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The biggest purse in horse racing this week won’t go to a Hall of Fame trainer like Bob Baffert. It won’t go to a top three-year-old Kentucky Derby hopeful like Game Winner. And it won’t be won by a Hall of Fame jockey like Mike Smith.

The biggest purse in horse racing this week will go to a horseplayer.

The 20th annual National Horseplayer Championship, or simply the NHC, will be contested this week at the Treasure Island Hotel starting Friday and ending on Sunday. The winner will get an Eclipse Award as Handicapper of the Year to be presented next January at the annual Eclipse Awards dinner.

Unlike most tournaments, players cannot buy their way in. They have to qualify for the NHC by winning one of several live money events at tracks across North America, at satellite wagering facilities, or thru online qualifying sites.

There is far more than the $2.9 million purse plus the $733,000 awarded in travel and hotel expenses on the line. In addition to the winner’s share of $800,000, there are several in the field of approximately 675 with seven figure bonus payouts to be won, too.

Long-time horseplayer Dave Gutfreund was the winner of the year-long NHC tour. As a result of his tour victory and with wins in tournaments at Hawthorne racetrack in Illinois, Gutfreund is playing for $7 million in bonuses above the winners’ share of the NHC purse.

Chuck Grubbs, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge held during the 2018 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs, can pick up an additional $3 million with an NHC win.

Michael Mulvihill, who like Gutfreund qualified at Hawthorne, is eligible for a $2 million bonus with a win in the NHC.

There are 11 others who stand to pick up bonuses of $500,000 or more should they take down the top prize at the NHC Sunday afternoon.

For those who haven’t played in handicapping contests, here is how the format for the NHC works.  On Friday and Saturday, players will make 36 mythical $2 win and place bets on a single horse in a single race. Of those 18 races each day, eight of the races will be designated as “mandatory races” meaning all players must make a selection in those eight races. The other 10 races may be chosen by the players from a list of eligible contest tracks. The optional races must be different from the mandatory races. All payoffs are capped at 20-to-1 for a win ($42.00) and 10-to-1 ($22.00) for place wagers.

At the end of Saturday, the top 10 percent advance to the semi-final round Sunday morning. The semi-final round consists of 10 races of each player’s choice from the eligible tracks – no mandatory races. The semi-final round will end at approximately noon Sunday, at which time the players with the 10 highest bankrolls will advance to the final table.

The players carry their bankroll totals into the finals, where they will wager on seven mandatory races. The player with the highest bankroll at the end of the seven final races will be the winner. There are rules that preclude any player from choosing and wagering on a race where he/she has an ownership interest.

For the first time in 2018, two of the 10 finalists were women.  And nobody has ever been able to repeat as champion, which makes 2018 winner Chris Littlemore’s task even tougher.

It truly is a championship event, and if you play horses, it should be on your bucket list. If you have an inkling, you can also get a future book wager down on your favorite handicapper in the Treasure Island racebook prior to the start of the contest Friday morning. For those interested in following the action, you can go to the website for the latest updates and standings. 

Derby prep at Tampa

The Grade III $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday is the only race this week with Kentucky Derby qualifying points at stake. 

Grade I winner Knicks Go, who finished second to Eclipse Award champion Game Winner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, figures to be a heavy favorite in his three-year-old debut following some fantastic workouts at Tampa. 

Rainbow Six payout

Last Saturday Santa Anita had a mandatory payout of its Rainbow Pick Six jackpot carryover, which had grown to $1.5 million. Torrential rains were responsible for late scratches of 11 entrants in the Pick Six sequence, however, and held the Rainbow Six new money wagered to “just” $5.1 million. The reduced field sizes and a parade of favorites resulted in 18,764 winning tickets that paid just $296.30. 

Gulfstream Park has a single ticket Rainbow Six jackpot carryover of $1,265,196 going into Wednesday. With no major Stakes races on the agenda, look for big fields of restricted claimers and a difficult sequence for their mandatory payout on Saturday. If the jackpot fails to be hit before then, we could be looking at a much different payout than in the rain last week at Santa Anita. 

Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Santa Anita, Thursday Race 8 – Silent Musketier (No. 9). Gelding from the very low profile Jesus Mendoza stable finished in a rally when beaten just three lengths on New Year’s Day and figures to be a big price again on Thursday. He has plenty of upset value. 

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At Gaming Today we are dedicated to providing valuable up-to-date information on the casino industry and pari-mutuel race wagering. With news and features, plus expanded coverage in key areas – race and sports analysis, picks, tips, and handicapping.

About the Author

Jon Lindo

Jon Lindo is a syndicated handicapper, long-time thoroughbred owner, and publisher of the Lindo Report. Jon is also a regular contributor to Race Day Las Vegas Radio show on KSHP 1400 in Las Vegas and Thoroughbred Los Angeles Radio show, heard in Las Vegas at

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