A total prize pool of nearly $1.7 million is up for grabs this weekend in two season-ending handicapping tournaments: the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship at Red Rock and the Horseplayer World Series at The Orleans.
The two-day $1 million NHC is today and Saturday. The $500,000 first prize is the richest ever for a horse handicapping tournament. The NHC will pay the top 30 finishers.
The field is deep, as 278 players qualified in satellite tournaments in the past 11 months. Six former NHC winners — Steven Walker (2000), Judy Wagner (2001), Steve Wolfson (2003), Jamie Michelson (2005), Ron Rippey (2006) and defending champ Stanley Bavlish — have qualified.
Seven players are eligible to win an additional $1 million bonus from the Twin Spires Club should they win the NHC. Samuel Guillory, William Marsh, April Scanio, Steve Stupka, Timothy Aupied, Jeff Cookson and T. J. Taylor qualified in a Twin Spires-sponsored satellite contest.
Nine Nevadans qualified for the NHC: Las Vegans John Cammarata, George Cathecha, Alan Denkenson, William Evans, Richard and Sally Goodall, Kathy Kissman and Paul Stath and Reno resident Robert Carlson.
The HWS began Thursday and will conclude Saturday. With a final tally of 683 entries, the total prize pool is $683,000. First prize will be $307,350. The generous HSW prize structure will pay down to 80th place.
The first day of the tournament was adversely affected by the cancellation of racing at Santa Anita. A combination of heavy rain Wednesday and a Cushion track surface that doesn’t drain properly made the decision easy. It is doubtful Santa Anita will race today, as more rain is expected.
Also, those tracks (Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Tampa Bay Downs) that had carded turf races had to switch them to the main track because of inclement weather. So most HWS contestants on Thursday had few choices in trying to find high-odds winners.
It is regrettable that these two great events overlap. However, Coast Casinos is permitting any players participating in both to use a proxy to place HWS contest wagers at The Orleans.
• CURLIN — Word that 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin will almost certainly race again in 2008 is welcome news in the racing industry. At the Eclipse Awards in Los Angeles, owner Jess Jackson said “racing needs heroes,” so he’ll keep running the Preakness and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner.
Jackson owns 80 percent of Curlin. There is pending litigation involving the remaining 20 percent. Jackson felt confident those issues will be resolved to allow Curlin to race this season.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.