Horseplayers May Be Affected with Fiscal Cliff Negotiations

From the NTRA News Desk:

As part of the fiscal cliff negotiations, members of Congress and President Obama have recently proposed capping or otherwise limiting itemized deductions in an effort to raise revenue for the U.S. government. Some horseplayers may be negatively impacted if they are unable to fully deduct pari-mutuel wagering losses as itemized deductions.

Under current tax law, winnings from pari-mutuel wagering are fully taxable and must be reported on the taxpayer’s federal tax return. For most horseplayers, losses from pari-mutuel wagering in any tax year are only deductible as a miscellaneous itemized deduction and only up to the amount of their winnings in the same tax year. This is already a very burdensome requirement for horseplayers.

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) recently proposed a $50,000 maximum on total itemized deductions. Other proposals include limiting itemized deductions to a value of no more than a tax rate of 28 percent. Any of these proposals could be harmful to horseplayers unless all wagering losses are eligible to be deducted against winnings.

Congress has excluded gambling losses from past limitations on itemized deductions. The NTRA is working to ensure similar treatment in the current situation.

Tournament Tips for the 2012 Season

by Rich Nilsen

Before Louisiana political consultant Mark Beychok had even accepted his title and seven figure check for his NTRA Handicapper of the Year victory, many horseplayers were already plotting in their own minds how they were going to attack the tournament scene in 2012. Now that the winner of the National Handicapping Champion (NHC) earns a huge paycheck for two great days of picking the ponies, the interest in the year-long event has skyrocketed.

Here we are in June and the contest season is in full swing. There are tournaments every week and tons of opportunities. Tournament players don’t even need to leave the luxury of home to compete against the best and earn their way to the coveted Las Vegas championship. However, in doing so, players typically give up the chance to win serious money. Most of the online tournaments fail to offer much in the way of cash prizes. Instead, the carrot dangling out in front of the players is the NHC berth, valued at roughly $7,000.

Online Opportunities

NHC Tour membership is mandatory in order to earn an entry into the NHC Finals, so make sure you have paid your $50 membership dues prior to playing in any online events. An added perk of the membership fee is that NHC Tour members get to play in exclusive, online qualifying events that are free to play. These tournaments offer a total of 10 seats to the 2013 NHC.

Longtime horse racing executive Mark Midland created a tournament site in 2011 at Yours truly was one of the beta testers for this innovative contest platform. On DerbyWars contest players can chat with one another during the event. Members at DerbyWars can also “connect” with their friends via the contest interface, for example, knowing when one of their friends have registered for a contest on the site. It’s the first tournament platform to integrate social networking-type features.

“Since we started DerbyWars,” explained Midland. “One of the things that surprised us was how well newer racing fans took to the game.  Part of that speaks to the fun and interaction of DerbyWars, but part of that speaks to the fact that tournaments are fun and easy.  Since you’re not betting, you only have to pick a horse, and you can see many others picked the same horse you did.  So it’s a much easier learning curve than wagering.  That’s why we think it’s a perfect introductory game to create new horseplayers.”

DerbyWars offers numerous types of tournaments, many of which are cash games with a very low takeout, and contests are offered up to five days each week. If you haven’t tried Derby Wars, I highly recommend it.

McKay Smith, former NTRA Tournament Director, is the man behind, another great site for players looking for online opportunities. With the generous sponsorship of Ron Geary from Ellis Park, has many NHC and HPWS qualifiers throughout the year. is another favorite site of mine. This one gives players the opportunity to qualify for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC), the big money tournament where the buy-in is a steep $10,000 fee. Last year Patrick McGoey won his way into the event via a $100 contest at before parlaying that into an incredible six-figure score at Churchill Downs on Breeders’ Cup weekend.

There are several other online sites for players to choose from, including, (which is the NTRA’s site), and some of the leading online ADWs such as TwinSpires.

NHC Tour Changes

The NHC Tour continues to evolve. In 2012 there were several changes put in place. First, the season is broken up into two halves for the first time, as prizes will be awarded half way through the year based on players’ performances.

The overall NHC Tour prize money has been increased to $250,000, which includes a $50,000 payout to the top finishers in the first half of the Tour year and another $50,000 to those who perform best during the second half of the year.

Point totals within each half year segment will be based on a player’s top four scores. The NTRA is requiring that a player must earn at least one of his or her four scores at a live, non-online event. I understand the logic behind this, but it an unfair rule for players who reside in states where either pari-mutuel racing does not exist or where contests are not available. A player not earning points in a live event would be credited with a zero for the fourth score. Also, winning at an on-track event will be worth more tour points than winning an online contest.

End-of-year payouts will total $150,000, with points based on a member’s top six scores.  Again, one of those six year-end scores must come from a live, non-online tournament.

Another interesting change for 2012 is that the top 100 players at the end of the year will be guaranteed entry into the 2013 NHC Finals. Last year 12 players would have benefited if that rule existed then. This year I anticipate that number being higher.

Also new for 2012 is an automatic $5,000 bonus paid to anyone who wins more than one NHC qualifying tournament (live or online). A small handful of players accomplish that impressive feat every year, so it would be a surprise if the NTRA did not have to pay out on that – multiple times.

Tournament Advice

I have learned a lot over the past decade about how to approach an upcoming tournament. For starters, it is critical to be prepared. You need to have handicapped all the races ahead of time. Doing so, you will know how the races later in the day shape up, which would likely affect your decision making during the afternoon. Let’s say you’re in a contest with a lot of optional plays, but the last couple of races on the day are short fields at the two West Coast tracks. Obviously, you would not want to “save” a play and end up having bullets in your holster for those races.

If you are at a live event, stay focused and don’t get influenced by the talk of players in the tournament. “So and so had that one.” Or, “So and so hit a $10 trifecta in that last race.” Unless you actually know this for a fact and seen the leaderboard reflect such a result, there is no sense letting “rumors” affect your play. Stick to your gameplan, and weed out the distractions. You and your game will be better off for it.

Speaking of distractions, tournaments are fertile ground for just that. It is very easy to get distracted, especially when one is playing at a live event. You run into people you know. You’re talking to other players at your table. You’re trying to get comfortable and figure out the best view of the tv’s. Most likely you are in a different environment that you are used to when playing the races. Something as simple as getting “late changes” for today’s races is different, especially for players used to clicking a couple of buttons on their computer at home. Stay focused and anticipate the distractions that could occur…because they will.

Fully understand the format of the contest you are playing. You shouldn’t have to look up anything up in the rules during the course of the tournament. Read the rules multiple times, just in case you missed something the first time. And just because you played the contest last year, doesn’t mean the rules are the same this year.

When you understand the rules and the format, you’ll be best prepared to have a game plan going in. You should have a good idea of what it takes to win the contest. What scores have previous winners had? Knowing the scores of previous winners and qualifiers will provide you an excellent barometer of what it will take to succeed in this year’s event. Little details can mean a lot, especially in handicapping tournaments.

I suggest mapping out a schedule for the year based on your budget, life schedule, willingness to travel, and overall passion for the handicapping tournament scene. One of the many advantages of doing this is that if you are attending a contest at an unfamiliar track, you can start following that circuit in the month or two leading up to the event.

Make sure you are not at a disadvantage when it comes to information. There are many sources of great handicapping resources in this day and age, and a horseplayer trying to win a tournament cannot afford to be in the dark. For example, there are some excellent private workout services such as the National Turf Clocker’s Report. You can’t afford to be ignorant about the fact that the favorite in the 7th at Santa Anita has been training like a slug, when some of your fellow tournament contestants are fully aware of this.

Finally, play to win. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a contestant make their final play to finish somewhere “in the money.” This has become even more prevalent since the NHC Tour was started. It’s true that in some tournaments, like at, it may not matter at the end of the day if you are first or fifth. However, in most tournaments it does matter. When you have the chance to win a tournament with a lucrative grand prize, take the shot. It doesn’t come around every day.

Join BetPTC

Update on the 2012 NHC Tour

Tour Prize Money Increased to $250,000; $5,000 Bonus for Multiple Qualifying Wins

February 1, 2012 Press Release

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) announced that signups for the 2012 Daily Racing Form NHC Tour are being accepted at The Daily Racing Form NHC Tour is a yearlong bonus series offering additional prize money and qualifying berths to the 14th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) to be held in January 2013 at Treasure Island Las Vegas.

As was the case in 2011, NHC Tour membership is mandatory in order to earn an entry into the NHC Finals — the lucrative culmination of the year’s qualifying schedule. The recently concluded NHC 13 on January 27-28 saw Michael Beychok of Baton Rouge, La., emerge as the first-ever million-dollar winner of a horse racing handicapping contest.

Highlighting the changes for the 2012 Tour year is an increase in overall NHC Tour prize money to $250,000, including a $50,000 payout to the top finishers in the first half of the Tour year and another $50,000 to those who do best during the second half of the year.  Point totals within each half year segment will be based on a player’s top four scores, with one of those four scores having to come from points earned at a live, non-online event. (A player not earning points in a live event would be credited with 0 for his fourth score.) End-of-year payouts will total $150,000, with points based on a member’s top six scores.  One of those six year-end scores must come from a live, non-online event. The top 100 players at the end of the year will be guaranteed entry into the 2013 NHC Finals and the season-ending points leader will be eligible for a $2 million bonus should he or she capture the 2013 NHC.

Also new for 2012 is an automatic $5,000 bonus paid (up to a maximum of three bonuses) to anyone who wins more than one NHC qualifying tournament (live or online).

Membership in the 2012 Daily Racing Form NHC Tour is open to adults 21 years of age or older and requires a one-time membership fee of $50. Membership in the 2012 Daily Racing Form NHC Tour is mandatory in order for top finishers of sanctioned NHC qualifying events to be eligible to compete in the January 2013 NHC Finals in Las Vegas. The NHC Tour membership must be in place prior to the start of any given qualifying tournament in order for one to qualify for the NHC Finals at that qualifying tournament.

Among the other benefits of 2012 Daily Racing Form NHC Tour membership are free, online qualifying tournaments that are restricted to NHC Tour members and offering a total of 10 seats to the 2013 NHC.

Other 2012 Daily Racing Form NHC Tour benefits include:

Eligibility to compete for a seat at the January 2013 NHC at Treasure Island Las Vegas;

  • Twice monthly e-newsletter featuring photos and recaps of previously held tourneys; schedules and links to upcoming tournaments; and tourney tips from previous NHC Champions and qualifiers;
  • Special offers from Daily Racing Form; including 10% off on 10- and 20-card Past Performance plans (Classic or Formulator); and
  • Eligibility to receive benefits and discounts from NTRA Advantage partners.

In its 14th 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 Treasure Island Las Vegas and Sovereign Stable.

Winning at the Races. It doesn’t get any better than this.

So why is horse racing so much more exciting than other forms of gambling?  Why is the typical horseplayer not some degenerate low life, but very often a well educated person or professional businessman or woman?  Take a gander at political consultant Michael Beychok winning the 2012 National Handicapping Championship (NHC) in Las Vegas.



Here was the scenario. After nearly two full days of selecting horses against nearly 500 other players, Beychok was in second place, $11.00 behind the leader. The last race of the day on Saturday, January 28 was the finale at Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco, and Beychok used his last optional play on a 3-1 shot in that race. The horse got up by a nose and paid $8.20 to Win and $3.80 to Place, for a grand total of $12.00. The previous leader, Dave Flanzbaum, used a 9-1 shot in the same race who ran a close third. Flanzbaum lost by both a nose on the racetrack and in the contest. He won $150,000 for second and $5,000 in additional prize winnings for having the day two leading bankroll.

Michael Beychok became the first ever winner of one million dollars in a horse racing handicapping tournament!

In 13 years the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) has grown from a grand prize of $100,000 to ten times that amount. Qualifying events are held throughout the country as well as online. Entry fees for those events range from free to $10,000, but the majority are usually about $100.  This year’s championship event was held for the first time at Treasure Island resort in Las Vegas.

Several years ago the event was televised on ESPN. This year racing will need to rely on social media and word of mouth to deliver the message about Beychok’s sensational victory at the NHC.

FREE Online Tournament to follow Championship Event

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) announced today that it will host a free, online handicapping contest at that will allow fans to follow along with the action at next week’s $1.6 million Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) at Treasure Island Las Vegas. In its 13th year, the National Handicapping Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers.

The one-day “Play Along With the Pros” contest will offer a $1,000 prize pool to the top five finishers plus free 2012 NHC Tour memberships to the top 20 finishers. There is a limit of one entry per person. “Play Along With the Pros” will take place on Saturday, January 28, which is the second and final day of the NHC. Contestants must make mythical $2 win and place wagers on eight designated mandatory races. The eight races selected will be same as those chosen for mandatory play on Day 2 at the NHC. For more information, visit

Prize Structure for “Play Along With the Pros” contest:

$1,000 pool

1st: $500


3rd: $150

4th: $100

5th: $50

“’Play Along With the Pros’ is designed to expose the NHC to players who may not be familiar with the excitement of tournament play,” said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of the NTRA. “It also gives fans the chance to see how they stack up with some of the outstanding handicappers battling for the $1 million grand prize at Treasure Island.”

The NHC Tour is a yearlong bonus series offering additional prize money and qualifying berths to the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship. Tour members receive NHC Tour points for top finishes in NHC qualifying events held during the year. Registration for the 2012 NHC Tour will begin shortly.

Finishing 10th on the 2011 NHC Tour Leaderboard

Rich Nilsen, founder of, finished the year in 10th place overall on the NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Tour leaderboard, based on 9,075 points. Designed to create added interest in handicapping tournaments throughout the year, the Tour is based on players’ best five finishes in contests. Tour membership costs $45/year from the NTRA, and this also gives players access to some free online tournaments during the course of the year.

Paul Shurman, an attorney from New York, accumulated over 13,000 points which earned him the title of the NHC Tour Champion. For his win Shurman earned the $75,000 grand prize. He is now eligible for a $2 million bonus as the Tour champ if he goes on to win the NHC at the end of the month.

“Winning the NHC Tour is certainly the highlight of my handicapping career,” said Shurman. “Many of the most respected handicappers in North America are Tour members and compete for the Tour championship.  It is very gratifying to know I can be competitive with some of the best and that on this occasion, I was fortunate enough to come out on top. Playing in handicapping tournaments and on the Tour has not only helped me hone my handicapping skills, but most importantly, has led to many friendships that I believe will last a lifetime.”

In past years Shurman and Nilsen were part of a 3-player expert panel that managed the Players’ Pool syndicate, a group wagering fund that would go after large Pick-6 carryovers.



“A Game of Skill” wins NHC Qualifier at

Derby Wars contest

Highly recommended contest website

So, I got in the tournament that I had been telling visitors about over the past couple of weeks. At only $25 per entry, and with the site paying out more than they were taking in, it was a great value this past Friday to play. Well, through the first 6 races of the 12 mandatory events, I was tied for dead last. My score was easily to calculate. I had zero. That’s when I went on a tear, scoring with 4 nice winners in the second half of the contest, including a big-priced winner in a turf sprint at Keeneland. I moved into first place with one race to go, a claiming race at Keeneland that ended up being won by the obvious choice and favorite. The standings up top did not change and I had held on to defeat 206 other players.

Since I am already qualified for the “Big Dance” – the $2 million National Handicapping Championship (NHC) – the main prize was given to the 2nd place finisher, some guy with the handle “Frank S.” However, in addition to the $115 cash prize I won, I earned 3,000 NHC Tour Points.  What’s that? Players who pay a $45 annual fee not only get to play in some free online contests hosted by the NTRA, but they get to compete on the “Tour.” The Tour points for the year are calculated by taking the 5 best finishes by contest players during the year.

I now have finishes of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th in 2011, which gives me over 9,000 Tour points, good enough for 8th place overall on the Tour.  The overall Tour winner gets $75,000 cash and the Tour pays out to the top five. Thanks to my win in the $25 tournament, I am now in position to possibly get in the top five. If there are more opportunities like this at DerbyWars, I will be in them.

Rich Nilsen

9 Step Plan to Grow Horse Racing

McKinsey & Company was commissioned to look at what the horse racing industry needs to turn things around. The result was a report titled “Driving Sustainable Growth for Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding”  which was released at the annual Round Table Conference at Saratoga Race Course in August.  The consulting company reported that  if changes aren’t made soon, by 2020 pari-mutuel handle will decline by 25%, owners’ losses will jump 50%, and only 25% fewer racetracks will be viable.


The Jockey Club – not the NTRA – is going to put five years of funding, which amounts to millions of industry dollars, ito this important project.

Some of the ideas include:
  • fewer but higher quality race days
  • innovative wagering platforms
  • integrated rewards systems
  • improved television coverage for racing
  • free-to-play online games to educate the public
Many, if not most, of these items have been discussed publicly before but little to no action has taken place. What else is new? It is good to see that a concrete plan is soon to be implemented. However one has to question the amount of funding that might be funneled into this project.

Read more: Full details from The Blood-Horse

Ray Paulick’s commentary on this “Common Sense” plan

UK’s “Rewards4Racing” Membership Program

Ascot racecourse in UKHow is this for simple yet innovative? Once you purchase a ticket to the track in the UK, you can join the Rewards4Racing club. Then, you can earn Rewards4Racing Points from purchases at over 200 top online retailers. All the points you earn can be used to pay or part pay for tickets, upgrades, parking, racecards, food and drink vouchers and unique racing experiences at each of The Jockey Club’s racecourses in the UK.

“The rewards program, which gives customers of Jockey Club Racecourses the opportunity to earn points which they can redeem at all 14 of the group’s racecourses, has broken the 75,000 member mark less than six months since its inception.”  When is the NTRA going to implement this type of program?

“Anyone who purchases a ticket for any meeting at one of The Jockey Club’s 14 racecourses can join Rewards4Racing for free.”  [READ MORE about this innovative horse racing marketing program]