Texas Gastroenterologist Wins 1st Half of NHC Tour



 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).

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is an 18-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 of the NHC twice. A former executive with Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, 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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