Defending champion John Conte heads a record field of 302 horseplayers who will gather at Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa on Jan. 29-30 to vie for horse racing’s official title of “Handicapper of the Year” and a first-place prize of $500,000 in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship.
“We are delighted to return to Red Rock in Las Vegas for what has become the most anticipated tournament in the world among horseplayers,” said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of communications and industry relations for the NTRA. “This year’s field of 302 is our biggest ever, which means this year’s NHC will be the most competitive in the event’s history.”
As the 2009 DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship winner, John Conte of Oceanside, N.Y., received a special exemption into the tournament to defend the title he won last January when he bested 300 other horseplayers in the two-day competition. The 69-year-old Conte won by amassing a mythical bankroll of $228.00 from a total of 30 $2 win-and-place wagers pared from a mind-numbing menu of more than 130 races run at seven different tracks.
Conte was only in 11th place heading in to the last race of last year’s NHC, but a successful longshot bet in the day’s finale propelled him to the top. Conte will look to become the first ever two-time winner of the NHC, but he will face six other past champions who qualified for the finals this year.
Contestant Bryan Wagner will be hoping to make NHC history of a different kind. As the winner of the second annual NHC Tour in 2009, Wagner not only won a $100,000 bonus for his top scores in the year’s NHC qualifying events, he is eligible to receive a $2 million bonus should he emerge victorious in the Jan. 29-30 competition. So a win by Wagner in Las Vegas would result in a payday of $2.5 million ($500,000 first-place NHC purse plus $2 million NHC Tour bonus).
In its 11th year, the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino racebooks, off-track betting facilities, and horse racing and handicapping Web sites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. This year’s finalists advanced from one of 85 local tournaments held at more than 50 different sites across North America since last February.
So far, more than 120,000 people have participated in these local tournaments. In addition, a “last chance” tournament will be held at Red Rock on January 27 in order to fill the remaining five starting berths in the field of 302. Red Rock will also host the second annual “Red Rock Shootout” on Jan. 31. The event will serve as the first NHC qualifying event of the 2010 contest year.