A record field of 654 total entries will compete for the largest purse in handicapping tournament history $2,900,600 in cash and awards – and horse racing’s official title of “Horseplayer of the Year” at this weekend’s 18th Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas. The three-day tournament, Friday to Sunday at Treasure Island, will offer a first-place prize of $800,000.

The overall estimated prize pool, including money already won by top finishers in the 2016 Daily Racing Form NHC Tour, represents a 4.4 percent increase over last year’s then-record purse of $2.78 million. The top 66 players will earn a cash prize, with the top 50 receiving five-figure checks and 66th taking home $5,000.

“We are delighted to once again host many of the pre-eminent horseplayers, and coolest people, in the world,” said NTRA Chief Operating Officer and NHC Tournament Director Keith Chamblin. “It is only through the support of so many horseplayers and participating organizations that we are able to realize another record year of growth for the NHC – by far the single largest promotional program in Thoroughbred racing.”

For the first time, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) is eligible for a $3 million NHC Tour Double bonus. New York City resident Joe Appelbaum, who won the BCBC at Santa Anita in November, earned $364,000 for that accomplishment, and first prize at the NHC is $800,000, meaning that successful completion of the NHC Tour Double would be worth more than $4.164 million.

As the winner of the 2016 NHC Tour, Cheryl McIntyre won $75,000 and an NHC berth. Should she go on to win this year’s NHC, she will receive a $2 million bonus in addition to the NHC grand prize of $800,000.

George Chute came in 15th overall on the NHC Tour but topped all players in points accrued on NHCQualify.com, earning him a $10,000 prize in the first-ever $25,000 “Cyber Stars” bonus pool and the chance at a $1 million bonus should he win NHC 18.

The tournament field will be reduced to the top 10 percent of players after the first two days. The highest 10 cumulative scores after the Semifinal round will fill out the Final Table. Bankrolls amassed during Day 1, Day 2 and the Semifinal round will roll over to the Final Table, with the 10 finalists settling the NHC score in seven “mandatory” assigned races.

Players who do not make the Semifinal cut will still compete on Day 3, in a separate Consolation tournament.

A full scoreboard will be updated regularly at NTRA.com, where fans and players can also find each day’s contest race menu and news updates. Additional news and exclusive content will be shared on Twitter via the official NTRA account, @NTRA.

News updates also will be available throughout the contest on DRF.com. At the Races with Steve Byk will broadcast live on Sirius XM satellite radio from Treasure Island during the show’s regular hours, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. EST, Friday morning.

Defending champion Paul Matties – who last weekend was honored with an Eclipse Award as “Horseplayer of the Year”– heads the record field, which is comprised of 529 individual players (125 are dual qualifiers playing the maximum two entries).

As the 2016 DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship winner, Matties, of Ballston Spa, N.Y., received an automatic berth into this year’s tournament to defend the title he won last January when he bested 628 other entries. Matties won by amassing a mythical bankroll of $399.50 from a total of 47 Win-and-Place wagers pared from a mind-melting menu of more than 150 races run at seven different tracks. Matties will seek to become the first-ever two-time winner of the NHC, as will nine other past winners that have qualified. The other qualifying champions: John O’Neil (2015), Jose Arias (2014), Jim Benes (2013), Michael Beychok (2012), Richard Goodall (2008), Stanley Bavlish (2007), Stephen Wolfson Jr. (2003), and Judy Wagner (2001).

In its 18th year, the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers. There are no “buy-in” entries at the NHC.

NHC players qualified via contests hosted by 45 racetracks, casino race books, handicapping contest websites, Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) outlets, simulcast distribution networks, horse owner associations and other Thoroughbred racing organizations. The NHC 18 qualifier hosts were Aqueduct, Arlington Park, Belmont Park, BetAmerica, Betfair, BetPTC, Breeders’ Cup, Canterbury Park, Century Bets, Churchill Downs, Del Mar Surfside Race Place, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Derby Wars, DRF Bets, Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino, Hawthorne Race Course, Hollywood Casino at Penn, HorsePlayersQualify.com, HorseTourneys.com, Indiana Grand, Keeneland, Kentucky Downs, Latin American Racing Channel (LARC), Laurel Park, Lone Star Park, Los Alamitos Race Course, Meadowlands, Mohegan Sun, Monmouth Park, NHCQualify.com, National Race Course, National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Players Challenge, Prairie Meadows, Presque Isle Downs, Public Handicapper, Santa Anita Park, Saratoga Race Course, Tampa Bay Downs, Thoroughbred Owners of California, Treasure Island, TVG, TwinSpires.com, Woodbine Entertainment Group and Wynn Las Vegas.

The tournament format for the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is meant to be the best possible test of overall handicapping ability. Players attempt to earn the highest possible bankroll based on mythical $2 Win-and-Place wagers. Assigned “mandatory” races – eight per day on Day 1 and Day 2 and seven at the Final Table – are selected by NTRA Director of Media & Industry Relations Jim Mulvihill, Treasure Island Director of Race and Sports Tony Nevill, Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Tournament Director Tim Schram, and HorseTourneys.com Director of Communications and longtime NHC emcee Eric Wing.

The remaining 10 races on Day 1 and Day 2 and all 10 plays in the Semifinal round will be optional wagers on races at one of eight designated NHC tournament tracks: Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita Park and Tampa Bay Downs.

On Saturday, the NTRA also will host an invitation-only online tournament, the Tito’s $10,000 Charity Challenge. A field of about 30 celebrities and racing personalities will compete to have $10,000 donated in their names to nonprofits including Old Friends, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, a cause of the winner’s choosing, and a cause selected by Tito’s.