Hefty payday awaits one of 459 players in NHC

Horseplayers rarely have a chance for a life-changing score, but 459 will have such an opportunity today and Saturday in the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship at Treasure Island.

First prize is $750,000 for the 14th annual NHC, which culminates the NHC Tour plus a year's worth of qualifiers for other horseplayers.

Michael Beychok is attempting to become the first NHC repeat champion. Seven other former winners are in the field: John Doyle (2011), Brian Troop (2010), Richard Goodall (2008), Ron Rippey (2006), Jamie Michelson (2005), Steve Wolfson Jr. (2003) and Judy Wagner (2001).

Mark Streiff will be the player with the biggest target on his back, having won the NHC Tour and cumulative prize money of $102,500. He is eligible for a $2 million bonus, should he win the NHC. If he finishes on top Saturday, his total payday would be $2.75 million.

The NHC never has allowed buy-in entries. Thus, a premium is placed on either joining the NHC Tour to become eligible or playing in a myriad of qualifiers on-track or online.

The tournament format consists of making 15 mythical $2 win and place bets each day. Eight of the plays are on mandatory races that every contestant must bet. The remaining seven races are optional choices from among seven designated racetracks.

The mandatory races are selected by three people: Tony Nevill, Treasure Island race and sports book director; Mike Watchmaker, DRF National Handicapper; and Eric Wing, NTRA Senior Director of Media Relations.

The mutual prices are capped at 20-1 odds for win and 10-1 odds for place.

A good new idea for this year is the Best Bet wager. A player is allowed to double up one bet on any one of eight mandatory races each day. I like tournament rules that approximate real-life play, and this does.

The following contestants listed Nevada as their home state: Alstyne Dilts, Douglas Dodson, Richard and Sally Goodall, Dan Kaplan, Mike Markham, Michael O'Hagan, Steve Turner and Dave Wang.

■ WAGER TO WIN QUALIFIER - The first qualifier for next year's NHC is Sunday at Treasure Island. Two seats will be awarded.

■ LET'S GO RACING - Former KSNV Channel 3 sportscaster Bruce Casella is celebrating 20 years on air in Philadelphia with Let's Go Racing, a 30-minute weekly horse racing program. The anniversary show has many racing vignettes, some featuring Ralph Siraco of Race Day Las Vegas. The show can be viewed at parxracing.com.

Richard Eng's horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.