spots will be filled Wednesday in the appropriately named Last Chance Qualifier at the Red Rock. The entry fee is $500, with 70 percent (or $350 of each entry) going to the NHC X purse. Contestants will make 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers, with eight races being mandatory as determined by tournament organizers and the other seven being player's choice from the designated contest tracks, which will be Gulfstream, Laurel, Turfway, and Beulah. The top five finishers who have not qualified for NHC X will earn the berths.

NHC X will then take place all day Friday and Saturday, with the same format as above except with the contest tracks being Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Tampa Bay, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn, Golden Gate, and Santa Anita.

The weekend concludes Sunday with the start of the race for NHC XI. The Red Rock Shootout will have a $100 entry fee, with the top two finishers joining the NHC X champ in being the first to qualify for next January's finals. Contestants will make eight mythical $2 win-and-place wagers, with four races being mandatory and the others to be chosen from Aqueduct, Gulfstream, and Tampa Bay Downs. Only Eastern tracks are being used for this contest to accommodate out-of-towners traveling back home Sunday.

Unlike in the Last Chance Qualifier, 100 percent of entry fees will be returned as prize money. The deadline to enter is 10 a.m. Sunday.