One of the more remarkable events on the national racing calendar is set to occur this week right here in Las Vegas. I am speaking about the 17th annual national handicapping contest, jointly sponsored by Daily Racing Form and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
This is a year-long competition in which horseplayers pay their way into various qualifying tourneys from coast to coast. All are trying to win one or two seats in the three day Finals to be held Thursday through Saturday at the Treasure Island Casino racebook.
Out of the $2.4 million set up for the Finals, cash prizes will be earned down to 50th place, while $800,000 is for a first place finish, except if your name happens to be Jonathan Kinchen.
Mr. Kinchen, a terrific handicapper, provided some interesting quotes about the DRF-NTRA tournament in this column space last week (and has a chapter all his own in my new book to be published during the Triple Crown season). That said, he alone can win a whole lot more than $800K if he goes on to win the Finals. That’s because there is an insured extra $2 million waiting for Kinchen should he prove to be the top point scorer out of approximately 525 handicappers in the Finals.
Kinchen is singled out because he won four separate qualifying tourneys during 2015 to finish the year on top of many thousands of players who tried to win seats. His prize for his outstanding tourney success in 2015 was $75,000 and two seats in the Finals, the most anyone is allowed.
Actually, this was the second straight year Kinchen earned two coveted seats for the DRF-NTRA Finals. Frankly, that is one seat more than I personally – as a commentator on racing matters – wish anyone can earn.
My preference actually is for a competition in which extra advantages cannot be gained by players who can afford to enter several qualifying rounds and then use two seats to make strategically based choices of two different horses in the same qualifying races.
The actual mechanics of the DRF-NTRA Finals points out that mandatory selections must be made in specific races at seven tracks as chosen by Tournament officials. The seven tracks this year are Santa Anita, Gulfstream, Tampa Bay Downs, The Fair Grounds, Oaklawn Park, Aqueduct and Golden Gate Fields. Tournament points are credited as players make hypothetical $2 win and $2 place bets on their respective choices in the designated races. Players who finish in the top 50 earn their appropriate shares of the $2.4 million prize pool.
By point of fact, I actually qualified for the Finals a couple of times, when only one seat was permitted. I stopped attempting to qualify when the rules changed to allow players to win two.
While I have openly expressed my personal preference, plenty of players appreciate the opportunity to win a second seat.
Keith Chamblin, a high ranking NTRA official who is here in Vegas to supervise this tournament, was kind enough to explain why the double-entry rule is in place and actually has been expanded a bit this year.
“Plenty of our players love the rule that permits two qualifying seats,” Chamblin said. “Of course, we still hear from others like yourself, who wish we didn’t allow that.
“Maybe down the road we’ll figure out a way to award a suitable cash bonus to players who pay their entry fees and win separate qualifiers. But, “while we continue to offer a second qualifying seat, we did change something from last year.
“It actually was Kinchen who made us think about the change,” Chamblin stated. “Last year, he had two seats in the three day Finals, but couldn’t use his second seat during the final hours of Day Three, when only the top 10 go forward to decide the winner.
“So, under the existing rules, we put one of his entries into 11th place with a suitable cash prize and then he went on to earn seventh place money with the one entry he had left. This year if that happens any player with two eligible entries for the final 10, still will have both entries going forward to the final table.” he said.
Either way, as previously explained, Kinchen certainly has continued with a remarkable 12 months since last year’s final table. He also is not the only one who has been a strong contestant in this prestigious nationally important event that deserves a lot more publicity than it presently gets.
“We’re certainly excited to host this great tournament for the fifth straight year,” said Tony Nevill, director of Treasure Island’s sports and racebook.
Nevill specifically added this note about last year’s winner John O’Neill: “It sure will be interesting to see how O’Neill does this time around. He played a fantastic tournament (last year). And, if you ask any of the qualifiers from any of the past years, they all will tell you that it takes a lot of talent to win one of these.”
Beyond the return of Kinchen and O’Neill, readers should know that six other previous winners are in this year’s Finals including Jose Aras, Jim Barnes, Michael Beychok, Brian Troop, Richard Goodall and Stanley Bavlish. Meanwhile, Sally Goodall has qualified for the Finals a record 15 times and is among nearly two dozen women in the field.
The list of qualifiers is set at 525 right now. On Wednesday, Treasure Island will hold one more qualifying contest for a $500 entry fee in which at least five more seats will be awarded. With that, let me wish all of the dedicated horseplayers who qualified, plenty of good handicapping and the best of luck in the way each race is run.
Steve Davidowitz, author of the best selling “,” has covered racing since Secretariat, lives in Vegas & is writing a new book, “Cashing Big on Racing’s Biggest Days.” Email: SteveDavidowitz @GamingToday.com.