I just signed up for the new (and improved?) 2011 NHC Tour. It will be my third year on the tour -- over the past two years I forked over a combined $200 and got back only one t-shirt. Yes, it was an expensive t-shirt.
I'm hoping the third time's a charm as far as qualifying for the National Handicapping Championship -- I definitely came the closest I've ever been in 2010, so perhaps a little better luck in '11 will put me over the hump.
The 2011 tour has been goosed -- the pot for the January 2012 event will increase to $2 million including a $1 million winner's share, up from $1.1 million and $500K for next month's contest. The field will rise to 500 contestants from 321, and the cost of joining the NHC Tour has been reduced from $100 to $45.
In a big-picture sense, I like to see the NTRA Tour expansion because it shows that the handicapping contest circuit is alive and well, even as the horse racing industry struggles mightily. This is no surprise to this NJ-based contest player: Monmouth Park contests have been consistently well-attended for years amid growing questions about that track's very survival, and the two NYRA events I played this summer sold out, with the full contest room and lines at the buffet providing a marked contrast to the tumbleweed blowing around the rest of the track.
However, more is not always better. I find that about 200 players in a handicapping contest is a sweet spot -- it's enough to make it interesting, very challenging, and potentially very lucrative, yet there aren't so many people that it feels like this funny commercial. And overall, the NHC Tour in recent years just felt like the right difficulty level in terms of making it to the Big Dance -- plenty challenging for full-timers, and super difficult for just a semi-regular weekend player like myself.
Going from 321 to 500 players is a huge increase, more than 50% in fact -- certainly it improves my chances to sneak in, and I hope the bigger NHC Tour is a success, but I also hope that the powers that be realize they may be fixing something that was not broken.