Discover a Great Aspect of the Handicapping Scene

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By Ross Gallo

I’ve been going to the track since I have memory.  Fell in love with this grand game of horse racing at first site, even loved the smell of the Daily Racing Form.  (I know, crazy right?)  So, I’ve been making a living playing the horses for the better part of thirty years, but it wasn’t until around 1997 that I discovered a wonderful and often overlooked alternative way to play and enjoy the races.  It is the reason I’m writing this article and it is for those of you that are either not familiar with, or have not ventured into, the world of handicapping tournaments.

Horse Racing Handicapping Tournament

Popular Bankroll-based Tournament founded by Ross Gallo

In a game that has declining attendance and handle nearly across the board.  Has tracks closing their doors.  Questions surrounding drug use by super-trainers, odds changes during the running of races, questionable stewards decisions, and a myriad of other problems; there is one cross section that is growing and thriving, handicapping tournaments.  The NTRA/DRF National Handicapping Championship (NHC), our U.S. Open so to speak, which was introduced in 2000 with a purse of $200,000, offering $100,000 to the winner; will be having it’s 13th rendition in January of 2012 at Treasure Island In Las Vegas. 

You can only participate by qualifying, which is unlike any other tournament we have and what makes the NHC so special; well that and the fact that this year the purse has grown to $2,000,000 with $1,000,000 going to the winner!  That kind of growth in a mere 13 years, and for some reason we’re not singing it’s praises to the rafters?! 

I’m not much of a preacher, but this is a worthy cause.  You love the game of horse racing like me?  Good.  Then do the game and yourself a favor and start playing handicapping tournaments.  They are eventually going to pull the game back into the mainstream of Americana.  You don’t know me, but I know what I’m talking about so take a leap of faith, you won’t be sorry.  There are so many different formats out there, I’m positive you can find one you like.  Don’t want to leave your couch?  Well there are probably, on average, 10 opportunities a week, maybe more to play online.  There are low-end, high-end and in-between entry fees.  There are even some free tournaments that offer trips to the NHC.  There are tournaments away from the NHC and its Tour as well.  So many opportunities to have fun, win money, and many times for a very small investment.  Go to ntra.com or horseplayersqualify.com or nhcqualify or bcqualify or twinspires or drf or derbywars or horsetourneys or publichandicapper (note I stopped with the .coms they’re all .coms got sick of .com-ing) or even your local tracks website.  There are sooooo many places to get started, and you don’t have to do anything but turn on your computer.  What are you waiting for?  Go.  Play.

“…over the last decade-plus I have met some of the best people on this planet.  Men and women I consider lifelong friends.”

Okay, so I’ve hooked you a little, admit it.  Now I’m playing my trump card.  Online tournaments are great, but you know what’s even better?  Going to a venue for a tournament.  Awesome!  When I first started, there weren’t any online tournaments, you had to travel.  It was the best thing that ever happened to me, in my professional life at least.  You see there is an amazing phenomenon attached to handicapping tournaments; they attract the highest class of human beings I’ve ever met in any walk of life.  In what I call “real” life, I’d say the percentage of how can I put this? (I’m not a fisherman but it rhymes with bass poles).  The percentage of “bass poles” is really high, maybe 75%.  Hey, takes one to know one right?  But anyway, at handicapping tournaments it’s like 2% counting me. 

Allow me to illustrate further.  If you put 800 tournament players into a ballroom or two at the Orleans in Vegas for a three day event, you MIGHT be able to ferret out 16 “bass poles” if you try hard.  Put 800 conventioning doctors, lawyers, funeral home directors, bricklayers, writers, plumbers etc in the same couple of rooms and guaranteed you’ll have three quarters “bass poles.”  Three.  Quarters.  Bass.  Poles.  Just saying!

Seriously though, over the last decade-plus I have met some of the best people on this planet.  Men and women I consider lifelong friends.  Some I talk to nearly every day, others I just catch up with when we get together and others somewhere in between. 

You see handicapping tournaments draw thinking people.  Ours is a cerebral game.  Any shmoe can sit down with two cards in front of him or her and play poker.  Horse racing requires more use of the brain, and what the hell is wrong with that?  Let me tell you something else about these people.  We go to tournaments and try to beat each other’s brains out, but when we get to the point where we know we can’t win, we GENUINELY root for our friends to win.  No lie.  Find that in a poker room or your local boardroom.  I haven’t been to a tournament in ten years where a bunch of us haven’t gone out for dinner after the last races were run.  I would like to mention names, but they wouldn’t mean anything to many of you, and if I left anyone out, I’d feel like a crumb. 

The bottom line is this: handicapping tournaments are fun, convenient to play from home, can offer value, trips to Vegas and also the opportunity to meet some of the finest people you’ll meet in your life.  Eventually someone will figure out how to bring them to television in an entertaining way (YEAH I know how already, just ask me!!!) and that is when we will rejoin the “real” world, and return to the glory days of the early to mid-part of the 20th century.  If you care about horse racing, be a part of the solution while improving your quality of entertainment at the same time, and maybe enriching your life while you’re at it.  Once you go to a handicapping tournament, you’ll no never go back.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 16-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.

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