By Noel Michaels

The traditional handicapping tournament “win-and-place” format is unfortunately becoming harder and harder to find, but the tried-and-true win-place format is ready to make a comeback in a big way at some of the upcoming season’s biggest contests, including the Jockey Club Gold Cup NHC Super Qualifier Challenge on Saturday, Sept. 29. Fair Grounds and Santa Anita will join Belmont in hosting brand new NHC super qualifiers when they host their own win-and-place-formatted super qualifiers on Dec. 22 and Jan. 5, respectively.

Belmont has jumped headfirst into the NHC “super qualifier” game with this one-day Jockey Club Gold Cup NHC Super Qualifier Challenge, which will award 13 NHC qualifying berths plus one rich 2019 Belmont Stakes Challenge [BSC] entry, based on a field of 180 entries. Belmont’s ratio of entrants to qualifiers will be very high and player-friendly at 15:1, and even more NHC berths could be available based on higher entries (for example, another NHC berth will be added at 195 entries, and so on).

Belmont Park has upped its tournament game this year to become one of the premier qualifying venues for the next NTRA National Horseplayers Championship [NHC]. The NYRA always has a knack for making big days even bigger, and that will again be the case on Jockey Club Gold Cup Day – which already is the biggest day of the Belmont Fall Championship Meet.  The Jockey Club Gold Cup NHC Super Qualifier will cost $1,500 to enter, including $500 going toward the prize fund and $1,000 that will serve as a player’s real-money bankroll.

The interesting thing about all three of these contests – besides the giant amount of NHC qualifying seats available – will be their format, which appears to tip its hat both to players who love live-money tournament play, and those players who prefer traditional win-and-place contest formats. After all, the win-and-place format is the format of the NHC finals in Las Vegas, and therefore it remains crucial for these tournaments to continue to exist, and critical for players to learn to excel in this format if they haven’t already.

The resurgence of this kind of format comes none-too-soon for many “old school” tournament players, myself included, who were beginning to fear these formats were disappearing, outside of the finals of the NHC, in favor of the anything-goes exotics formats that seem to be prevailing at handicapping tournaments these days.

Players will make ten $50 win-and-place wagers on the races from Belmont, Laurel, and Gulfstream and conclude with the last race at Belmont. At least half a player’s bets much be made on Belmont races, and there is no odds cap. The players who accumulate the highest earnings from their wagers win, and because it’s live money, they also keep their pari-mutuel winnings.

“These new Super Qualifiers allow us to offer a much more favorable ratio of berths to entries for players,” said NHC Tournament Director Keith Chamblin. “We’re also excited to offer live-money formats that allow players to keep their winnings and put money through the windows of the host tracks, while maintaining the traditional Win-Place format that rewards consistent excellence.”

In addition to the NHC qualifying berths, Belmont will also payout the remainder of all entry fees in the pool in the form of prize money to the top five finishers at the following percentages for first-thru-fifth places: 45%, 20%, 15%, 11%, 9%.  Based on the estimated 180 entries, the Belmont tournament purse will be $25,600 in cash, with $11,520 to the winner, $5,120 for second, $3,840 for third, $2,816 for fourth, and $2,304 for fifth.

If the $1,500 entry fee is too rich for your blood, low-cost feeder contests are offered online at starting as low as $27.

The 20th annual National Horseplayers Championship will be held at Treasure Island Las Vegas on February 8-10, 2019 where purse money in the neighborhood of $3 million will be awarded.