The cannon battles in front of TI won’t generate the biggest roars this weekend as a record 570 horse racing handicappers cheer their picks home in the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship.
The annual event, in its 19th year, will offer a record $3 million in prize money, $800,000 of which will go to the winner of the three-day contest beginning Friday.
The event, presented by the Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas, has drawn a diverse crowd, including 13 returning champions vying to become the first two-time winner of what is essentially the Super Bowl for those of us who have succumbed to the siren of the racetrack.
This year’s contestants include a logger, a social forecaster, a fellow who wrote his master’s thesis on uncertainty analysis, a pro wrestling executive and a master carpenter at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
At least nine locals will attempt to keep the handicapping crown where it rightfully belongs: Richard and Sally Goodall, Michael Ray, Michael Rosenthal, Ira Hirsch, Dan Kaplan, Michael Markham and Bruce Pratt, all of Las Vegas, and Ron Ferrise of Henderson are among those competing for the title of handicapper of the year, which comes with its own special Eclipse Award. There are probably others, but not every contestant took the trouble to fill out the bio section of the entry form.
If you’re not familiar with the tournament, it works like this: Contestants join the NHC Tour for a one-time annual membership fee of $50, which entitles them to play in any of a yearlong series of handicapping contests that offer prize money and qualifying berths to the big event, the NHC.
Keith Chamblin, chief operating officer of the NTRA and NHC tournament director, says the contests “are a relatively new and different way to play our game” and have grown in popularity each year.
He remains hopeful that the NHC, and maybe even some qualifying events, can attract the interest of a major sports network such as ESPN or Fox Sports, which “could potentially supercharge the event” the way televised tournaments triggered a boom in poker in the early 2000s.
If you get a chance, check out the NHC in the TI ballroom on the second floor. Maybe you’ll be inspired to go for the big money next year.
#RJhorseracing featured races
While the NHC contestants pursue a life-changing score, the #RJhorseracing handicappers are taking another step down the road to the Triple Crown by tearing apart Saturday’s Sam F. Davis Stakes (Grade 3) and a bonus race, the $175,000 Lambolm South Endeavor Stakes (Grade 3), at Tampa Bay Downs.
The Lambolm South, a 1 1/16th-mile turf race for fillies and mares, drew eight contestants, but our handicapping crew is strongly backing 9-5 morning line favorite Dona Bruja over La Coronel (2-1) and Lovely Loyree (10-1). I agree, but will box the top two in an exacta to be safe.
In the Sam F. Davis, run at 1 1/16th mile on the main track, the crowd ’cappers are again siding with the chalk, Catholic Boy (8-5) over Flameaway (8-1) and Vino Rosso (3-1).
“Won 3 of 4, including dirt debut in Remsen-G2. The class!” Carlo Campanella, aka TheIronHorse, wrote on Twitter.
I’ve been a big fan of Catholic Boy since before the Breeders’ Cup, but I’ll take a stand against him and go with Vino Rosso to post a mild upset. Trainer Todd Pletcher has a barn full of Triple Crown contenders this year and they’ve all been running well lately.
Join us next week as we unravel two new equine puzzles. Simply email me to sign up or hop on Twitter and search for the #RJhorseracing hashtag.