Switching racetracks on the fly because of its revised summer date, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association selected seven North American tracks for its premier handicapping event – the National Horseplayers Championship.

2016 NHC
The National Horseplayers Championship is the most prestigious handicapping event in the world. Normally in February, it’s Aug. 27-29 at Bally’s in Las Vegas. (Image: Horsephotos)

The NTRA covered the racing spectrum with its seven selected tracks. It included the three premier summer tracks: Del Mar, Monmouth Park and Saratoga. Along with those three come Gulfstream Park’s summer meet, Golden Gate Fields, Ellis Park and Woodbine Racetrack in Canada.

This is noteworthy because of the NHC’s revised date – another pandemic byproduct. Normally held in early February, around the Super Bowl, this year’s NHC is Aug. 27-29 at Bally’s Las Vegas.

The NHC is horse racing’s version of the World Series of Poker’s Main Event: the most prestigious handicapping tournament in the world. The field is smaller than the gargantuan WSOP, with nearly 600 entries expected for this year’s NHC field. Nearly $3.8 million is up for grabs in 2021, with $3 million of that coming via prize money.

You don’t buy into the NHC; you win your way in

A 2017 Rolling Stone article called the NHC “Horse Racing’s Hunger Games.” The three-day event requires players to make $2 mythical win and place wagers on eight mandatory races and 10 optional races over the first two days. After that, the field cuts to the top 10% of players determined by highest bankroll. Those players advance to Sunday morning’s Semifinals, where the horseplayers make 10 optional bets from those tracks.

The top 10 players advance to Sunday’s final table, where seven mandatory race bets decide the NHC champion. That champion receives $800,000 and an Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year.

Unlike the WSOP, you don’t buy your way into the NHC. Qualifying for the NHC requires advancing through a local NHC-sanctioned qualifying tournament. Those are held at racetracks, casino race books, OTB facilities and even a few handicapping websites.

NHC competitors get six Grade 1s that weekend

By moving the NHC to that summer weekend, the NTRA tabbed a weekend featuring six Grade 1 events. That includes one of the summer’s biggest races: the Aug. 28 Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

“The menu of racetracks represents the best possible mix of quality racing and geographical diversity,” said NTRA Chief Operating Officer and NHC Tournament Director Keith Chamblin. “Del Mar and Saratoga, which on Saturday, Aug. 28, will feature six Grade 1 events – headed by the Travers Stakes – highlight the racing. But it will be great to introduce Ellis Park, Monmouth Park and Woodbine to NHC contest play.”