Eddie Olczyk of NBC Sports has been installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite for today’s Tito’s $10,000 Charity Challenge coming off his stunning victory in the Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship two weeks back. The hockey announcer and horse racing analyst has been undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer but managed to win the live-money Pegasus contest playing from home, as he will attempt to do for today’s Charity Challenge.
The three past Charity Challenge winners are next in the fictional morning line – defending champion Ellis Starr of Equibase is the 3-1 second choice, while the NBC Sports handicapping duo of inaugural 2015 winner Bob Neumeier and 2016 hero Matt Bernier, also of Daily Racing Form, are 4-1 co-third choices.
“Edzo has the mojo,” said Charity Challenge coordinator and morning line oddsmaker Joe Bacigalupo of the NTRA. “And as we saw with Neumy a few years ago the racing gods do love a good comeback story. But there are a lot of sharp handicappers involved from top to bottom.”
The $10,000 prize pool will be shared between three different causes – the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, official charity of the NHC ($5,000); a nonprofit of the winner’s choosing ($2,500); and a nonprofit to be determined by title sponsor Tito’s ($2,500). The online contest is held in conjunction with the 19th NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens™ and Treasure Island Las Vegas, which runs through Sunday at Treasure Island.
Other celebs or sports figures expected to compete in the Charity Challenge include actress and model Bo Derek, ESPN College GameDay personality Chris “The Bear” Fallica, retired Hall of Fame jockey Ramón Dominguez, newly retired ESPN broadcaster Jeannine Edwards, multiple Sports Emmy Award winner Pete Macheska, and former NBA player Rashard Lewis.
Other high-profile players include legendary track announcer Tom Durkin, Tito’s Handcrafted Vodka founder Tito Beveridge. Racing’s non-human Twitter stars the Spa Infield Goose and Juba the Gray will submit picks online despite the absence of fingers or any metacognitive capacities.
A host of Thoroughbred racing broadcasters are among the field: Simon Bray, Caton Bredar, Matt Carothers, and Dave Weaver of TVG; Zoe Cadman, the popular reporter and former jockey, and Aaron Vercruysse of Xpressbet; Acacia Courtney and Ron Nicoletti of Gulfstream Park; Frank Mirahmadi of Monmouth Park; Joe Kristufek of Churchill Downs and Fair Grounds; and Laffit Pincay III of NBC Sports.
Daily Racing Form, which is involved in the contest realm as the creator of last weekend’s World Championship of Handicapping, is represented by handicapper Dan Illman, in addition to Bernier.
Racing’s print media also is represented by Frank Angst of The Blood-Horse; Paulick Report founder and editor-in-chief Ray Paulick and editor Scott Jagow; ST Publishing co-founders Joe Clancy and Sean Clancy and editor Tom Law, the team behind ThisIsRacing.com, The Saratoga Special, and Steeplechase Time; Tom Lamarra of Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association; Dave Tuley of the Vegas Sports & Information Network; 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 Jude Feld and Mike Penna of Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN).
Treasure Island Race and Sports Book Director and Tony Nevill will represent the longtime NHC host site.
Industry types who manage to show up everywhere include Ed DeRosa of Brisnet, Jamie Haydon of Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, Tom Ludt of Phoenix Thoroughbreds, and Peter Rotondo of Breeders’ Cup.
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.
About the NHC
In its 19th year, the NHC 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. There are no bye-ins to the NHC. Each year, the NHC winner joins other human and equine champions as an honoree at the Eclipse Awards. For more information on the NHC, visit NTRA.com/nhc.