Defending champion Matt Bernier of Daily Racing Form and NBC Sports tops a field of more than 40 celebrities and media types invited to compete in Saturday’s third annual Tito’s $10,000 Charity Challenge to benefit Old Friends, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and nonprofit causes to be selected by both the winner and Tito’s. The invitation-only online tournament is held on Day 2 of the three-day Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship Presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas.
Bob Neumeier of NBC Sports and winner of the inaugural NHC Charity Challenge will also seek repeat glory.
Thoroughbred-loving celebrities or sports figures invited include actress and model Bo Derek, ESPN College GameDay personality Chris “The Bear” Fallica, multiple Sports Emmy Award winner Pete Macheska and former NBA player Rashard Lewis.
Other high-profile players include legendary track announcer Tom Durkin, retired jockey Ramón Dominguez and Tito’s Handcrafted Vodka founder Tito Beveridge. Racing’s non-human Twitter star the Spa Infield Goose will submit picks from the Pegasus World Cup Invitational.
A host of Thoroughbred racing broadcasters are among the field: Larry Collmus (racecaller) and Eddie Olczyk (handicapper) of NBC Sports; Simon Bray, Caton Bredar, Christina Blacker and Matt Carothers of TVG; Brian Spencer, racing analyst and communications manager at Fair Grounds; Zoe Cadman, the popular reporter and former jockey; and Aaron Vercruysse of Xpressbet.
NHC title sponsor Daily Racing Form has two players in addition to Bernier – handicapper Dan Illman and national correspondent Jay Privman.
Racing’s print media also is represented by Frank Angst of The Blood-Horse, as well as Paulick Report founder and editor-in-chief Ray Paulick and editor Scott Jagow and five-time Eclipse Award winning writer and turf publicist Jennie Rees.
Radio broadcasters include Steve Byk of At the Races with Steve Byk, who is on-site at the NHC, as well as Acacia Courtney, Jude Feld and Mike Penna of Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN).
Eclipse Award official partner LuxAir Jets has delegated their spot in the field to racing executive Tom Ludt.
Handicapper and broadcaster Ed DeRosa of Brisnet and Equibase national racing analyst Ellis Starr will rely heavily on the past performances and statistical insight generated by their companies.
Several track announcers and analysts are playing, including NHC dual qualifier Vic Stauffer, who sacrificed his NHC eligibility to call the races at Oaklawn Park this meet; Christina Bossinakis and Ron Nicoletti of Gulfstream Park; Frank Mirahmadi of Monmouth Park and Golden Gate; and Jill Byrne of Churchill Downs.
Industry types who made their way into the mix are Merv Huber and Michelle Yu of Bet America and Lucky Kalanges of TwinSpires.com.
Players will select one horse to Win and Place in eight races – one from each of the tracks available to players in the NHC. Using a “Pick and Pray” format, all selections are due Saturday morning and any scratches will result in the player being assigned the post-time favorite. The player with the highest hypothetical bankroll after the final contest race will be declared the winner. In the event of a tie, there will be no playoff; the donations will be split among the winners.
Updates on scoring will be disseminated via Twitter (@NTRA) and available on NTRA.com.