By Jennie Rees and Jim Mulvihill
Tournament officials determined the final field size and purse distribution for this weekend’s 19th NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens™ and Treasure Island Las Vegas at the conclusion of Thursday’s “Last Chance” qualifier, hosted by Treasure Island, which added 11 entries to this weekend’s main event and contributes to the cash prize pool.
A record field of 702 entries will compete at this weekend’s NHC. There are 568 individual players, also a record, meaning that 134 are “dual-qualified” with the maximum two entries. As of Friday at 10 a.m., there were five players that had yet to check in for the contest.
The final cash and prize distribution for this year’s NHC is a record $2,974,700, up slightly from $2,900,600 in 2017. The prize money tied strictly to this weekend’s results totals $2,428,750, which includes $2,311,750 to the top 10 percent of finishers; $50,000 for Sunday’s Consolation Tournament; $42,000 worth of entries in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) and Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship to be awarded to the NHC winner (BCBC and Pegasus) and Day 1 and Day 2 leaders (BCBC); and a $25,000 Tour Bonus to the NHC’s highest finisher from the NHC Tour’s top 40. The overall pool also includes $400,000 in prize money for the top finishers on the NHC Tour, which ended last month, and $145,950 in travel awards, Roku and RTN subscription prizes, and minor cash awards.
ROOKIE RECORD – A record 195 first-time qualifiers are in this year’s NHC out of a total of 568 individual players, who represent 703 overall entries with double-qualifiers.
“That’s a lot,” two-time NHC runner-up Roger Cettina said of the NHC rookies, attributing it to the growth of the event popularity. “That’s a big number, 195 out of almost 600. That’s great.”
STORY HAS HAPPY ENDING AT ‘LAST CHANCE’ – When Frank Story was trying to qualify for his first NHC through a HorsePlayers.com online tournament Nov. 11, he promised himself that if he earned a spot in the championship event that he would not play in another tournament until Las Vegas. He narrowly won the qualifier and kept his promise until Thursday’s Last Chance/First Chance tournament at Treasure Island, where players had their last chance to get an entry or a second entry into the NHC or, if they already are double-qualified, a spot in the 2019 event.
Story, a New York financial advisor who grew up betting horses, won the Last Chance with a $154.60 mythical bankroll over 13 optional and mandatory races to earn a second NHC spot and $20,325.
“I qualified the week after the Breeders’ Cup, and then I quit playing contests,” he said, adding of his HorsepPlayers.com contest, “I’m not a religious guy. But I was holding on for dear life. So I said, ‘Dear God, if I qualify, I won’t make a bet until I get to Vegas.’
“There’s a lot of luck involved. You can be the most knowledgeable person in the world. But horse racing is luck. If you’re hot, you’re hot. And I got lucky today.”
There were 271 entries into the Last Chance, which awarded 11 entries to this weekend’s main event. Three players were delighted to be among the first qualifiers for #NHC19 in Feb. 2019 – Stephanie Davis, Evan Trommer, and Joe Johnson.
2016 CHAMP MATTIES BOUNCING BACK – Paul Matties Jr. went from winning the 2016 National Horseplayers Championship to finishing 347th last year. He came into the world’s largest and most prestigious handicapping tournament at Treasure Island resolved to be the most prepared he’s been — and that’s saying a lot for a guy regarded as the consummate professional horseplayer.
“I didn’t tell anybody this, but last year the day after the contest here, I ended up in the hospital with pneumonia,” Matties said Thursday afternoon as he and brother Duke Matties printed off the past performances that they create with their own figures (Paul’s responsibility) and trip and track bias notes (Duke). “I knew I was sick when I was here, but I didn’t know I was that sick. I kept having issues with it, had to go to doctors all the way through Saratoga.
“That kind of threw me off. Looking back at it, I made some mistakes and stuff. I would have never won, but I should have made the Semifinals. In fact my brother did, my father did. I felt I made mistakes, but afterward I kind of know why. I always go back and check and see what I could have done better.
“My goal last year was definitely was to make the first cut into the cashing,” he referring to the top 10 percent that advances to Saturday’s semifinals, in which those 70 players are all guaranteed prize money. “The year I won, that’s all my goal was, to keep making the cuts. Last year everybody said, ‘You wanna win?’ And I said, ‘I just want to make the cuts.’ And I didn’t make that first cut.”
So what is he doing this year to rectify that, besides not having pneumonia?
“Duke and I, we’ve prepared unbelievable for this one,” Paul said. “We’ve gone way up and down all our stuff way more than I normally would. It’s definitely driven all of us to do better. There’s more incentive now, that you have to do good. I do have a little more pressure on myself now than I would have two years ago. But my goals are still the same: I just want to make the cuts as they come. I haven’t thought beyond the first cut. I didn’t get that goal last year, and it did bother me.
“I’ve watched more races than I normally would. I wouldn’t say we’ve double- and triple-checked, but we’ve gone over it in detail. I think we’ve needed to because the races the last few months at some of the tracks have been a little bit out of the ordinary, and I think we found some things that we normally wouldn’t because we came back. Just going back and getting the data. We haven’t done anything as far as particular races.”
ON THE ‘NET – Veteran turf broadcaster Ron Flatter of Vegas Stats & Information Network and 2017 NHC champ Ray Arsenault were on John Engelhardt’s “Winning Ponies” show Thursday night. Listen here: https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/105247/ntra-consultant-noel-michaels-and-2017-nhc-winner-ray-arsenault.
Keith Chamblin, NTRA Chief Operating Officer and NHC Tournament Director, and Keeneland Director of Mutuels and Simulcasting Jim Goodman (who qualified for the NHC through Ellis Park’s tournament) were Flatter’s guest on this weeks VSiN podcast. Listen here: https://art19.com/shows/the-ron-flatter-racing-pod/episodes/53efac3c-2aa9-4e4b-b367-0e4c1c6349d5.
RUFFIN WELCOMES NHC – Treasure Island Las Vegas owner Phil Ruffin, an avid horseplayer who cashed big on Gun Runner in the Pegasus World Cup last month, personally greeted NHC entrants to his hotel and casino for the seventh straight year.
“If you have any complaints, see Keith,” Ruffin joked, referring to NHC tournament director Keith Chamblin. “If you have good things to say, come to me. I hope we have accommodated you very well. Good luck. This thing gets bigger and bigger every year.”