About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 15-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He cashed on the NHC Tour for 2018 with a 19th overall finish. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 15-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He cashed on the NHC Tour for 2018 with a 19th overall finish. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

Find more about me on:

Here are my most recent posts

Darren Weir’s Buzzer Use to make his horses run faster stunned Australia and was a wake-up call for horseracing worldwide

Dick Francis wrote more than 40 novels. I read the first 20 or so. For Kicks was the best. It came out in 1965. Wow! Ten years old and entranced. Since then there have been many superior books but not one more riveting. What made Francis’ racing thrillers so captivating was his understanding of horseracing and its diverse characters. He had been a good jockey and knew the score.

In his stories the sport of kings was Somerset Maugham’s Monaco: a sunny place for shady people. It was the ingenuity of the plot that distinguished For Kicks. Certain horses’ performances were being bizarrely enhanced but post-race drug tests showed no trace of any banned substance. The circumstantial evidence of wrongdoing was formidable. Horses that had…

Is This the Future of Horse Race Wagering?

This article is an oldie but goodie about the combuter robotic wagering that exists in horse racing.

Starting a Computer Robotic Wagering team isn’t for everyone. It takes money, time, and manpower.

”It’s not just one guy. To do this, you have to go out there and get your own math whiz, get an MIT grad to write a program that you then feed tons of race data into and develop your own forecasting model,” said Scherf. “Then you’ve got to test that over a period of a year and refine it and refine it. I’ve always heard it’s going to cost you at least a million dollars to set up.”

Dana Parham, one of the pioneers of computer-assisted wagering, told the International Simulcast Conference in 2010 that it cost him $6 million to run his business with 30 employees.

Clearly, the computers don’t do all the work, but they handle a majority of it. Racing and Gaming Services, a group based on the island of St. Kitts with a U.S. pari-mutuel hub, has about 90 customers who invest in the team’s wagering strategies. Last year, RGS said 60% of its betting was done robotically.

“The point of the computer is to come up with a true or fair market value for each horse,” said Scherf. “If I run this race a thousand times, and this horse will win 500 times, then he should be even money. If he’s 4-5, he’s not a bet. If he’s 6-5, he’s a bet, the computer says. They do that for every horse in the race.”

In an interview with Standardbred Canada, Parham explained the key advantage of computer-driven wagering. It’s not just about speed; the computer takes a long-range, statistical view that …

Lone Sailor favored in Saturday’s Mineshaft Handicap at Fair Grounds

Lone Sailor had a good, if not impressive 3-year-old racing season.

However, something happened along the way that has trainer Tom Amoss very optimistic about the potential for Lone Sailor’s 4-year-old campaign. That will begin Saturday in the Mineshaft Handicap, part of Louisiana Derby Preview Day at the Fair Grounds.

“I think it has a lot to do with him growing up mentally, understanding racing and getting competitive,” Amoss said. “I think he was late to the the party getting to understand about competition and wanting to compete. So, I think that’s the biggest thing that has changed from the end of his 3-year-old campaign to the beginning.”

Lone Sailor, a Majestic Warrior colt out of Ambitious by Mr. Greeley, is the early 7-2 favorite in the Mineshaft. It is the first of two $150,000 races for 4-year-olds and up and will be contested over a mile and a sixteenth on the dirt track. The other is the Fair Grounds Handicap, which will be run on the turf over a mile and an eighth immediately following the Mineshaft.

The day’s biggest races are the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes for top 3-year-old Kentucky Derby hopefuls, and the $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes for top 3-year-old fillies.

Harlan Punch, trained by Brad Cox and with jockey Florent Geroux up, is the 4-1 second favorite in the Mineshaft, with Flameaway, Mark Casse and Tyler Gaffalione, is next at 5-1.

Lone Sailor, owned by Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson, is coming …

Industry Profile: Handicapper Jonathan Kinchen

“I think the biggest sucker play in racing is handicapping for 45 minutes, and then spending three minutes deciding how to bet it. So often, players will get home from work, handicap to 11, wake up and handicap, go to the track and then construct their Pick 5 ticket at the window. I think you should spend as much time constructing your ticket as handicapping, if not more.”

LAS VEGAS, NV.–Jonathon Kinchen is maybe the closest thing the handicapping world has to a rock star. In little more than four years, Kinchen has gone from an unknown real estate investor with little tournament experience to a commentator on Fox Sports’ Saturday at the Races. He’s arguably the most recognizable and popular player at the NHC, and it’s easy to see why. Kinchen’s young (for a horseplayer), he can pull off the odd tropical shirt, and his sleeved left arm is covered in tattoos of Barbaro, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. His Tweets are often clever, and even his Twitter handle–@UTBigHair, a nod to his alma mater–is above average.

At root, though, the 36-year-old Kinchen is simply a good horse player. He remains the only player in NHC history to have both of his entries qualify for The Final Table, and in 2015 he won the NHC Tour, a testing year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned events.

You’d be familiar with Kinchen’s introduction to handicapping. He grew up in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and his father often brought him along on trips to Lone Star Park.

“He’s a horrible bettor,” Kinchen laughed. “He doesn’t look at the Form; he’s the guy standing in line in front of you looking back at the TV screen, betting our address. But I saw a lot of guys with computers and papers doing it seriously, and I figured that if I was going to come with him, I should at least figure what it’s all about.”

 

Horse racing is Open at the Rillito Race Track

Thousands of people went to Rillito, now in it’s 76th year of live horse racing, for opening day.

This year, the Rillito Race Track is partnering with the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to launch the Rillito Equine Wellness Program. Students will be able to receive college credit through the program and work alongside trainers, scientists, and veterinarians.

Races will continue each weekend through March 17. Post time is 1:30 p.m.

Industry Profile: Bryan and Judy Wagner

This past weekend Bryan Wagner was inducted into the NTRA’s Horseplayers Hall of Fame, post mortem.  His wife and racing partner, Judy Wagner, a dear friend of mine, gave an emotional acceptance speech at the 20th annual dinner banquet for the NHC.  [This article originally in the Horse Player magazine, which is no longer in print.]

BRYAN AND JUDY WAGNER

2009 NHC TOUR CHAMP & 2000 NTRA HANDICAPPER OF THE YEAR

By Rich Nilsen

I sat down with Judy and Bryan Wagner for this Horse Player Magazine interview not long after their appearance in the 11th annual National Handicapping Championship (NHC). I met the charming and gregarious couple from New Orleans on the tournament trail several years ago and am blessed to have become friends with them during that time.

Their beloved Saints (which Bryan used to own a piece of) upset the Colts to win the Super Bowl and temporarily turn their world upside down – but in a good way. The Wagners still found time in their busy schedule to share their thoughts about the NHC, the challenge of finishing one-two in the NHC Tour last year, and handicapping in general.

 

HP: How did you each get started with handicapping and following our great sport of horse racing?

Bryan I started by going to the track as a teenager and immediately feel in love with the track and racing.

Judy – I met Bryan in late June, 1994.  He took me to the track with him the next month.  After my second visit to the track with him, he handed me a Racing Form and said I want a partner not a companion.  He said you can learn this since you are a person that likes stats.  I took the racing program the first couple of times and saw who the leading trainers and jockeys were and looked for runners that they rode or trained.

 

Bryan and Judy Wagner at 2018 Eclipse Awards, Gulfstream Park, FL 1.25.2018 copyright AGOS

HP: Winning the NHC Tour was quite an accomplishment, but finishing one-two was pretty amazing. When did you decide to go after the grand prize of the tour?

Bryan – I became very involved with Congressman Joseph Cao, our first Vietnamese Congressman, in 2008.  He will run for re-election in 2010.  Since 2009 was an off year, I felt if either one of us could get some early Tour points this was the year to give it a shot.  With the TwinSpires.com Leaderboard, other online contests, our local contests and the other contests we like to travel to, I would have the time for probably approximately 15 contests.  After Judy was in first place in early May, we really started giving this more serious thought.   I then won a contest in June and that pretty much sealed the deal to give it a big effort.

Judy – I was very fortunate to win the first online NHC Qualify tournament of the year in April.  A couple of weeks later I received points in the free NHC Tour contest on Kentucky Oaks/Derby weekend.  Since there were not that many contests in the early part of the year, the total points I received in these two events put me in first place.

As with all of us we like seeing our name at the top of a leader board.  Although I had said in the past, once I qualified I would not go for the Tour top prize, when the rules changed where the top five finishers get the auto qualification to NHC the following year, this made me revisit my quest.  Prior to the auto qualify the following year, I felt I did not have the time to play enough tournaments and the chances were so slim with the odds against me, I really did not consider going for first.  With the top five getting the pass for 2011 coupled with the start I had, I decided to continue to play, especially in online tournaments.

I was very fortunate to pick up more points in July online.  By this point with both of us having won tournaments and having other points, we were in the top 15 and the Tour grabbed us.  The year for me did not start with the goal of chasing the Tour but it grabbed me about July – really tight.  It was never a situation that one of us was trying to beat the other.  We were and always have been each other’s biggest cheerleaders.  We were working hard at that point to try to get one of us to the top and hopefully the other in the top five.

 

HP: I think you both knew it would be a major challenge to finish in the top five on the Tour. Just how difficult was it?

Bryan – It was extremely difficult and we did not know until the last tournament of December that we both made it.

Judy – In September I moved into fourth or fifth place and Bryan was in top 10.  He had a good finish at Fairplex, moved into the top five, and knocked me down a few spots.  Within two weeks I had two good point finishes at Fairplex and moved into first.  Shortly there after, someone else moved into first.  The scores were so tight it was obvious the 2009 Tour was going to be tight to the end as the scores were so close and numerous players were within striking distance.

After Bryan had a first place finish, and I had a second in the TwinSpires.com Leaderboard that ended in November, Bryan was back in first and I was in the top five again.  We really felt we had to be aggressive at this point to try to get the results we wanted.   We made plans to play in two tournaments in December we had never participated in – Keeneland and Turfway.  We both did not do well.

We faced a very difficult decision about going to Surfside, leaving family on Christmas night.  Steve Hartshorn was breathing down Bryan’s neck as he had won the NHC Qualify online in the middle of December.  California is his home turf and he is such a strong handicapper, that we felt we had to go to fight for both of us to try to stay in the top five. I was barely hanging on to 5th position.  The racing Gods smiled on us and our family forgave us for leaving children and grandchildren at 8 pm Christmas night. Bryan finished second at Surfside sealing his first place position.  I was lucky and finished third.  This gave me the points to move from 5th into a tie with Steve for second.  We were fortunate as there were several very good handicappers that could have won or moved up.  We just hung on for our handicapping lives.  Yes, I would say it was difficult, but the pressure was worse.

 

HP: Let’s talk handicapping. You each have different approaches to handicapping. Can you go into detail how you dissect a race.

Bryan – Since I do not have to play every race, I will look at a race for about five minutes for an angle- lone speed, lone deep closer, hidden jockey change, and “better-than-it-looks” races.  I will also search for one of only a few horses that can go a particularly long distance.  If race is a mandatory race, I just handicap race and look for best value and how the price of the horse affects my standings in the contest.

Judy – First thing I look for is to see if a runner has been the distance and condition.  If not, I look at pedigree for distance and surface. My favorite races are those that are first time starters and first time on turf.  I also look at trouble first trips.  I feel young runners can change very quickly with even one start.  Some are quick studies with one time in paddock and starting gate.

Also trainer/jockey stats for conditions are very important.  Some trainers are anxious to get horses to the starting gate and their stats show that runners may not be ready.  Others will not send a runner to a race until they are sure they can handle race.  These stats are very important in my analysis of race.  Also for distance races, especially long races of 1 1/8 miles or more, I really look at experience and pedigree for runners.  My favorite races to handicap are those with first turf starts and first time starters.  I especially like to follow young sires.  The lower profile sires with high percentage success is an angle I search for.  Also, the trainer stats for this type runner is very important.  Although some of the top trainers do not push their first time runners and I shy away from their runners.  I really like to find an “under-the-radar” trainer that has a very high percentage for this race condition.

A great example was Saturday, day two, of the NHC. In Gulfstream Park race 3, the #6 horse had a trainer with over 40% success with first turfers.  The runner won at over 80-1.  This was a very much under-the-radar trainer.

 

HP: What tools do you rely on in your handicapping?

Bryan – This depends on how many tracks are in a contest.  If only one or two tracks are involved, I use DRF or BRIS Ultimate PPs, as well as the Sire Stats book for first time on a new surface.  I will use HTR for workouts and quick stat summaries.  In contests with several tracks, I also use Thorograph Sheets for a more comprehensive view of race.  This also allows for a quick look at many aspects of race in a shorter period of time.  Frankly, I am dissatisfied with my ability to consistently get the results I need and I am going to dedicate this year in deciding on a lone handicapping methodology.

Judy – I start my handicapping with the Brisnet Insider Picks and Power Plays.  I use this as my racing program. I feel naked if I go to the track without my Insider Picks & Power Plays report. On it, I note runners, trainers or jockeys that have outstanding stats.  It gives me the red flags that tell me whether or not to pay attention to a particular runner.

From this I go to HTR and review their stats and especially workout ratings for first time starters and first turfers.  I also keep notes during the year on young sires and what their runners have done.  The past workouts have really played an important part in my handicapping.  I watch for layoffs and how a trainer brings runners back after layoffs.  I immediately note jockey changes in the materials I use.  I still have a racing form to refer to as this was my initial tool when I started my handicapping journey.  I really like to compare the various information that is available.  This is especially important for new sires. I never handicap without my Sire Stats book from BRIS that has several years of notes that are transferred every year.

 

HP: Do you feel there are some handicapping factors that are over-weighted, as well as factors that not emphasized enough by the wagering public?

Bryan: I think that workouts are often overlooked by the public. However, at major tracks the workouts can be overbet due to the presence of more clockers and dissemination of information.

In some states, the state-bred runners are equivalent to anywhere in the country; whereas in other states, they can be vastly inferior.

Judy: I think for the average player that does not really dissect the race, certain trainers and jockeys are overbet. Certainly there are excellent well known trainers and jockeys with good percentages, but I love to see these types “bet down” when I have a longer priced runner that I really like. Oftentimes, these are horses with lesser known connections.

I think that the general wagering public does not get into pedigree handicapping, nor do they spend the time necessary to figure out a trainer’s strengths or weaknesses.

As I like to bet first time starters, there are several well known, very successful trainers that do not push their horse first time out, and I think this is something that is overlooked numerous times by the public.

Sometimes, articles and information often put out by women are not given the same type of respect as information put out by men. For example, I love the work that Lauren Stich has done in regards to pedigree information.

 

HP: What are your favorite wagers to make?

Bryan: I like to make exacta wagers, as well as the Pick-4. My favorite wager of all is when there is a carryover pool on the last day of a meet where there is a mandatory payout.

 

Judy: As far as contests go, I like win and place wagers. In terms of betting, I prefer the dime superfecta wager, especially in a full field of maidens or two year olds.

I love keying a horse that I like at 5-1 or higher in multiple trifecta partwheel tickets.

 

HP: Bryan, you were the lone player eligible for an incredible $2 million bonus if you captured the NHC in January. How much added pressure did that put on you, and is there anything you feel that you would have done differently?

Bryan: First of all, I have been to the NHC enough to realize how incredibly tough it is to win it. I would say that the favorite in a tournament like that should probably between 80 and 100-1. Secondly, I don’t get along with Vegas and the higher altitudes, so that makes it tougher on me. Thirdly, I prefer tournaments that only have a few tracks versus a lot of tracks like the NHC. With those factors in mind, I did not feel a lot of pressure. But I sure did enjoy the experience and being the Tour Champ. People were very gracious.

As far as doing anything differently, I should have played some higher priced horses at the NHC.

 

HP: Judy, I believe, this was the third time you have cashed in the National Handicapping Championship [and fourth time finishing in the top 30]. Do you approach that tournament any differently than a contest during the year, and what do you feel has been the secret of your success at the NHC?

Judy: Just the common sense things. I try to go out a couple days early and be well rested. I spend a lot more time dissecting the types of races I like there, than I do at other contests during the year.

I download the reports from Brisnet early in the week, and then later in the week, use some of my other tools. I keep all my notes on my form at the NHC.

 

HP: What preparation do you typically do leading up to the NHC each year?

Bryan: First of all, tracks that are running 30 to 35 days prior to the tournament – I like to look at those races so that I can judge for myself where the really tough fields are, how the track plays, and hopefully some of the “better than looks” horses will show up in the tournament. I will put them in my stable email.

Secondly, BRIS reports come out with some of the information earlier than other sources. I try to get a jump on the races that way.

Judy: The tracks that you assume will be used in the tournament are the ones I will watch. For the tracks I normally don’t follow, I will go through the result charts for the past several weeks to try to uncover any types of patterns, hot trainers and jockeys, etc.

I am not very good with pace handicapping, but the BRIS Ultimate Past Performances will give me details on the track biases that I can note, as well as the pace ratings for each runner.

 

HP: Since you are already qualified for the 2012 NHC thanks to your top five finishes, to what extent will you go after the tour this year? What advice would give to players participating in the tour?

Bryan: I definitely plan on participating in a few tournaments this year, just because they are fun to play in. It will be great to play in a contest where there is very little pressure. If one of us happens to win a couple of tournaments in a row, then obviously it would change our plans concerning the Tour.

I would love to expand on that second question in a future issue of The Horse Player magazine!

Judy: I have not made a firm decision on the Tour this year. There was a lot of stress going after the Tour last year! I still have my household responsibilities, so going after the Tour the same way is a tough decision. Now, if early in the year, I win a tournament again and find myself on top of the Leaderboard, it is possible I will chase the Tour the same way. Regardless, I will certainly participate in the Tour to some extent. We are entered for the $500 level.

My only advice would be that if enjoy tournament play or just handicapping in general, then you should definitely give the Tour a try. You do need to have a real competitive spirit if you are serious about doing well on the Tour.

 

HP: Having owned horses myself for 10 years, I feel that has given me insight into the game that most handicappers don’t have. You have owned a stable for many years and have a piece of Kelly Leak, who defeated Mine That Bird in the 2009 Sunland Derby. How has owning racehorses influenced your handicapping?

Bryan: This gives me great insight into why a horse might be placed in a race. In some cases they may not have been able to find a proper race so they are giving the horse a start. Sometimes you will see a horse, particularly a filly or mare, run in a stakes race in a short field just to get black type (a top three finish for their pedigree page) which enhances the breeding value.

For the modest cost of getting into a partnership, I recommend every horseplayer, who can, to become an owner at least one time.

Judy: Right now I don’t personally have any horse ownership. When owning horses, however, you know the importance of proper training. You tend to investigate trainers to know more about their ethics, their philosophy, etc. You tend to understand trainer patterns, such as why they may have a certain jockey on a horse. You understand more why a trainer may place a horse in a certain spot.

Almost by osmosis, when working with your trainer, you pick up details on other trainers and how they handle their stock.

 

HP: Judy, you are without a doubt one of the most accomplished female handicappers in the game. How do you feel the sport can market to women better and bring more Judy Wagners into racing?

Judy: I have gotten to know a fellow female handicapper from Arkansas. I got to sit with her at Louisiana Downs. By conversing with her, she reminded me that females are less intimidated to ask other females about how they got into a certain field, hobby, whatever.

I wish I had the magic answer for this, but I really don’t.  I have done some seminars entitled “woman in handicapping.” One of the first things I tell woman in those seminars is to get to know the leading trainers and jockeys.  Also, you can’t learn everything in a day, a week, or even a year. Choose one segment of the game and begin by learning about that.

I would love to get to know more women who are committed to handicapping and learning.

Cheltenham Festival: 2019 Champion Hurdle Contenders

We’re now less than two months away from the 2019 Cheltenham Festival and excitement is building in the horse racing community. Arguably the biggest National Hunt racing event of the year in the United Kingdom, the best runners and riders will head to Prestbury Park with the intention of winning one of the most prestigious races on the calendar.

The showpiece race of the opening day is the Champion Hurdle. Tuesday is now known as Champion Day and fans have already started to place ante post bets on the winner of this particular race. Let’s take a look at a few of the leading contenders for the 2019 Champion Hurdle, including defending champion Buveur d’Air.

 

BUVEUR D’AIR

Buveur D’Air has won the last two renewals of Tuesday’s showpiece race at the Festival and he will take some stopping in his pursuit of a third success. With Barry Geraghty on board yet again, Buveur D’Air should be there or thereabouts as they enter the closing stages of the race.

Punters will be wary of taking the 2/1 for Buveur D’Air to prevail though. He was a beaten favourite at Kempton Park on Boxing Day before scraping past a weak field at Sandown. He is likely to find more at Prestbury Park but is by no means a certainty to win.

Odds: 2/1

 

APPLE’S JADE

Write Apple’s Jade off at your peril. She finished a disappointing third when odds on in the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham last year but has since won four in a row. More impressively, the combined distance in these four victories is 73 lengths. And she’s beaten some pretty good horses in the process…

Gordon Elliott will be aiming Apple’s Jade at the Champion Hurdle despite Michael O’Leary refusing to rule out another effort at the Mares race. At her brilliant best, Apple’s Jade will be a tough nut to crack up against the boys.

Odds: 9/4

 

LAURINA

Laurina will head to Cheltenham with a record of five wins from five races – an impressive feat to say the least. She romped to a 48 length victory over her sole rival at Sandown last time out but question marks remain over the quality of her opponents. Unlike Apple’s Jade and Buveur D’Air, Laurina is yet to beat anyone of note.

Willie Mullins has won this race four times since 2011 and plenty of punters will be piling in on his runners at the Festival. Laurina will almost certainly feature at some point in the horse racing predictions on Betting.Betfair ahead of March’s meeting.

Odds: 5/1

 

VERDANA BLUE

The dark horse of the race. Verdana Blue emerged victorious against Buveur D’Air in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park but was that result simply a fluke? Only time will tell – we haven’t seen her on a racecourse since that triumph and punters will be keeping a close eye on any declarations in the coming weeks.

A prep run ahead of Cheltenham would be ideal. Verdana Blue is an inconsistent type but cannot be dismissed based on that effort on Boxing Day. If she emulates that performance, Apple’s Jade and Laurina will have their hands full.

Odds: 12/1

Over $2.8M on the Line for Horseplayers at the NHC

nhc final table vegasLAS VEGAS, Nevada (February 6, 2019) – An estimated field of 670 entries will compete for nearly $2.9 million in cash and awards – and horse racing’s official title of “Horseplayer of the Year” – at this weekend’s 20th NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens™ and Treasure Island Las Vegas. Both the field size and the purse are the second-largest in NHC history. The three-day tournament, Friday to Sunday at Treasure Island, will offer a first-place prize of $800,000.

The NHC field will be reduced to the top 10 percent of players after the first two days. The highest 10 cumulative scores after the Semifinal round will fill out the Final Table. Bankrolls amassed during Day 1, Day 2 and the Semifinal round will roll over to the Final Table, with the 10 finalists settling the NHC score in seven “mandatory” assigned races.

Players who do not make the Semifinal cut will still compete on Day 3, in a separate Consolation tournament.

A full scoreboard will be updated regularly at https://www.ntra.com/nhc, where fans and players can also find each day’s contest race menu and news updates.

“We are delighted to play host to many of the nation’s top horseplayers at the historic 20th NHC,” said NTRA Chief Operating Officer and NHC Tournament Director, Keith Chamblin. “The NHC is a true celebration of the horseplayer—the individuals who fuel every aspect of the sport and business of Thoroughbred racing. We also thank the many organizations who hosted NHC qualifiers throughout 2018 s well as our sponsoring partners—Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens™ and Treasure Island Las Vegas—for their ongoing support.”

At the Races with Steve Byk will broadcast live on SiriusXM satellite radio (Sirius 219; XM 201) from Treasure Island and online at www.stevebyk.com daily, Thursday to Monday, with NHC coverage slated for 2-7:30p ET (11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. PT). Additional news and exclusive content will be shared on Twitter via the official NTRA account, @NTRA.

Defending NHC champion Chris Littlemore – who last month was honored with an Eclipse Award as “Horseplayer of the Year”– heads this year’s field, which is comprised of 669 entries (pending the outcome of Thursday’s Last Chance Contest at the Treasure Island). There are 118 rookies, representing 23 percent of the field. There are 138 dual qualifiers going into Thursday’s Last Chance Contest at the Treasure Island.

As the 2018 NHC winner, Littlemore of Whitby, Ontario, Canada, near Toronto, received an automatic berth into this year’s tournament to defend the title he won last February when he bested other entries. Littlemore amassed a winning score of $348.30 over the three-day tournament from 53 mythical $2 Win and Place bets – 18 each on Friday and Saturday, 10 in Sunday morning’s Semifinal round and seven in the dramatic Final Table contest exclusive to the overall top 10. He will seek to become the first-ever two-time winner of the NHC, as will six other past winners that have qualified. The other qualifying champions are: Ray Arsenault (2017), Paul Matties, Jr. (2016), Jim Benes (2013),Michael Beychok (2012), Richard Goodall (2008), and Stanley Bavlish (2007).

Several players will compete for major bonuses tied to earlier accomplishments:

As the winner of the 2018 NHC Tour, David Gutfreund won $100,000 and an NHC berth. He also is eligible for a record $6 million in bonuses if he goes on to win at the 2019 NHC finals.

Chuck Grubbs, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC), is eligible for a $3 million BCBC/NHC Bonus. First prize at the NHC is $800,000, meaning that successful completion of the BCBC-NHC double would be worth $3.8 million.

In its 20th year, the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments.

NHC players qualified via contests hosted by 34 racetracks, casino race books, handicapping contest websites, Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) outlets, simulcast distribution networks, horse owner associations and other Thoroughbred racing organizations. The NHC 19 qualifier hosts were:

Aqueduct, Arlington Park, BataviaBets.com, Belmont Park, Breeders’ Cup, Canterbury Park, Capital OTB, Century Bets, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Fair Grounds, Florida HBPA, Gulfstream Park, Hawthorne Race Course, Hollywood Casino at Penn National, Horseplayers.comHorseTourneys.com, Indiana Grand, Keeneland, Laurel Park, Lone Star Park, Los Alamitos Race Course, Meadowlands, Mohegan Sun, Monmouth Park, National Thoroughbred Racing Association, New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club, Santa Anita Park, Saratoga Race Course, Tampa Bay Downs, The BIG One, Treasure Island, TVG, Woodbine Entertainment Group and Xpressbet.com.

The tournament format for the NHC is meant to be the best possible test of overall handicapping ability. Players attempt to earn the highest possible bankroll based on mythical $2 Win-and-Place wagers. Assigned “mandatory” races – eight per day on Day 1 and Day 2 and seven at the Final Table – will be announced at least 36 hours prior to each contest day (Wednesday evening for Friday, Thursday evening for Saturday, Friday evening for Sunday) on Twitter (@NTRA) and NTRA.com.

The remaining 10 races on Day 1 and Day 2 and all 10 plays in the Semifinal round will be optional wagers on races at one of eight designated NHC tournament tracks: Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita Park and Tampa Bay Downs.

Treasure Island will play host to the NHC for the eighth straight year.

On Saturday, the NTRA also will host an invitation-only online tournament, the 5th Annual Tito’s $5,000 NHC Charity Challenge. A field of approximately 40 media and racing personalities will compete to have $5,000 donated in their name to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

About the NHC

In its 20th year, the NHC is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino race books, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping websites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. There are no bye-ins to the NHC. Each year, the NHC winner joins other human and equine champions as an honoree at the Eclipse Awards. For more information on the NHC, visitNTRA.com/nhc.

About the NTRA

The NTRA, based in Lexington, Ky., is a broad-based coalition of more than 100 horse racing interests and thousands of individual stakeholders consisting of horseplayers, racetrack operators, owners, breeders, trainers and affiliated horse racing associations, charged with increasing the popularity, welfare and integrity of Thoroughbred racing through consensus-based leadership, legislative advocacy, safety and integrity initiatives, fan engagement and corporate partner development. The NTRA owns and manages the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance; NTRA.com; the Eclipse Awards; the National Horseplayers Championship; NTRA Advantage, a corporate partner sales and sponsorship program; and Horse PAC®, a federal political action committee. NTRA press releases appear on NTRA.com, Twitter (@ntra) and Facebook (facebook.com/1NTRA).

Industry Profile: Trainer Jonathan Sheppard

Over Flat or Fences, Jonathan Sheppard Wins Them All

Born in Ashwell, Hertfordshire, England in 1940, Sheppard initially seemed destined for life as a stockbroker in his family’s business, and to his credit he did give the task a try for a time. But early in his adult life, Sheppard knew he wanted to work with horses and went to great lengths to make his dream come true, beginning when he left his job in 1961.

“[I] wanted to train horses and not sit in an office all day,” Sheppard explained in the Aug. 10, 1990, edition of the Owensboro, Ky. Messenger-Inquirer.

Fulfilling that dream would be easier said than done for Sheppard. Training in England seemed out of the question since he was the son of a racing official, and the rules of British racing would thus have restricted Sheppard’s ability to participate as a trainer. No matter though – Sheppard simply pulled up stakes and moved to the United States, where he rode races and worked as an assistant to steeplechase trainer Burley Cocks before going out on his own in 1965. Fittingly, Sheppard scored his first victory the following year with Haffaday, a tough-as-nails jumper whom Sheppard would eventually train to victories in the 1967 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, the 1968 New Jersey Hunt Cup, and the 1968 Maryland Hunt Cup.

More than five decades later, Sheppard’s results are nothing short of staggering. His horses have earned over a million dollars in purse money every year since 1982. He’s trained the winners of more than 3,300 races, including more than a thousand steeplechase events. He’s trained champion flat runners and steeplechasers, including the Hall of Fame inductees Flatterer and Café Prince and the Breeders’ Cup champions Forever Together and Informed Decision, the latter three all owned by his longtime client George Strawbridge, Jr. He’s led all steeplechase trainers in North America by earnings on 28 occasions and by …

Florida Banned Greyhound Racing In 2018

Is Horse Racing Next?

…Berman says the focus of the issue should be the jobs and economy that horse racing generates in Florida, a number that climbed 47% since the last study was conducted over a decade ago, according to a 2018 report by the American Horse Council (AHC).

Broward local Jennifer Pierce echoes that sentiment. She’s been working within the broader industry for 25 years. Her history includes lobbying for Gulfstream Park — home to the Pegasus World Cup — and “instant racing” tracks. Nowadays, Pierce acts as a consultant for Florida pari-mutuel permit holders.

Pierce couldn’t comment on the sport’s parallelism to greyhound racing but stressed the economic contributions we see on a local level in Broward County. “Gulfstream attracts a much larger amount of interest than other racetracks, which is part of what makes it so successful. Because of the enormous amount of money wagered down here, there’s more money to give out for prize money. So, therefore, it attracts the better horses and the better the horses, the more interest you have betting on it. So more people come down here and they make it a destination,” she says.

“So not only do you have the economic impact from the people that are doing the business of racing, but you have Gulfstream itself as a tourist destination… These are multimillion-dollar animals with multimillion-dollar breeding potential. Any horse that goes in this race is like the best of the best. And they have an entourage to match it.”