Five months after the youngest champion in National Horseplayers Championship history walked out of Bally’s Las Vegas with that crown, the 2022 NHC returns to Las Vegas with 509 individuals dueling over three days for $3.5 million in cash and prizes.
That purse went back up after taking a COVID-related cut from nearly $3 million to $2.01 million for last year’s NHC, which was delayed 18 months due to the pandemic.
This year, things return to a semblance of normality. Sponsored by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the NHC and its $725,000 first prize and Eclipse Award for Horseplayer of the Year moves back to its late January date. That puts Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita Park, and Tampa Bay Downs back on the wagering menu. The Houston Racing Festival card at Sam Houston Race Park in Texas is only playable at Sunday’s final table.
This year’s NHC features 509 contestants with 643 entries, including the 134 individuals who qualified with the maximum two entries. To cash, a player must finish in the top 64, which comes with a minimum $10,000 payout. Make the 10-player final table and you’re guaranteed $50,000.
You earn your way into the NHC
The NHC is the most prestigious handicapping contest in the world. There is no buy-in. Every player earned their spot via regional qualifying tournaments held at racetracks, OTB facilities, ADW platforms, and casino racebooks.
The tournament format remains the same. Players make mythical $2 Win and Place bets on eight mandatory races on Day 1 and Day 2. After Day 2, the field is cut to the top 10% of bankrolls. Those players move into Sunday morning’s semifinals. The top 10 players after the semifinals comprise Sunday’s final table, where seven mandatory races await.
Along with that, players wager on 10 races of their choice on both Day 1 and Day 2. All 10 semifinal races are player’s choice bets from the seven designated tracks.
Players who miss the semifinals cut will compete in a separate Day 3 consolation tournament for $50,000.
Remember Mustari making event history?
Headlining the field is defending champion Justin Mustari, who captured last year’s title at 26. He earned his NHC spot as returning champion, courtesy of nailing a 19/1 shot — Rose’s Crystal — in a Del Mar turf allowance optional claimer. That vaulted Mustari from fourth to first.
Mustari is one of nine past NHC champions in the field. That club includes Thomas Goldsmith (2020), Scott Coles (2019), Christ Littlemore (2018), Ray Arsenault (2017), Jose Arias (2014), Michael Beychok (2012), Stanley Bavlish (2007), Steve Wolfson Jr. (2003), and Judy Wagner (2001).
Arias finished second last year, missing his shot at potentially becoming the first two-time NHC winner when he failed to get his pick in for the second mandatory race at the final table. He told reporters afterward he had a personal matter to handle and wouldn’t have cashed with his selection anyway.
Mustari is handicapping against history. In the 22-year history of the NHC, not only has nobody repeated, but nobody owns multiple titles.
A full scoreboard can be seen at ntra.com/nhc.