FULL CHARITY CHALLENGE ROSTER ANNOUNCED – A field of 42 celebrities, broadcasters and media types has been assembled for Saturday’s inaugural $10,000 NTRA NHC Charity Challenge to benefit Old Friends Thoroughbred retirement facility and a charity of the winner’s choice. Much of the field was announced earlier in the week, including political strategist and commentator James Carville, actress and model Bo Derek and former NBA coach and ESPN/ABC analyst Avery Johnson.
Other high-profile players include recently retired jockey Rosie Napravnik; ESPN personalities Jeannine Edwards, Chris Fallica and Kenny Mayne; 2014 Miss America finalist Acacia Courtney; multiple Emmy Award-winning FOX Sports producer Pete Macheska; and Tito’s Handcrafted Vodka founder Tito Beveridge (yes, that’s really his name).
A host of Thorougbbred racing broadcasters are among the field: Jerry Bailey, Randy Moss and Bob Neumeier of NBC Sports; Richard Migliore and Andy Serling from The Jockey Club Tour on Fox; and Bob Baedeker; Caton Bredar, Zoe Cadman and Aaron Vercruysse from HRTV, The Network for Horse Sports, which will report live from the NHC during Sunday’s Final Table.
NHC title sponsor Daily Racing Form has four players: editor and publisher emeritus Steve Crist, handicappers Matt Bernier and Dan Illman and national handicapper Mike Watchmaker.
Racing’s print media also is represented by Eclipse Award-winning writers Frank Angst and Claire Novak of The Blood-Horse, as well as Paulick Report founder and editor-in-chief Ray Paulick.
Radio broadcasters include Steve Byk of At the Races with Steve Byk, longtime network television race caller Dave Johnson of Down the Stretch and Horse Racing Radio Network hosts Jude Feld and Mike Penna.
Multi-talented Thoroughbred racing ambassador Joe Kristufek of America’s Best Racing is yet another sharp handicapper and broadcaster handicapper in the field.
Tracks hosting NHC mandatory races were invited to have their on-air handicapper or analyst play. Those participants include Christina Bossinakis and Ron Nicoletti of Gulfstream Park, Margo Flynn of Tampa Bay Downs, Frank Mirahmadi of Oaklawn Park (also the track announcer), Sam Spear of Golden Gate Fields and Brian Spencer of Fair Grounds. Aqueduct is, of course, represented by Serling.
NHC regulars in the field include Lee Davis and Team Rotondo (Peter Rotondo Sr. and Peter Rotondo Jr.) of the reality TV series Horseplayers, 2001 NHC champ Judy Wagner and 2009 NHC Tour winner Bryan Wagner.
Also making picks is friend of the NTRA John Morris, playing on behalf of the John Morris Foundation, which defrays medical expenses for the paralyzed son of Thoroughbred Owners of California president Joe Morris.
Players will select one horse to Win and Place in each of eight mandatory races (the same lineup used for the NHC) from tracks across the country. 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.
SATURDAY MANDATORY RACES – Tournament officials released the list of Saturday’s eight mandatory races early Friday morning. Those races, in chronological order (with Pacific Time estimated post) are: Gulfstream, Race 2 (9:59 a.m.); Tampa Bay, Race 4 (10:53 p.m.); Oaklawn, Race 4 (12:38 p.m.); Santa Anita, Race 5 (2 p.m.); Oaklawn, Race 8 (2:38 p.m.); Santa Anita, Race 7 (3 p.m.); Santa Anita, Race 9 (4 p.m.); and Golden Gate, Race 9 (4:45 p.m.).
Tracks eligible for finalists to choose seven optional plays from are Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate, Gulfstream, Oaklawn, Santa Anita and Tampa Bay.
LAST CHANCE RESULTS – Ten players in Thursday’s “Last Chance” contest at Treasure Island qualified for the NHC from a record field of 251 players. The final 10 NHC qualifiers were: Robert Bertolucci, Roger Forget, Phil Hoedebeck, Jean Huttepain, Elmo Ishmael, Derek Lapikas, Michael Ray, Michael Rusovick, Ruth Snead and Frank Sorensen. Hoedebeck and Ray earned their second entries into the NHC, bringing the updated and final total of dual qualifiers to 85.
RECORD ENTRIES – With the 10 entrants that came out of Thursday’s “Last Chance” contest, the final number of entries for NHC 16 is a record 606. There are 521 individual players, as 85 are dual qualifiers with the maximum two entries.
ARIAS READY FOR TITLE DEFENSE – Defending NHC winner Jose Arias, who took home $756,000 last year between a $750,000 first-place prize and a $6,000 Day 1 bonus, is enjoying his celebrity with three days to go before a new champion claims the crown.
“When I first walked in last year nobody knew who I was. This year I walk in and everyone comes over to say hello. Everyone just knows who I am. It’s flattering. All the people that I’ve met have all been awesome.”
Arias is a hero to many of the hundreds of regular contest players in Souhern California. The Surfside Race Place at Del Mar, where he qualified for last year’s NHC, even has a portrait of him hanging outside the building.
“It changed my life completely,” Arias said. “It has been such a great experience. I’ve been able to travel to different racetracks throughout the country and Canada.”
As last year’s winner Arias earned an automatic berth to NHC 16, where he seeks to become the event’s first repeat winner.
“I’m just going to try to do what I did last year,” he said. “Hopefully I can do just as well!”
FOLLOW ON TWITTER – Follow the NTRA on Twitter (@NTRA) for the latest news, scoring updates and behind the scenes photos from the NHC. The official hashtag of this year’s contest is #NHC16.
About the NHC
In its 16th year, the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino race books, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping websites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. Each year, the NHC winner joins other human and equine champions as an honoree at the Eclipse Awards. In addition to the founding title sponsor, the NHC is presented by Racetrack Television Network, Sovereign Stable and Treasure Island Las Vegas.
About the NTRA
The NTRA is a broad-based coalition of more than 100 horse racing interests and thousands of individual stakeholders consisting of horseplayers, racetrack operators, owners, breeders, trainers and affiliated horse racing associations, charged with increasing the popularity, welfare and integrity of Thoroughbred racing through consensus-based leadership, legislative advocacy, safety and integrity initiatives, fan engagement and corporate partner development. The NTRA owns and manages the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, NTRA.com, the Eclipse Awards, the National Handicapping Championship, NTRA Advantage, a corporate partner sales and sponsorship program, and HORSE PAC, a federal political action committee. The NTRA has offices in Lexington, Ky., and New York City. NTRA press releases appear on NTRA.com, Twitter (@ntra) and Facebook (facebook.com/1NTRA).