TORONTO, January 25 - Defending champion Michael Beychok heads a record field of 465 horseplayers who will gather at Treasure Island Las Vegas this weekend to vie for horse racing’s official title of "Handicapper of the Year" and a first-place prize of $750,000 in the $1.5 million Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Presented by Treasure Island and Sovereign Stable.
Including money already won by top finishers in the 2012 Daily Racing Form NHC Tour, the overall value of the NHC totals $1,795,000.
There's also a $2-million bonus on the line for 2012 NHC Tour Winner Mark Streiff if he can win this weekend's tournament.
“The NHC is the most anticipated tournament in the world among horseplayers,” said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of the NTRA. “With a million and a half dollars and a Handicapper of the Year Eclipse Award at stake, the atmosphere at Treasure Island will be absolutely electric on January 25th and 26th.”
Canada will be represented by 31 horseplayers at the event including nine who won their NHC berth at tournaments coordinated by Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG).
The nine horseplayers representing WEG are: John Kimove, Mississauga (Thoroughbred Summer Saratoga Challenge); William Rendino, Bronx, NY (Thoroughbred Summer Saratoga Challenge); Nick Noce, Rochester, NY (Woodbine Handicapping Challenge); Dana Tull, Toronto, ON (Woodbine Handicapping Challenge); Terrance Wraight, Oakville ON (Woodbine Handicapping Challenge); Robert Schwartz, Pittsford, NY (Greenwood Handicapping Challenge); Gary McMcaster, Etobicoke, ON (Greenwood Handicapping Challenge); Kok-Chun Yuen, Etobicoke, ON (Extreme Betting Contest High Balance); and Derek Ball, Mississauga, ON (Extreme Betting Contest High Balance).
Learn more about Noce's dynamic journey to NHC qualification by re-visiting our running diary recap of the Woodbine Handiapping Challenge.
Regular Championship updates will be posted on the Internet throughout the two-day contest at www.drf.com.
The tournament format for the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is meant to be the best possible test of overall handicapping ability. Players attempt to earn the highest possible bankroll based on 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers on each day of the two-day tournament. Eight of those wagers will be on mandatory races as selected by tournament officials.
New for 2013 is the introduction of the “Best Bet” wager whereby a player will be able to designate one of his eight mandatory race plays each day as a best bet. That best bet will count as a $4 win and $4 place wager, instead of $2 win and $2 place. The odds cap is the same, but players could conceivably earn $128.00 ($84.00 + $44.00) in mythical contest earnings if they play a winning longshot as their best bet.
There will be a menu of seven tracks available to wager on: Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita and Tampa Bay Downs.
Beychok, an avid poster on Twitter as @mbeychok, will have to fend off his brother, Benjamin (making first tournament appearance) as well as seven former champs returning to the NHC.
He is joined by 2011 champ John Doyle, 2010 winner Brian Troop (who resides just north of Barrie, ON); 2008 winner Richard Goodall; 2006 Champion Ron Rippey, 2005 victor Jamie Michelson; 2003 kingpin Steve Wolfson Jr. and 2001 victress Judy Wagner also have qualified. The best performance in the NHC by a former champion, thus far, is the 11th place effort in 2005 turned in by 2004 winner Kent Meyer.
Beychok, who was profiled by the New York Times in advance of the NHC, is a political consultant and longtime friend of popular pundit James Carville. It was Carville with whom Beychok made his first trip to the races (Fair Grounds) as a teenager.
He took last year’s NHC by a single dollar over runner up Dave Flanzbaum after correctly selecting Glorious Dancer ($8.20 to win, $3.80 to place) in a Golden Gate contest that served as the final race of the competition.
As a way of thanking the horse that made him champion, Beychok, an avid supporter of thoroughbred retirement and retraining efforts, claimed Glorious Dancer out of a March Golden Gate race for $6,250. Glorious Dancer, a five-year-old Roman Dancer mare, compiled a record of 1-1-1 through three starts for Beychok before exhibiting some wear and tear following a June 14 race.
Beychok quickly made the decision to have the filly shipped to Louisiana to recuperate. Although Glorious Dancer may yet return to the track, Beychok wants, most of all, to see to it that the filly that changed his life will have a good home for the rest of her days.
It's interesting to note that competitors in the NHC come from all walks of life.
This year’s NHC contestants range in age from 23-year-old Matthew Bernier of West Springfield, Mass., to 76-year-old Dick Mueller of White Bear Lake, Minn. In case you mistakenly thought handicapping was a man's game, no fewer than 38 females are expected in the field of 465.
And perhaps most important of all for the winner of the competition - - handicappers won't have to avoid fellow player, Nathaniel Gines, who during earlier renewals of the NHC was employed as an I.R.S. agent. Gines qualified again this year, but he has since retired.