NHC Super Qualifiers by the Big Three in Horse Racing

nhc final table vegasThe New York Racing Association, Churchill Downs Inc., and The Stronach Group are set to host three brand-new “NHC Super Qualifiers” in coming months, offering dozens of berths to February’s $3 million (estimated) NTRA National Horseplayers Championship in Las Vegas. The live-money contests, in which players compete to turn $1,000 of their own cash into the largest nut, are set for Sept. 29 at Belmont Park, Dec. 22 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, and Jan. 5 at Santa Anita Park (or online at Xpressbet.com).

Each on-track Super Qualifier will award one NHC berth per every 15 entries, meaning roughly the top 7 percent of entrants will move on to Treasure Island Las Vegas for the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping contest, Feb. 8-10, 2019.

Registration for each contest costs $1,500, with $1,000 going to the starting bankroll and $200 to a cash prize pool for the Super Qualifier (the remaining $300 goes to the NHC purse and travel). The format will consist of 10 mandatory $50 Win-Place wagers. Players will keep 100 percent of their winnings and the leaders will share in the cash prize pool, with the number of winners and amounts determined (on a sliding scale) by the number of entries. Players are limited to two entries for each on-track Super Qualifier.

“These new Super Qualifiers allow us to offer a much more favorable ratio of berths to entries for players,” said NHC Tournament Director Keith Chamblin. “We’re also excited to offer live-money formats that allow players to keep their winnings and put money through the windows of the host tracks, while maintaining the traditional Win-Place format that rewards consistent excellence.”

Each winning prize package includes NHC entry, four nights at Treasure Island, and airfare reimbursement up to $400.

As added incentive, a $500,000 bonus will be up for grabs in Las Vegas for any of the three on-track Super Qualifier winners who go on to win #NHC19.

For more information on entering any of the four Super Qualifiers, contact Michele Ravencraft of the NTRA at mravencraft@ntra.com. Online and/or phone registration will be available via the host racetracks in coming weeks.

Low-cost “feeder” contests will be available for each Super Qualifier on HorsePlayers.com.

NHC Tour points, which determine year-end Tour prizes, as well as NHC entry for the top 10 percent of finishers, will be awarded in NHC Super Qualifiers. For the Santa Anita/Xpressbet.com contest only, players already double-qualified for #NHC19 can earn a first berth to #NHC20 in February 2020.

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


All-in Approach Wins 2018 Del Mar Cash Tournament

Dennis Montoro, 32, from New York, went all-in in the last race with a $7,000 win bet on #2, 5-1 Raven Creek, to finish with $42,000. Montoro qualified to the Del Mar Challenge from a $400 feeder contest on HorseTourneys.com essentially turning a $400 investment into more than $135,000 in prizes.

Gary West from Rancho Santa Fe, CA and Florin Sima from Burbank, CA both cashed in the last race to finish second and third to round out the top three.

Montoro, an analytics player with years of experience in online contests was playing his very first “live money” contest. Prizes won include $75,000 cash, $10,000 entry in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) and entry in the $2.5 million National Horseplayers Championship (NHC). Montoro is also eligible for a $1 million bonus if he wins the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge at Churchill Downs.

Players started with a $6,000 bankroll in the two day Challenge. The top eight finishers receive BCBC entries and the top ten receive entries in the $2.5 million National Horseplayers Championship or the Del Mar $4,500 Fall Challenge November 10 & 11.

1 Dennis Montoro $42,000
2 Gary West $29,070
3 Florin Sima $28,290
4 Kyle Fitzgerald $26,563
5 Jonathon Kinchen $25,689
6 Frank Mustari $23,332
7 Jim Videtic $20,800
8 Jim Meeks $20,240
9 Blake Jessee $19,240
10 Gary Broad $19,182

Veteran Contest Player DQ’d in 2017 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge

Breeders CupBreeders’ Cup Limited (BCL) has completed its analysis of the results of the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC). In early November, BCL retained Robert Watt of Stoll Keenon Ogden, PLLC, (SKO) to perform an independent investigation of the BCBC following the receipt of a written complaint alleging several improprieties including collusion among specific BCBC participants. The BCBC Official Rules explicitly provide that “[c]ollusion of entries between horse players is prohibited, as is any attempt to manipulate the results of the tournament.”

Over the course of several weeks, SKO undertook an extensive investigation of the BCBC. This investigation included reaching out to 2017 BCBC participants and inviting them to share any pertinent information relating to any tournament improprieties, reviewing wagering patterns of all BCBC prize-winning participants and any alleged partners, consulting with three independent handicapping tournament directors, a review of wagering detail by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, reviewing podcasts and other interviews of participants commenting on the BCBC, and interviews with participants that either made allegations, had information or were accused of violating contest rules.

Following the conclusion of SKO’s investigation, BCL has determined that Eric Moomey and Roger Ball colluded to increase the number of entries available to them and otherwise attempted to manipulate the tournament’s results in violation of the BCBC Official Rules. Consequently, Mr. Moomey’s entry which resulted in a 9th place finish (and within the prize pool) is disqualified and the participants that finished 10th through 19th will each move up one place in the BCBC final standings and prize money will be reallocated accordingly.

BCBC participants are limited to two entries. Mr. Moomey and Mr. Ball each had two entries and the review of wagers revealed that those four entries covered all horses in the Juvenile Fillies Turf (6th race) on Friday with zero overlapping wagers between the four separate entries. Mr. Moomey’s and Mr. Ball’s collective four entries covered all of the European horses other than the horse in the 14 post in the Juvenile Turf (8th race) on Friday with zero overlapping wagers between the four separate entries. Combining four separate entries to create a larger bankroll to permit wagering on more horses in a single race is an unfair advantage over other participants playing one or two entries. Mr. Moomey and Mr. Ball made all of their wagers in these two races within close proximity to each other and used the same four wagering machines for all of these wagers. Many of these wagers were made at nearly the same time.

Other allegations of collusion amongst additional BCBC participants were extensively investigated but the investigation led to the conclusion that there is insufficient evidence to support a finding that a violation of the rules occurred. Specifically, BCL received a complaint about Nisan Gabbay and Kevin McFarland. Both individuals only had one entry per person (as opposed to the permitted two entries per person). Mr. McFarland wagered throughout both days of the BCBC. Mr. Gabbay did not wager until the sixth race on Saturday and incurred 5,000 penalty points on Friday and 6,000 penalty points on Saturday for failing to place minimum wagers in accordance with the BCBC Official Rules. Mr. Gabbay and Mr. McFarland stated unequivocally that they do not collaborate on wagering strategy even though they share tournament winnings. The BCBC Official Rules do not prohibit the sharing of winnings and the investigation concluded that such sharing does not violate the rules in effect. Moreover, Mr. Gabbay and Mr. McFarland played only one entry apiece and the wagering patterns employed could have been employed by one participant with two entries within the rules.

BCL received additional complaints regarding a revision to the BCBC Official Rules on minimum wagers. Prior to the 2016 BCBC, participants were given a 5,000-point penalty per race for failing to bet the minimum wagers on Friday and a disqualification for failing to bet the minimum wagers on Saturday. BCL felt that the penalty was too harsh and the BCBC Official Rules were revised in 2016 for the 2016 BCBC to state that participants would receive a 1,000-point penalty per race on Friday and a 2,000-point penalty per race on Saturday for failing to bet the minimum wagers without providing for disqualification. The investigation concluded that the imposition of penalties in 2017 was consistent with the current version of the rules and that the application of those rules does not warrant the disqualification of Mr. Gabbay in addition to the specified point penalties.

While other major handicapping tournaments also have minimum wager penalties similar to the current BCBC penalties, BCL is nevertheless reviewing its Official Rules for future years to encourage wagering throughout the two days of racing while mitigating penalties for those players that unintentionally failed to meet the minimum wagering requirements.

As part of its investigation, BCL has received significant feedback from participants regarding improvements to the BCBC. As a result, BCL has recently formed a Wagering Committee made up of BCL Members and chaired by Craig Bernick and Mike Rogers. Other Members from BCL include Fred Hertrich, Bret Jones, Mike Levy, and David Richardson. Horseplayers and tournament players will be represented on the Wagering Committee by Paul Matties, Joe Appelbaum, Jonathan Kinchen and Tom Quigley. As stated by Breeders’ Cup President and CEO Craig Fravel, “while we hope that the work of the Wagering Committee will lead to improvements for the Breeders’ Cup and Thoroughbred racing generally, the first priority will be to review the operation of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge as well as the rules governing play. We expect to address concerns related to collusion, the audit/referee function, minimum play requirements, bet types and any others brought to our attention by the committee or the tournament community. While this has been an unfortunate occurrence, we expect to make changes that will set an example for the industry and establish a foundation for growth. We welcome input from horseplayers as part of those efforts.”

BCL would like to thank all BCBC participants for their patience and cooperation in the delay of the official results as well as for their part in making the Breeders’ Cup World Championships a success.

Gulfstream Park NHC/Pegasus Contest has Latin American Flaire

Pegasus statue at Gulfstream ParkPress Release

Gulfstream Park announced the first Clasico del Caribe Betting Challenge Saturday, Dec. 9 which could offer up to four Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship seats and two National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) seats.

To be held in Gulfstream’s Sport of Kings, the live-money Clasico del Caribe Betting Challenge will have a buy-in of $2,000 ($1,500 bankroll, $500 prize pool). Players must wager a minimum of $250 on at least six races at Gulfstream Park and Laurel Park. Two of the six must include the Clasico del Caribe plus an additional stakes race at Gulfstream Park of the player’s choosing. There will be no maximum. There will be win, place, show, exacta or trifecta wagers only. Players must bet their entire $1,500 bankroll over the course of the contest.

Prizes, based on 100 entries, will be four Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship seats and two NHC seats.

Players can qualify at HorseTourneys.com. For more information, contact Nancy Berry at nancy.berry@gulfstreampark.com.

Upcoming NHC Tournament in California

Press Release

The Los Alamitos Racing Association will offer a cash prize and three seats to the 2018 National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas with a live money contest Saturday, Dec. 9.

Cost to enter the Los Alamitos Winter Qualifier is $400. Of that amount, $100 will be placed in the contest prize pool with the remaining funds going towards a live-money wagering card.

NTRA NHC logoContestants must enter prior to 12:30 p.m. – post time for the first race – Dec. 9. Players can begin entering the contest at 10 a.m. that morning.

Tournament races will include the entire card at Los Alamitos with permitted wagers including win, place, show, exactas and daily doubles beginning on races 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5. Each entry must bet at least $50 on six races, but there is no wagering limit. For purposes of the contest, a Daily Double wager counts as one race.

The player with the highest bankroll at the end of the day will be declared the winner and the player with the second highest bankroll will be the runner-up.

The winner will receive 50% of the prize pool, which will be capped at $10,000. The remaining payoffs: 20% (2nd place), 15% (3rd place), 10% (4th place) and 5% (5th place).

There will also be three berths available to the 2018 Last Chance contest in Las Vegas.

Another handicapping contest is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 16. Further details will soon be available.

For complete contest rules or any other questions, contact larace@losalamitos.com or by telephone at 714-820-2690.

The Winter meet at Los Alamitos will begin Thursday, Nov. 30 and continue through Sunday, Dec. 17.

A First Time Starter at the Wynn Handicapping Challenge

“Here were two tournament veterans wanting in on my action.  A far cry from just wanting to avoid embarrassing myself. “

By Justin Dew

A social media friend of mine pointed out to me that when one’s name is misspelled publically, it’s thought to be a sign of good luck.  Perhaps that’s what led to my 7th place finish in the Wynn Handicapping Challenge.  Or perhaps it was “Misspelled Name’s Luck” better known cousin, Beginner’s Luck.  Regardless, my experience in my first ever $2 Win/Place format tournament with an actual cash prize on the line has brought me to the conclusion that I am going to be taking part in these events for a long time to come.

The 2016 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge was my first handicapping tournament of any kind, and since then I have participated in several online qualifiers.  But the 2017 Wynn Handicapping Challenge was the first time I had ever competed for real money, other than the live money BCBC.  I am typically not a big goal setter, so I aimed low for the Wynn event: don’t embarrass yourself.  With $64 in mythical wagers each of two days, I would have been perfectly happy earning a score of $128.10 and looking at my lost $2,000 entry fee as an investment in my education.  Seriously.  My expectations were that low.  Especially after trying and failing to qualify for the event online four times at an additional cost of about $800.

I downloaded the Saratoga and Del Mar past performances on Thursday before my flight from Orlando to Las Vegas, but other than a cursory glance to get a feel for what the respective cards had in store, I didn’t do one second of handicapping before the event.  Not one second.  I am a huge believer in avoiding paralysis through analysis, and my limited experience in online qualifies has shown me how frustrating it can be to warm up to a horse at 12-1 on the morning line, see that horse open at 6-1, find another horse at better odds, and then watch the first horse win at 10-1.  So I knew I didn’t want to make any emotional commitments to any horse before I had a chance to see the tote board.  And with more than 30 minutes between races at Saratoga, I knew I’d have plenty of time to handicap.  So I essentially went in blind.

Me and my iPad arrived at the Wynn Sportbook about an hour before the Friday opener at the Spa.  There was no assigned seat for me since I had just registered that morning.  I was placed at a small table with two other guys who would become friends by the end of the weekend.  We will call them Scott and Brian since I neglected to get their permission to use their real names for this little story.  Scott and Brian were playing as a partnership.  I had seen Scott’s name on tournament leaderboards before.

With 30 selections over two days, I’ll spare you a breakdown of each horse I used and stick to the highlights.  After running last and second last with my first two plays, I used my one daily $4 Win and Place wager in the 3rd from Saratoga [Wynn rules allow one ‘double bet’ each day].  I wish I had kept the PPs from both days so I could tell you why I picked the horse, but I didn’t.  Anyway, Hardened won and paid $18.80 and $7.90.  Since I “fired my big bullet,” that horse was worth $53.40 to me.  After only three races, I knew I was near the top of the leaderboard, which I wouldn’t be able to actually see until the end of the day, per Wynn rules.  The Saratoga card would end with me only scoring on one other horse: Petrov, who paid $7.60 and $4.40.

In the 4th at Del Mar, Into Rissa (if I remember correctly) was moving into state-bred company from open maiden special weights company at about 12-1.  She ran 2nd and paid $10.20 to place.  I had used a short-priced winner earlier on the card and then blanked from there.  So I scored with four of 15 picks and had a Day 1 score of $85.80, good for 16th place out of 241 contestants.  When the Day 1 results were posted, I was identified at J. Drew.  My social media friends had a field day.

I approached Day 2 pretty much the same way.  Minimal prep and low expectations.  And I struck early and hard.  After initially planning to skip the first three races, I ended up playing them and making a move that would make me a contender for the victory.  In the 2nd race at Saratoga, an Al Stall Churchill shipper caught my eye, so I fired my $4 bullet and he won at 6-1.  Behavioral Bias paid $15.60 and $6.60, times two.  And in the very next day, me and my tablemates Scott and Brian both used 9-1 winner Estrechada.  Javiar Castellano had now won two in a row for me, and I was up to $74.00 for the day and $159.80 for the tournament.  The table celebrated together.

It was after the next race, the 4th from Saratoga, that things got interesting.  Scott and Brian used a Mott first-timer named Trumpi who won and paid $47.40 and $20.20.  This put them up near the $150 range, and right into contention with me.  Just then, as I started to handicap the 5th race, I noticed Scott motioning Brian to follow him out in to the casino.  I figured they were going to come back and inform me that tournament protocol dictated that we had to either switch tables or stop talking openly about our opinions since both parties were now in contention for some serious cash.  I was wrong.  They returned to the table and a fresh round of Diet Cokes (I think both of them combined for between 30-40 Diet Cokes over the weekend).  Scott said “So Justin.  We figure you are in the lead and we are in the Top 5.  How about we each agree to hedge for 10% of each other’s winnings, and we keep playing openly like we have been?”  Wow.  Here were two tournament veterans wanting in on my action.  A far cry from just wanting to avoid embarrassing myself.  I agreed, and it was on to the rest of the Saratoga card.

I would only hit three more horses from my remaining 11 selections.  The highlight for me was a D. Wayne Lukas runner in the 11th race named Warrior’s Club, who almost stole the race at 26-1 before Neolithic ran him down.  That extra $54 would have come in handy, but I settled for the $11.60 place payout.  I did manage to score with my final two picks, adding about $20 or so.  After two days, I had accumulated a score of $189.20.  Scott and Brian were in the low $160 range.  It was all over.  Time to wait.

It took about 45 minutes for the final results to be posted.  The people sitting around me speculated that I had a shot at the Top 20.  I was letting myself dream about maybe the Top 15.  Though I was fully prepared to be disappointed by a 25th-place finish, which would have been out of the money and out of the Top 10 percent.

But I was not to be disappointed.  I had finished in 7th place overall.  Scott and Brian also cracked the Top 20 and took home some cash.  My finish was worth $8,500, minus the 10% cut for Scott and Brian, plus 10% of their winnings to me.  I was absolutely stunned.  I never expected to perform so well.  It was truly beyond my wildest expectations.   In a room full of people who had done this many, many times before and who in some cases were viewing multiple laptops at once as they analyzed replays and charts, I had somehow managed to finish 7th without even looking at the past performances until there were 30 minutes to post.  I’ll say it again: I was stunned.

Scott and Brian invited me to the Wynn buffet, where I literally pinched myself half-a-dozen times just to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming.  To be honest, while the money was nice and will fund my return to the BCBC this year, what I really was excited about was knowing that I can compete with the best handicappers on the tournament circuit.  Maybe not every time.  Maybe not even most of the time.  But at least this time.  For at least a race or two, I was in the lead against 241 other handicappers.  And I ended up beating 97% of the field.  Was it Beginner’s Luck?  I guess time will tell.



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.

2016 NHC Tour Comes Down to 5 Tournaments this Weekend


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).

The Hammer Crushes Them in Keeneland’s Grade One Gamble

Keeneland Grade One Gamble logoBy Rich Nilsen

Tommy “The Hammer” Massis scored his second major handicapping tournament victory last weekend when he took down the prestigious Grade One Gamble tournament at Keeneland Racecourse.  Topping 123 players with a huge $28,074 bankroll, Massis won an NHC berth, a $10,000 grand prize, and an entry into the lucrative Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, which was the main prize he was shooting for.

Massis defeated an all-star cast that included runner-up Paul Weizer, third place finisher Patrick Gianforte, fifth place finisher Dan Hartman, pro player Mike Maloney, among others.  We sat down with this professional horseplayer from Toronto, Canada to discuss his big win and his approach to handicapping.


AGOS: Tommy, how did you first get into horse racing and how long have you been playing the sport?

TM: Oh man, first time I went to the track was when Secretariat ran at Woodbine. I was like 10 years old, and I didn’t realize the significance until like 10 years later.   I was dragged there and I wanted to go home.  I remember my uncle saying, “Just one more race.”  He gave me two dollars to bet on a horse named Kennedy Road, the local star, who was named after a street in Canada.

About five to six years later I started going regularly with my uncle, my cousin, and the guys in the neighborhood, and I’ve been at it ever since.


AGOS: Tell us how you prepared for the high stakes tournament from a handicapping standpoint, and what some of your strategies were going into the day.

TM:  My strategy is that if I can find something to go all in on, that is my preferred strategy, but I don’t have a set one.  I don’t want to do what everyone else does, such as in the Breeder’s Cup Challenge where many players will just bet to “show” and then go all in on the last race.  I try to do the opposite of that.  In this case I found 3 horses that were playable for me on this day.  The greatest thing was that they [Keeneland] changed the rules so that if you didn’t play a race, you were no longer disqualified.  Instead you would be deducted 250 points from your bankroll.  So I was minus 500 because I didn’t play the first two races but I still had my original $2,000 to wager with.  I took advantage of that because I hate to bet show.  For example, if I miss the first race to show on a 1-5 shot, I’m done. I’m on tilt.

So my wager in the contest was $600 or so on the third race.  And that was it.  The contest was over [after my pick won].

The funny thing is that the winner of the last race would have been my “all in” horse.  He was the third horse [of the three] that I liked all day.

My whole goal for playing in this tournament was to get the BCBC spot.   I have no interest in the NHC.  I despise that tournament.


AGOS: Longshot Wilhelmina in race 3 was the key to your success on Sunday.  What got you on this 36-1 shot, and what wagers did you hit with her?

TM: I had $400 to win.  I only played one exacta, a $40 exacta box 6-7 and a $40 press 7-6.  I hit a $2 trifecta, and I got my worst result in the three hole. Most of my trifecta combinations were 6-ALL-7 and 7-ALL-6.  I would have won 3 times as much if they were split.

racehorse Wilhelmina

I would come up with that horse every time, no doubt about it.  I trip handicap and I saw a lot of speed in the race.  So, I looked closely at the off-the-pace horses.  I kept going back to her as the only real closer, and she looked horrible.  However, she could finish a race and come off the pace.  Then, I do what I do.  I looked at the replays.  Her last race was the first replay that I watched.  She got killed out of gate, made a move around the turn and then got killed again at the top of the stretch.  She finished strongly down the middle of the track for third and galloped out really well.  That was it for me.  I didn’t need to see any more.

Especially at Keeneland, I take a close look at the big morning line horses, e.g. 50-1, since most people will just quickly dismiss them.

I also love betting trainers and jockeys I have never heard of.


AGOS: You won the Woodbine Handicapping Challenge last summer which has a completely different format as a traditional $2 w/p structure.  Do you approach that kind of contest differently?

TM: Yes, 100% different.  The $2 w/p format doesn’t fit into the way I play every day at all.   It was a beautiful day and it’s my home track with a great setup, so I decided to play.  I am actually horrible at those contests.  I would have put the line on me at 1000-1 to win that tournament beforehand.

“Racing with Bruno” actually helped me win the Woodbine contest.   Half of my winners were from Woodbine, which I found myself, and the other three were from Bruno’s Saratoga sheet.  With his selections I read him just like anyone else, but as a clocker he is just unbelievably deadly.  That is, if you know how to read him as I do.

I read every track handicapper of every track that I play.  I read every word that they write because they may tell you one tidbit of information that maybe you didn’t know.  They could tell you something about the horse, any little bit of information, such as trouble, being on the wrong part of the track, etc.  The information is free (comes with the cost of the Form) so why not read it.

I really only have the capacity to play one track at a time with all of the work that I do.


AGOS: What information do you rely on in your daily handicapping, and what are the main points of emphasizing when dissecting a race?

TM:  First thing I do is watch replays a day or two after they’ve actually run.  Head-on’s are the most important to me, especially because most players don’t watch them or can’t get them.

I will go back and watch more replays to “fill in the blanks.”  I rarely bet Win.  I am more of a Pick-3 and Pick-4 player.

For me it is watching those replays, making notes, keeping track of biases.

I wasted a lot of time and money on the Sheets.  It’s really tricky, actually, to use them, and if you are just betting the lowest number [on the Sheets], you got no future.   The horses are way overbet.   It was just too much money, too much work, and not enough reward for me.

In a nutshell, I am a replay guy.  I also try to get around the takeout as much as possible.  I look at the Pick-3 and Pick-4, for example, as dividing the takeout by 3 or 4.

I focus on Woodbine.  I don’t spread in my wagers.  I average only 6-8 combinations.  Because why play it otherwise?  You might as well play a Pick-3.  Even with a Pick-3 I don’t like to go more than four combinations.  I try to explain it to guys.  If you are 1x2x5xALL in a Pick-4, for example, why not just put all that money into the 1×2 daily double?  That’s the way I look at it.  If I have to spread that much, then why play.  Even when I play a Pick-5, I rarely have the ticket that has like 80 combinations on it.  I am always trying to have it multiple times.

I am horrible at trifectas, superfectas, and Super Hi-5s.  I know my strengths and my weaknesses.  Not being too stubborn is very important. When I am ‘capping 5 furlong turf races, those races always look like an “ALL” to me, whereas with 6f on the dirt or ploy, that is my specialty.  My strengths are maiden $20,000 claimers, not Grade 1 stakes races.


AGOS: Tommy, what would you like to see changed in our sport going forward?

TM: One major thing. I want racetracks, which they will never do, to realize that this is not about horse racing or entertainment.  This is about gambling and to hire gambling people. It all revolves around the gambling dollar, and I would like see gambling people hired to cater to the players.

They [the track employees] are all clueless about the gambling.  You have to cater to the gamblers if you want to grow the sport.

5 Tournament Tips to Keep You Relevant (and Sane) When Life Gets in the Way

by Ross Gallo

I’ve been a professional handicapper for over 30 years, playing tournaments for the last 15.  I’ve qualified 10 times for the NHC, finished second on The Tour in its inaugural season, and am a member of the NTRA Player’s Committee.  In recent years however, my time has been at a major premium.  I recently married the love of my life, and have a brand new, BIG family who I adore as well.  In addition, my son is 11 now, and there is kick boxing twice a week, jiu jitsu another day, band practice, concerts, homework and much more.

It occurred to me that there are many of you out there who love this game, love to play tournaments, but are in the same or similar situation as I am. With the current tournament landscape being so internet heavy (online tournaments far outnumbering brick and mortars), it is still possible to play and compete even when your schedule says “no.”  Recently, a perfect example presented itself to me, and the idea for this article was borne.

On November 29th, Twinspires held their annual monster NHC qualifier*. The top 20 earn a spot, and the next 30 receive Horse Player World Series packages.  Fifty trips to Vegas in all, and I didn’t want to miss it.  Being the Saturday after Thanksgiving (why schedule a tournament like that right after the holiday?), Maria, Ethan and I were visiting her family in New York.  It was a great time, as Ethan hadn’t seen snow since he was age 3 (we live in Florida).  Thus, sledding was a big deal and the food and company were spectacular.  But I had to play in the tournament and Maria is always very supportive, which is huge for my state of mind.  I appreciate that very much by the way, but how could I hope to be competitive under the circumstances?  Here are a few things that helped me, hopefully they will you as well.

Turf scene_promo_smallerGet your handicapping materials as early as possible.  Under normal circumstances, I can handicap a tournament the day before rather comfortably.  When you know you’re going to have time issues, getting your choice of handicapping products as early as possible can get you an important head start.  DRF PP’s, the sheets, HTR, BRISNET, et al, often have their info available two or three days in advance.  And while you may not know the exact tournament races that far out, most of the time you know the tracks to be used, so if there is a big field turf race or major stakes, you can be fairly certain they’ll include it.  You should be able to figure out at least half of the races they’re going to use.

Maximize your time. If you’re flying, the plane is a great place to handicap.  If your obstacles are closer to home, get up an hour earlier and get some ‘capping in.  Go sledding, take the kids to the movies, make dinner, put up the tree, but set aside a half hour here or there to do a race.  Or my favorite, wait until everyone goes to bed and handicap in the peace and quiet until you can’t keep your eyes open.  Sure you’ll have some bags under your eyes the next morning, but you may just find that 20-1 shot you dearly need.

Put all your picks in (but be ready with alternatives). Unless you’re playing a Pick and Pray (where picks must all be in by a set time), most, if not all, of the other online contests let you change your picks.  I know they suggest putting all your picks in for the day anyway, and this is probably good advice for any contest, but I’ve never liked the practice personally.  Doing so, leaves you open for taking a winner out (an optimist might think putting one in too, see below), and the last thing you need is something else to possibly aggravate you.  But in the case of limited time, I believe it is a wise idea.

Of course, if you’re absolutely out for the day, you’ll need to ‘Pick and Pray’ anyway, but with smartphones and tablets available to most players, keeping tabs of your picks is at your fingertips.  At the least, try to have a backup list of longshots and/or favorites to change to according to the circumstances.  Example: you only have a minute, but you check the standings quickly.  A bankroll of $90 is leading with two races to go, you have $30 and a 2-1 shot in the next race.  You have to change out of that pick to something longer.  A simple list of alternatives, especially for the later races, is crucial.

Keep handicapping on the fly.  Obviously if you’re totally off the grid, there is nothing you can do, but even if you get back to business with only a few races to go, keep working.  Your time was limited, so you certainly could have missed something.  Case in point from my Twinspires experience.  I had hit a 7-1 shot and a couple of places about two thirds of the way through the contest, and was wallowing in the middle of the pack.  There was a race coming up that I was okay with the horse I had put in already, but the following race was a big field, competitive turf race at Del Mar that I didn’t have time to handicap thoroughly.

I do a lot of tape work, so I watched a few races I didn’t get to.  Sure enough, jockey Joe Talamo was on a second time turfer who had broke his maiden in what, on paper, appeared to be inferior to some of the contenders.  I found the effort eye catching and at over 20-1 he seemed well worth a shot.  Got a perfect trip, came up the fence and won convincingly!  Now I’m in the hunt.  Without continuing to grind, I NEVER find that horse.

Don’t beat yourself up. This is good advice no matter the situation, but even more so when you’ve had little time to prepare and your margin of error is very small.  I got in front of the computer with 5 races to go, and was a hero with my change to a 20-1 shot winner.  I proceeded to hit a 5-1 in the next race to get to 21st place and less than $1 from qualifying for the NHC with two races to go.  I fanned the penultimate race, so it was a one shot contest and I needed about $6 to qualify.

My advance picks had me on a 7-1 shot, the 12 horse in a two turn race at Hawthorne.  After further handicapping I noticed the jockey was 4 for 74 and the trainer wasn’t much better. Thinking it would be very difficult for this jockey to work out a winning trip from out there, I changed my pick for the second time that day.  That didn’t work so well this time as the ‘4 for 74’ jock  rode like Javier Castellano and drew off, while the 3-1 shot I ended up on (with a supposedly superior jock) got stuck down on the rail, trapped behind horses the whole stretch.

I was understandably pissed, would’ve finished top ten if I left it alone, but my brother told me a long time ago “You plant your feet, make your pick, and whatever happens, happens.  Good or bad you have no more control over it.”   Despite the result, I think my logic was sound,  I finished up with a credible 39th place finish out of over 500 entries.  The HPWS package was not quite the result I’d hoped, but under the circumstances not horrendous, and I battled to the end.

This last tip maybe the hardest and most important to follow because you have to fight human nature.  We all feel that disappointment when bad things happen, but it is imperative to keep your focus if you want to have success in this difficult game of ours, and dwelling on adversity can even carry over to your next tournament if you allow it to.  Keep the demons at bay.

So there you have it.  When those inevitable times come up when your life is as frenetic as possible, but you still just HAVE TO play that tournament, hopefully these little suggestions will help you.  And who knows, maybe you just might steal one from the Shurmans, Weiners, Goodalls and Nilsens of the handicapping world.  Why not you, right?  Happy Hunting (winners) !

Editor’s Note: Ross Gallo is considered one of the top horseplayers in the country and is in select company, having qualified 10 times for the NTRA National Handicapping Championship.   His brother and nephew are also top-notch players, having qualified numerous times.

* the event was designed and created by the founder of AGameofSkill.com