By Noel Michaels
The NHC Tour Free Contest from back on March 2 – otherwise known as “Fourgate” – has now become official following the results of an online playoff to break a seven-way tie to determine the five contest-winning players that earned qualifying berths into the 2020 NHC. Now that the “official sign” has been posted, let’s take a look back at one of the strangest and most controversial contests in the history of the NHC Tour.
Two weeks after the original online NHC Tour Free Contest, the event’s five NHC qualifying berths were finally determined, and awarded, by an online seven-player playoff contest on March 16. A seven-player playoff, you ask? Well in case you don’t already know, here’s what happened.
The March 2 free NHC Tour contest on HorsePlayers.com started like any other ordinary tournament. It was a “pick & pray” format contest (all selections made in advance) that drew a field of 1,898 entries and was to award five NHC qualifying berths. In the end, however, the results of the tournament turned out to be anything but ordinary.
The first extraordinary thing about the contest was that it finished in a seven-way tie for first. A whole list of tie-breakers were in place to prevent ties in the contest, but of course, there’s no way of breaking a tie where the tied players have ALL of the EXACT SAME picks for every race.
That brings us to the second extraordinary thing about the contest . . . How and why it ended in a seven-way tie. Well, the reason for the seven-way tie was because those seven players had filled-in their entries by apparently blindly entering picks on the No. 4 horse in every race of the 12-race contest. A straight ticket on the No. 4.
As luck would have it, Saturday March 2 turned out to be a very good day for No. 4 horses, especially in the contest races, resulting in a contest victory for the seven players who picked all 4s. Several No. 4 horses won during the 12-race contest, ranging from Identifier at $11.00 to win in Gulfstream’s race 10, to Jeltrin, who took Gulfstream’s race 12 paying $105 to win (a 64-point horse odds-capped at $42 to win and $22 to place). The winning 4s resulted in giant tournament-winning totals of $176.90 for the seven players who had selected all 4s across their tickets.
All of the tie-breakers in the rules were rendered useless, except the sixth and final tie-breaking procedure; “if a tie still remains, then the winning entries will be determined by a random draw.” To their credit, when faced with this unpredictable situation, the NTRA took proactive action. Instead of settling for a random draw, they contacted the seven tied players and offered them a tie-breaker playoff contest instead. All seven agreed.
Predictably, a social media and Twitter firestorm about whether these players deserved to qualify for the NHC by sheer random luck then followed the contest, and was loud and intense. Seemingly everyone chimed-in with an opinion in what came to be called “Fourgate,” a catch-term that appeared to be coined by tournament blogger Justin Dew on his LoneSpeed page.
I personally don’t understand the controversy. In my opinion, the all-4 crew did nothing wrong, played in the rules, got lucky, and won fair and square. Period. Luck has always played a role in tournaments, and this time luck was with the seven No. 4 guys. It just as easily could have been a lucky day for the No. 1 horses, or No. 6 horses, and players would have had those numbers blindly covered too. As a matter of fact, I have never seen a free contest with entries in the 1000s where the numbers weren’t all covered by entrants who blindly went all-in on any of the numbers. The March 2 free contest just happened to be the first time I can recall any of those people all winning. C’est la vie.
For those who disagree, the next NHC Tour Free Contest will feature a new, more luck-proof two-round format on April 6-7. For more information, see the bottom paragraphs of this blog.
As a matter of fact, I think you could even make a case that blindly picking random numbers, be it all 4s, or all 1s, or 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, is actually not a bad strategy in a contest where you are playing against 2,000 other players for just 5 prizes. You’ve gotta use some strategy to separate yourself from the mass of competition, right? What’s wrong with using blind luck as a strategy?
The eventual winner of the seven-player playoff on March 16 was Kevin Kilroy, a 40-year-old father of three, who built a respectable winning total of $77.40 in the 12-race tie-breaker. Kilroy’s key horse was his pick of America’s Tale $24.40 to win and $12.40 to place) in Gulfstream’s Inside Information Stakes. This was Kilroy’s first NHC qualifying berth.
The list of four other NHC qualifiers is rounded-out by Jerry Stone ($65.60), Jerald Segall ($53.70), Kenneth McMahan ($44.60), and Michael Lamorte ($38.00). As for the other two members of the all-4s club, their luck ran out. Joseph Green and Nick Bristow finished 6th and 7th in the tie-breaker playoff and settled for $500 site credits on HorsePlayers.com as consolation prizes. Incidentally, none of the seven players used the same all-4s strategy in the playoff. If they had, they would have finished with $25 – not enough to qualify.
All seven players in tie breaker earned 2,961 NHC Tour points apiece for winning the original March 2 contest.
In case you were wondering, the highest scoring non-all 4s player in the March 2 contest was Joseph Eckert, a former NHC qualifier who this time had to settle for eighth. His finish was good for 2,811 NHC Tour points.
If you are Joseph Eckert, or any of the other top-scoring non-winners of the March 2 NHC free contest, or if you are just a tournament player who likes new things – I have got some good news for you! The next NHC Tour Free Contest is already scheduled for the weekend of April 6-7, AND, the event features a new two-round format hosted by HorsePlayers.com.
As the name implies, the April 6-7 NHC Tour contest will be free for anyone who is a paid member of the NHC Tour for 2019. Tour membership starts at $50 and includes entry to the year’s remaining free online qualifiers, as well as access to dozens of other contests each week. To sign up for the NHC Tour, go to www.ntra.com/membership. Individuals also must be registered at HorsePlayers.com.
The two-round NHC Tour Free Contest on April 6-7 works like this. All entrants will play in the April 6 preliminary Round 1, which will be a pick & pray format. The top 10 percent of the finishers from Saturday’s Round 1 will advance to Sunday’s Round 2, which will feature a live picks format. The top 5 finishers from the April 7 Round 2 contest will each win qualifying berths into the 2020 NHC. NHC Tour points will not be awarded on April 6. The top 100 finishers in April 7’s Round 2 will earn NHC Tour points based on their finish.
I will have much more on the April 6-7 NHC Tour Free Contest Format in my next blog, so stay tuned.