The first-place purse for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship has been boosted from $500,000 to $1 million starting with the January 2012 finals, which will have a field of about 500 playing for a total purse of around $2 million. This year&rsquo;s finale, slated for the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas on Jan. 28-29, 2011, will have a field of about 321 playing for an estimated $1.1 million.\r\nThe NHC, in its 12th year, started with a purse of $240,000 and first-place prize of $100,000 with the inaugural finals in 2000. After five years, the first prize grew to $200,000 in 2005, then to $400,000 in 2007, and then to $500,000 in 2008.\r\n&ldquo;After more than a decade of steady, sustained growth, the NHC property is firmly established,&rdquo; said NTRA vice president Keith Chamblin, who also acts as tournament director. &ldquo;This is a good time to see how much we can expand it in the next couple of years. We want it to be on par with events like the World Series of Poker, and I think that&rsquo;s very achievable with the interest of those wanting to hosting tournaments and the interest of customers in trying to qualify for the coveted spots in the NHC.&rdquo;\r\nSince the NHC&rsquo;s inception, qualifying tournaments have only been allowed at NTRA member tracks, OTBs, casinos, and websites. The increases will come from that restriction being lifted.\r\nDRF is a title sponsor of the NHC but is not involved in coordinating the qualifying tournaments or the running of the finals.\r\n&ldquo;There are hundreds of sites that offer pari-mutuel wagering in this country that might not feel a need for membership in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association &ndash; such as greyhound tracks, Quarter Horse tracks, Standardbred tracks, Native American casinos, Las Vegas racebooks, jai alai frontons &ndash; but would love to host NHC qualifiers,&rdquo; Chamblin said. &ldquo;By doing this, we can open it to everybody and make these increases in prize money without putting it on the backs of our members.&rdquo;\r\nChamblin said final details are still being worked out, but currently NTRA members pay $10,000 to send three qualifiers to the finals with non-members to pay a yet-to-be determined premium that could be double the standard fee.\r\nIn another change, horseplayers hoping to qualify for the NHC will be required to pay an annual membership fee of $45 that must be paid in advance of playing in a qualifying event. If someone does not pay the fee in advance, they will just be competing for purse money and any NHC berths will fall to the next player who has not previously qualified.\r\n&ldquo;What we&rsquo;re doing is instituting a program where if you want to play for the big money you have to join our organization,&rdquo; Chamblin said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s just like in golf, if you want to play on the tour, you have to register with the USGA. It&rsquo;s the same way with other sports like billiards and tennis.&rdquo;\r\nWith many more people being exposed to the NHC and wanting a chance to play for the $1 million jackpot, the membership fee was lowered from the current $100 Level 1 membership. A higher $500 fee was paid this year by Level 2 players who wanted to play for year-long prize money. Current plans call for that second tier to be eliminated next year.\r\nChamblin said more details in regards to when registration will begin, as well as free online tournaments and other members benefits, are still be ironed out and will be announced this fall.