The first horse racing Eclipse Award Champion for 2020 will be crowned this week. But it won’t be a horse.
The 21st edition of the National Horseplayers Championship begins Friday at Bally’s Hotel Casino in Las Vegas. An estimated 700 entries from approximately 560 individuals (horseplayers are allowed to qualify for as many as two entries into the NHC) will compete to take home the winner’s share of an estimated prize pool of $2.95 million. The winner will also receive the 2020 Eclipse Award as Handicapper of the Year.
Scott Coles, at age 34, became the youngest NHC champion in tournament history when he proved best of 658 entries and 522 individual players in the 2019 NHC. His victory included an $800,000 first prize and entry into this year’s tournament. No one in the history of the NHC has been able to win the tournament more than once.
When asked how winning the NHC has changed things, Coles said “It has been an incredible year. Being able to get rid of a law school loan debt and student loan debt that had carried over and racked up interest year after year. It was like paying a double mortgage.”
If Coles is going to repeat, he will have to do it at a new venue. Treasure Island has hosted the NHC since 2012, but due mainly to space limitations, the NHC is returning to Bally’s, which hosted the NHC from 2003-2007. The Bally’s Events Center includes enough space for friends and spouses of the contestants.
The format is as follows: Day One of the NHC is Friday. Contestants are required to make 18 mythical $2 win and place bets on a single horse at one of the designated tournament tracks. Of those 18 plays, there will be eight mandatory races that all contestants must play. The same format is in effect for Saturday.
After Saturday’s round, the top 10 percent of the players move on to a Sunday morning competition, carrying their accrued bankrolls. They will make 10 plays (no mandatory races) during the Sunday morning session trying to work their way into the top 10. Those players who did not qualify for the Sunday morning round will play a separate tournament for cash prizes.
The final table Sunday afternoon will consist of the top 10 bankrolls. Those who make the final table will all play seven mandatory races, and their selections will be disclosed to the public as those races are being run. The horseplayer with the biggest bankroll after the seven mandatory races will be declared the winner.
If you are a horseplayer in Las Vegas and have not been to the NHC, it is worth stopping by to watch the action. Of course, you may have to listen to a bad beat story or two from the contestants.
Davis Stakes for Derby points
The only three-year-old Stakes race this weekend offering Kentucky Derby qualifying points is the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs. The 1-1/16 miles Grade III race offers a purse of $250,000.
Independence Hall has won his three lifetime starts by a combined 21 lengths. Jose Ortiz will be back aboard the prohibitive favorite. Those likely to be take on Independence Hall include Ajaaweed, Albert Park, Chapalu, No Getting Over Me, Sole Volante, and Super John.
Storm the Court returns
Storm the Court, the Eclipse Award champion two-year-old colt for 2019, is scheduled to make his three-year-old debut this Sunday in the seven furlong $200,000 Grade II San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita.
There are no Kentucky Derby qualifying points offered in sprint races, but trainer Peter Eurton is using a path for Storm the Court that has proven successful in the past. Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm (trained by Bob Baffert) and Sunday Silence (trained by Charlie Whittingham) are a couple of Kentucky Derby winners that started their sophomore campaigns in the San Vicente.
The field figures to be small, with Ginobili, Azul Coast, Fast Enough, and Ra’ad considered likely to be entered to face Storm the Court.
Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Santa Anita Friday, Race 5 – Bulletproof One (No. 5). The Baffle Stakes did not fill when originally scheduled last Sunday, so trainer Peter Miller paid a $1,500 supplementary fee for this filly to face the boys when the race was rescheduled. She just missed vs. males over this course in the Speakeasy Stakes and looks very well meant.