Inside Horse Racing’s ‘Hunger Games’ in Las Vegas – Rolling Stone

NHC18 Champ Ray Arsenaul

NHC18 Champ Ray Arsenault

RollingStone.com: Inside Horse Racing’s ‘Hunger Games’ in Las Vegas

The NTRA National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas brings together an assortment of horseplayers from all over the world. and more »

Source: Inside Horse Racing’s ‘Hunger Games’ in Las Vegas – Rolling Stone

Champions Handicapping Tournament in Two Weeks at Laurel

The Maryland Jockey Club is accepting entries for the spring session of the Champions Handicapping Tournament to be held Saturday, March 25 at Laurel Park.

Berths to the NTRA/DRF National Handicapping Championship (NHC), Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) and BIG ONE tournaments are on the line as well as guaranteed prize money to the top 10 finishers.

A maximum of two entries per person will be accepted at a cost of $300 each, covering the $100 entry fee and $200 bankroll. The tournament will be capped at 300 entries.

The tournament winner will have their choice of one of two berths to the NHC or a berth in the BCBC or BIG ONE. The second-place finisher has the choice of one of the remaining three berths, the third-place finisher has the choice of one of the remaining two berths, and the fourth-place finisher will receive the remaining berth.

Tracks available for the tournament are Laurel Park, Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita, Aqueduct and Tampa Bay Downs, with no mandatory races. The minimum wager is $20.

For a registration form or further information, email Diana Harbaugh at Diana.harbaugh@marylandracing.com before noon March 24 or visit www.laurelpark.com/handicapping/champions-tournament. Registration by credit card can be done by calling 301-470-5432 before noon March 24.

The BIG ONE takes place Sept. 23-24 at Laurel Park, while the BCBC will be Nov. 3-4 at Del Mar and the NHC is held January 2018 in Las Vegas.

A First Timer’s Look at the NHC


Craig Spencer former jockey

By Craig Spencer

On January 27-29th I was lucky enough to be a guest at the Treasure Island Casino to participate in the 18th National Handicapping Championship.  I have not played a lot of tournaments and was lucky to win a seat on New Years’ Eve off of a qualifier on nhcqualify.com.  So my buddy and I headed to Vegas in hopes of coming home $800,000 richer.

It’s quite an event with so many like-minded handicappers enjoying spending time in an environment that caters to the horseplayer like none other.  We are the target audience that week and no stone is left unturned.  The NTRA does a top class job in organizing this event.  The accommodations, buffets, and dinners are top notch.  I will be back and I will be better prepared.  Now onto the events in the contest.

I had spent the couple of weeks prior to the NHC going over every first time starter to have made their debut since early December at all of the available tracks (eight in total).  I would make “trip notes” on ones that I thought ran better or worse than their running line might indicate.  If their race seemed like the running line would represent their abilities well, then I didn’t bother.

I had made around 90 notes on these horses and had gone back to see how any that might have made their next start had performed to see if my eye was good at identifying value.  I was quite pleased with the results.  Twenty-two had made their second start, four of them with “negative” trip notes, meaning that the performance wasn’t as good as the running line might suggest.  Examples included  “appeared to close well but the pace was extreme upfront and they finished the last quarter in near 27 seconds and this horse had everything go his way getting up the rail and still wasn’t good enough to finish better than a well-beaten third.”  All four of those horses had been reasonably well backed and all finished fourth or worse.

I had five runners that I thought ran deceptively well that didn’t perform that good in their next start.  I had three that ran well but ran into trouble in their second start to finish worse than second but none of them were beaten over three lengths in their second start.  It provided me some confidence that my notes were of some value.  I had four that finished second at good to great odds and six that came back to win paying $90, $66, $38, $24, $14, and $12, so I could see that I had a potential advantage.

I will say two things about these trip notes. First, I see very little value in watching a very experienced horse’s last race looking for trip problems.  I don’t weigh my decision on one race and will toss a race with any indication that it was abnormally poor.  I don’t need to watch the race to see it and one race will not have an effect to my opinion of an animal significantly.

Also I think people who do a lot of replay watching might get to be very good at it, but mostly they are looking for excuses and forget about other items in a race.  An example would be watching a replay and noticing a horse has nowhere to run down the lane so the jockey takes hold and gallops them to the finish line.  They forget that the horse had a perfect ground saving trip up until they ran into a wall of horses.  It is much more likely that the trainer will give instructions to go wide to avoid trouble next start and most of the time that ground loss will make it so they have too much to do and cost them even more energy to be lost than the lack of room did in their prior race.  However, for second time starters a lot can be learned from how they perform in their first start.

Second, after watching a ton of races over a few weeks I worried that I might be getting too forgiving, looking for reasons to like a horse.  I would suggest you spend less than 30 minutes before taking a break, clearing your head, doing something different so you can start again fresh watching the rest.

After entries came out for the weekend and they trickled in, which was painful, I pulled a list of all second time starters and looked at when they made their debut.  If it was outside of the window of time I had watched the replays or at a different track, I went back and watched those horses and made another 25 notes on these horses.  I also had run my data through my tools for the entire first day and had handicapped every race with a main and alternate selection before I left home.  We didn’t know until Thursday morning what the mandatory races would be on Friday and I would be traveling on Thursday so I wanted to be prepared.  Mission accomplished.

Day One of the NHC

Well, my buddy and I stayed out a little later than we should have on Thursday night.  I knew better and will not make the same mistake again.  But I took my list of horses and sorted them by main contenders’ morning line odds (after putting the mandatory races on top).  I had made some notes on ones I had to use and ones I wanted to watch the line on.  As the day progressed and morning line odds got obliterated, I realized as I marched down my list that many of the races had gone off that were a bit lower priority on my list and that I had passed on 3-4 winners already.

I cashed two place tickets for $9 bankroll going into my last alternate race.  In that race I had a Louisiana Bred maiden who had run a very game second in debut at Golden Gate in an open Maiden Special field.  I thought I’d get 4/1 or better on the horse but he was going off at around even money.  I told my buddy, I think I am going to change my ticket to this Yes It’s True first timer who had some decent works and whose trainer didn’t suck too badly with Firsters.  Being the devil’s advocate he is and to make sure I thought about things, he said, “Are you sure you don’t just want to cash, get a little momentum, and start tomorrow with $15 or so and change your tactics a bit?”  I thought about it and decided he may be right.  Well the Golden Gate shipper may have beaten the ambulance to the finish line, but it was a close photo with the ambulance.  The Yes It’s True first timer opened up a clear lead and held on to win and pay $131.  It would have given me the $64 maximum score (they limit the scores to 20/1 to win and 10/1 to place, or $64 as the most you can get off one selection).

Day Two of the NHC

I was dejected but vowed to at least not repeat Day One on Saturday.  I re-organized, spent a little less time at the [casino] tables and more time reviewing my selections with a lot fewer races on my list to play.  I sorted it by post times and categorized the races as “Mandatory,” “Use,” and “Watch the board.”  I played my “mandatory” and “use” races immediately (but still watched for odds and made some adjustments/cancellations on them if the odds didn’t make sense) and then knew which races were going off next.

I did quite a bit better with $129 in contest points on Day Two to get to $138, just $42.60 shy of making the cut to play on Day Three.  That one decision not to change my ticket on Friday cost me a chance to make some noise on Sunday.  I was able to use a trip note second timer that I scored a max payout in the contest on Saturday along with the correct second place horse who a Facebook buddy also had a trip note on, to cash an $880 exacta payout.  I also hit the pick 5 at Laurel for just under a grand, so it turned into a profitable weekend nonetheless.

Final Day of the NHC

I have no clue what would have happened on Sunday.  I played in the consolation contest, which the NTRA sponsors for the non-cut making players, such as myself, to play on Sunday morning.  You must play 10 races out of 36 races available before 12:30 pacific time, the same format the players making the cut play to determine who makes the final table.  I spent very little time preparing for that as there were quite a few social opportunities Saturday night and the chance of beating a field of 400+ non-advancers seemed pretty small, so my buddy and I enjoyed more of the Treasure Island that night.  Had I been in the main contest on Sunday, I would have likely spent a lot more time studying and came up with many different selections than the ones I used in the consolation contest where a couple of max horses are almost a necessity to beat that many players for one prize.  If you’re not first you’re last in that contest.  I did hit a $20 horse at Laurel making his second career start and a half sibling to $1.2M earner International Star.  I probably would have had that one in the big contest had I qualified, as there were many other positives on that horse.

Live and learn.  If you have never been to the NHC, it’s well worth the time to try and get qualified.  The experience is one that I will never forget.  I will be back and, as a second time starter, I will fare significantly better next time I am there.

 

  • Craig Spencer is a former jockey who competed for 12 years.

Ray Arsenault holds off Wolfson to win Handicapper of the Year title

NHC18 Champ Ray Arsenaulby Rich Nilsen

Two friends of mine, Ray Arsenault and Stephen Wolfson Jr., finished 1-2 in the 2017 National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas.  They are two of the most liked guys on the NHC tournament scene.  Arsenault, a veteran of the tournament scene from Canada, takes homes $800,000 and the Handicapper of the Year title!

Ryan Scharnowske barely made the top 66 to reach day three and then catapulted all the way to a third place showing, proving you should never give up.  Congrats to all the money winners this weekend, as well as everyone who made it to the Big Dance in Vegas.  Here is a link showing the final contest race and Ray’s celebration.

2017 NHC LUXAIR Jets Leaderboard – Final Table

As of Mandatory 7 – OFFICIAL

1 Ray Arsenault-1 407.7
2 Stephen Wolfson, Jr.-1 361.1
3 Ryan Scharnowske **-2 320.2
4 Louis  Filoso-2 309.3
5 Dan Kovalesky-1 308.7
6 Steve Hartshorn-1 299.4
7 Joe Jarvie-2 284.1
8 Frank Mustari-1 279.4
9 David Bernal-1 270.8
10 Michael Caposio-1 265.4

Day 3 Finalists for the 2017 National Handicapping Championship

The following individuals were in position to move on and have a chance at the $800,000 grand prize in Las Vegas on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017.  This is the leaderboard in the closing hour of today’s contest.

1 Dan Kovalesky-1 260.8
2 Ray Arsenault-1 254.3
3 Frank Mustari-1 251.4
4 Eliot Honaker-1 248.5
5 Michael Ray-1 246.5
6 Sheldon Usprech-1 243.9
7 Kevin Jones-1 231.8
8 Travis Pearson-1 227.3
9 Paul Matties, Sr.-1 221.3
10 Brendan Fay-1 220.4
11 Stephen Wolfson, Jr.-1 220.3
12 Pat Nufrio-1 217.7
13T John Nichols-1 217.1
13T Ken Seeman-1 217.1
15 Louis  Filoso-2 214.7
16 Cheryl Kaufman-1 211.8
17 Dan Flanigan-1 208.2
18 David Bernal-1 207.2
19 Matthew Rentze-1 206.6
20T Dennis Johnson-1 206.5
20T Chris  Olsson-1 206.5
22T Paul Fishman-1 206.4
22T Duke Matties-1 206.4
24 Anthony Altomonte-1 206.1
25 Harlan Malter-1 206
26 Michael Caposio-1 203
27 Sally Goodall **-2 202.9
28 Paul Hughes-1 202.5
29 George Duarte-2 201.8
30 Geoffrey Schutt-1 201.3
31 Mitch Schuman-2 201.2
32 Steve Arrison-2 200.3
33 Bill Rendino-2 200
34 Kevin Willett-1 199.7
35 Matthew Reid-1 198.1
36 Allan Sadler **-2 197.6
37 Gary Russell-1 194.9
38 Lawrence Bergen-1 194.6
39 Greg DuBos-1 194.4
40 Gwyn Houston-1 194.3
41 Bobby Shoemaker-1 193.2
42 Thomas O’Connor-1 192.4
43 Richard Goodall-1 191.7
44 Gary Gristick **-2 191.3
45T Chris Larmey-1 191
45T Timothy Downs-2 191
47 Steve Hartshorn-1 190.4
48 John Osterbauer-1 189.9
49 Jason Avila-1 189.6
50 Randy Bauer-1 189.5
51 Derek Dickson-1 189
52 David Conover-1 188.6
53 Allan Sadler **-1 187.1
54 Stanley  Bavlish-1 186.7
55 Shawn Heron-2 186.3
56 Peter McFarland-1 186.1
57 Darrell Stanley-1 184.2
58 Bryan Carney-1 183.8
59 Peter Dresens-1 183.6
60 Jeffrey Jolliffe-1 183.4
61 Ryan Scharnowske **-2 183
62 Allan Schaffer-1 182.6
63 Jon Hurd-1 181.8
64 Mike Coutu-1 181.5
65T Ron  Tackett-1 180.8
65T Tony Zhou **-1 180.8

Wager on Your Favorite Horseplayer at NHC 2017

nhc final table vegas LAS VEGAS, NV — Horseplayers and their fans have until Friday morning to place their bets on who will win the 18th Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas. The NHC Future Wager, available in the Treasure Island Race & Sports Book, offers odds on 363 individual players and a “Field” encompassing about 190 other players that qualified for the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping contest after Oct. 31.

Not surprisingly, the Field opened as a heavy 7-2 favorite. Handicapping contest veteran Dave Gutfreund – the NHC’s all-time leading money earner still known to many by his old nickname “The Maven” – is the current favorite among individual horseplayers at 40-1.

Defending NHC winner Paul Matties and 2015 NHC Tour winner Jonathon Kinchen were the opening co-favorites at 50-1.

Matties closed at 50-1 last year, returning $102 on a $2 wager. Incredibly, Matties cashed a $100 wager on himself, earning $5,000 on top of his $800,000 first-place prize.

Several veteran players with the maximum two entries, such as past champion Judy Wagner, opened at 75-1. Others with two entries opened at 150-1, while the remaining individual interests with one entry, including AGameofSkill.com founder Rich Nilsen, opened at 200-1.

“The NHC Future Wager is believed to be the only legal betting on horseplayers offered anywhere in the world,” said NTRA Chief Operating Officer Keith Chamblin. “We salute Treasure Island for once again making this wager available to its customers and for helping us place a spotlight on the horseplayers whose wagering dollars fuel every aspect of our sport and business.”

The NHC Future Wager will close Friday, Jan. 27, the opening day of NHC 18, at 9 a.m. PST. NHC 18 will be contested over three days, Jan. 27-29, at Treasure Island.

In its 18th 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. In addition to the founding title sponsor, Daily Racing Form, the NHC is presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas.

Qualifying Begins for $300,000 Kentucky Derby Betting Championship

The best handicappers will join the best three-year-olds for the 2nd annual TwinSpires.com Kentucky Derby Betting Championship on May 5-6 at Churchill Downs.

Featuring a $12,000 buy-in and the ability to play anywhere through TwinSpiresTournaments.com, the KDBC is a live-money handicapping tournament with $4,000 of the entry fee going to an estimated prize pool of $300,000 and a top prize of $150,000. Last year’s winner, Ron Myeress, won $152,752 in cash and prizes.

Churchill winner's circle“After the success of our inaugural Kentucky Derby Betting Championship, we’re looking forward to growing and improving it this year thanks to our players and Churchill Downs Race Track,” TwinSpires.com President Ted Gay said. “The addition of ‘play-from-anywhere’ through TwinSpires.com should add to the player and prize pool, truly making this one of the top live-money tournaments on the circuit.”

 TwinSpires.com partnered with Breeders’ Cup to offer online play of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Championship, an option that helped grow that contest to record levels this year. In conjunction with that partnership, TwinSpires.com and Churchill Downs Race Track will offer a $1-million bonus if the KDBC winner also wins the 2017 BCBC.

“It was a thrill to welcome the best contest players to the most exciting two minutes in sports at last year’s Kentucky Derby,” said Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery. “The Kentucky Derby is all about the best of Thoroughbred racing, and adding a big-money live tournament to the mix enhances the race’s brand as the premier week in the Sport of Kings.”

Registration for this year’s Kentucky Derby Betting Championship is now available with a $500 deposit at KentuckyDerbyBettingChampionship.com. The website is also updated with rules, prize structure, and information on how to qualify via satellites on TwinSpires.com.

2016 NHC Tour Comes Down to 5 Tournaments this Weekend

NHC TOUR LEADERBOARD ON THE LINE

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Thursday, December 29, 2016) – The 2016 NHC Tour’s cash prize pool of $315,000 as well as eligibility for additional bonuses at the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping tournament – the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC), Jan. 27-29 at Treasure Island Las Vegas – will come down to five final events this weekend. A Saturday contest on NHCQualify.com, three days of qualifiers at Del Mar’s Surfside Race Place, and a New Year’s Day grand finale at Monmouth Park represent the only remaining chances for players to accrue NHC Tour points and increase their potential prize money.

The top 20 finishers on the NHC Tour will share in $175,000 of prize money, with the 2016 NHC Tour champion taking home $75,000, a trophy, and an automatic berth to the NHC 19 in January 2018. Second place will take home $20,000 and a trophy. The remainder of the cash prize pool is scaled from $15,000 for third down to $1,000 for 20th.

nhc final table vegasNHC Tour veteran Cheryl McIntyre enters the final weekend of play in first place with 19,898 points, more than 1,000 ahead of Tony Zhou in second with 18,698.

A separate “Second Half” prize pool will pay $10,000 to each of the top five finishers based only on results posted after August 1. Sam Alipio holds the edge in that race, though any top-five finish returns the same prize amount.

The top 150 NHC Tour point leaders receive an automatic berth to NHC 18 in four weeks (those that have already qualified do not receive an additional berth). The top 40 NHC Tour finishers will compete for the $25,000 Tour Bonus, which goes to the individual within that group with the highest finish at NHC 18.

Two lucrative bonuses restricted to specific players will also be decided this weekend. Friday’s NHCQualify.com tournament, the year’s final online qualifier, will determine shares of a $25,000 “Cyber Stars” bonus pool for the top five players based on NHC Tour points earned on NHCQualify.com, with $10,000 to the winner plus eligibility for a $1 million bonus should that player go on to win NHC 18. A $15,000 “Rookie” bonus pool will go to the top five player that signed up for the NHC Tour for the first time in 2016, with $5,000 to first.

George Chute, 15th in the overall NHC Tour standings, leads the “Cyber Stars” standings, while Peter Dresens, 47th overall, is the “Rookie” leader.

Full standings for the 2016 NHC Tour and the bonus divisions can be accessed online via the NTRA website at https://www.ntra.com/nhc/leaders.

Online registration for the 2017 NHC Tour opens Sunday, Jan. 1, at nhctour.com.

 In its 18th 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. In addition to the founding title sponsor, Daily Racing Form, the NHC is presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas.

For more information on the NHC Tour and a complete contest schedule, visit NTRA.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 Handicapping 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).

Major Handicapping Tournaments to Now Feature $3M Rolling Bonus

A New Twist: NHC, BCBC $3 Million Bonus To Become ‘Rolling Double’

NTRA:
The $3 million NHC Tour Bonus – the largest prize ever offered in the handicapping contest world – added a new twist when the National Thoroughbred Racing Association today announced that the winner of January’s Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) in Las Vegas will be eligible for a $3 million bonus if he or she goes on to win the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge at Del Mar.

This year’s BCBC winner, Joe Appelbaum, is already eligible for the bonus should he win NHC 17. Today’s announcement makes the NHC Tour Bonus a “rolling” double, as every BCBC and NHC winner will be eligible as long as they win each major contest successively, but in either order.

nhc final table vegas NHC 18 is set for January 27-29 at Treasure Island Las Vegas. The 2017 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge will be held Nov. 3-4 and based at the Breeders’ Cup host site, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club near San Diego.

Appelbaum earned $364,000 at this year’s BCBC and first prize at the NHC is $800,000, meaning that successful completion of the NHC Tour Double would be worth more than $4.164 million. Players must be current members of the NHC Tour ($50) to be eligible to win the lucrative bonus.

Qualifying for the NHC continues through January in scores of contests held on-site and exclusively online at NHCqualify.com. In its 18th 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. In addition to the founding title sponsor, Daily Racing Form, the NHC is presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas.

For more information on the NHC Tour and a complete contest schedule, visit NTRA.com/nhc.

Now entering its ninth year, the $1 million-estimated BCBC has become one of the most sought after prizes on the tournament calendar. The BCBC, which offers 15 seats to the NHC in addition to cash prizes, is a highly lucrative and exclusive live bankroll handicapping contest with a $10,000 buy-in required to participate. Players enjoy first class access to the two best days of racing in the world with VIP seats that include buffet lunch each day and other amenities. Online and on-site qualifying tournaments, offering $10,000 berths into the BCBC as prizes, continue throughout the summer and fall leading to the November Breeders’ Cup. For more on the BCBC, visit www.breederscup.com/bcbc.

Texas Gastroenterologist Wins 1st Half of NHC Tour

JOE JOHNSON WINS NHC TOUR FIRST HALF,

TOP FIVE PLAYERS EARN $10,000 BREEDERS’ CUP BETTING CHALLENGE ENTRIES

 LEXINGTON, Ky.  – Joe Johnson, of San Antonio, Texas, rode the lone speed of Laoban all the way to a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry as the winner of the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Tour’s “First Half,” which concluded Sunday, July 31st.

By pegging that 27-1 winner of the Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga Race Course, Johnson vaulted himself to an 11th-place finish in a Free-to-Play online qualifier presented by the NTRA on NHCQualify.com, good for 2,851 points on the day and a final tally of 13,578 points on the “First Half” leaderboard. The “First Half” top five – each of whom received either a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry worth $10,000 or the equivalent in cash – was rounded out by Gary McMaster (12,969 points), Cheryl McIntyre (12,617), Rick Broth (12,555), and Kevin Engelhard (12,199).

“First Half” totals are comprised of points earned in a player’s top four finishes, at least one of which must have come in an on-site contest, through July 31. Results became official Wednesday at the conclusion of a three-day audit period.

NHC generic logoJohnson, 59, a gastroenterologist, amassed his score with a March 13 win on HorseTourneys.com (in a field of 290 entries) worth 3,688 points; a March 20 win on BetAmerica (281 entries) worth 3,631 points; a third-place finish in the July 23 live contest at Woodbine (86 entries) worth 1,908 points; and the 11th-place finish on Saturday against a field of 1,810 other entries in the final major contest of the First Half.

His effort north of the border was Johnson’s first and only attempt of the year in an on-site tournament.

“I played at Woodbine just so I could get that in-person score,” he said. “I’ve been pushing for this for some months now and it feels good to have it happen.”

Johnson also backed Laoban on multiple entries in another contest Saturday, on DRF Tournaments, finishing first and second while earning his second BCBC entry of the year as a result. With the maximum of two BCBC entries in his own name already secured, Johnson will receive $10,000 cash for his NHC Tour “First Half” exploits.

“I hate to say I had some luck because we like to think it’s all skill but things broke just right for me,” Johnson said. “It really worked out well. I was only aiming for the top five but to win feels great.”

Now Johnson will turn his attention to the overall, year-long NHC Tour leaderboard, where he sits in second with 16,616 points, just behind Engelhard, the current leader with 16,783. The overall NHC Tour leaderboard incorporates a player’s top six scores. First prize for the NHC Tour is $75,000 and comes with a trophy and the chance to play for a $2 million bonus should the NHC Tour winner go on to win NHC 18 in January. There is also a new “$3,000,000 NHC Tour Double” bonus for anyone that can complete a sweep of the BCBC and the NHC.

“Of course I’ve got to go for all of that,” Johnson said. “That’s what we do this for.”

The top 150 NHC Tour finishers earn automatic berths to the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping contest, the NHC, set for Jan. 27-29, 2017, at Treasure Island Las Vegas, provided that each individual has not already won an NHC entry. The top 20 share in a $175,000 prize pool, from $75,000 (plus a trophy and an automatic berth to NHC 19) for the NHC Tour champion to $1,000 for 20th, and the top 40 get to play for a $25,000 bonus that goes to the qualifier with the highest finish at NHC 18.

Here’s more of what we know about the rest of the top five “First Half” finishers after Johnson and whether they’re accepting a BCBC entry or taking $10,000 cash:

McMaster, of Etobicoke, Ontario, won live contests at Woodbine and Arlington Park this summer. He already holds a BCBC spot and has elected to take $10,000 cash.

McIntyre, of Massillon, Ohio, is an eight-time NHC qualifier. She has already earned four BCBC entries in 2016 (although only two can be played in her name) and will, therefore, receive $10,000 cash.

Broth, of Dunwoody, Ga., is a sales manager for an acoustical tile manufacturer. The 58-year-old made his NHC debut in January at NHC 17. He has co-owned several quality horses with trainer Ronny Werner, including Lady of Shamrock, a multiple Grade 1 winner after they sold her as a 2-year-old. Broth already held a BCBC berth he earned by winning Keeneland’s Grade One Gamble in April and will take $10,000 cash.

Engelhard, of Franklin Park, N.J., is a seven-time NHC qualifier. The 63-year-old is the current NHC Tour leader. He has accepted a BCBC entry.

On the compact “First Half” leaderboard, eight players – including elite names like Joe Pettit, Bill Shurman, Garett Skiba, Eric Moomey and Sally Goodall – finished within 1,000 points of making the top five.

The complete final “First Half” standings with scores for all 2,633 NHC Tour members that earned points so far this year can be viewed online.

The NHC Tour’s “Second Half” starts this weekend with a clean slate separate from the overall standings. The top five on the NHC Tour leaderboard from Aug. 1 toJan. 1 will each be awarded a $10,000 cash prize. This weekend’s plethora of contest offerings include the two-day (Friday and Saturday) $200,000-guaranteed Wynn Las Vegas Handicapping Challenge (2 NHC spots); Saturday’s “All-Optional” contest on HorseTourneys.com (3 spots minimum); Saturday’s “Second Chance” contest (a qualifier for the 2-spot championship Oct. 1) at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas; Sunday’s Free-to-Play online contest (4 spots) presented by the NTRA at NHCQualify.com; and another Sunday contest (2 spots guaranteed) at NHCQualify.com.

For more information on the NHC and NHC Tour, visit www.ntra.com/nhc. 

About the NHC

In its 18th year, the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping 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 conducted by racetracks, casino race books, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping Web sites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. Each year, the NHC winner joins other human and equine champions as an honoree at the Eclipse Awards. In addition to the founding title sponsor, the NHC is presented by host casino Treasure Island Las Vegas.

About the BCBC

Now entering its eighth year, the $1 million-estimated BCBC has become one of the most sought after prizes on the tournament calendar. The BCBC, which offers 15 seats to the NHC in addition to cash prizes, is a highly lucrative and exclusive live bankroll handicapping contest with a $10,000 buy-in required to participate. Players enjoy first class access to the two best days of racing in the world with VIP seats that include buffet lunch each day and other amenities. Online and on-site qualifying tournaments, offering $10,000 berths into the BCBC as prizes, continue throughout the summer and fall leading to the November Breeders’ Cup. For more on the BCBC, visit www.breederscup.com/bcbc.

About the NTRA

THE NTRA 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, Based in Lexington, Ky., owns and manages the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance; NTRA.com; the NTRA Top Thoroughbred and NTRA Top 3-Year-Old weekly media polls; the Eclipse Awards; the National Handicapping 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).