Friday, May 20, 2016

Edward Enborg Leads Player Ratings

Edward Enborg of Jacksonville, Florida is the highest-rated NHCQualify player, through the May 15 contest.

That's Enborg in front
Red Rock or Bust introduced its NHCQualify player ratings in early April, to great fanfare. (Actually I could hear a pin dropping above the audience reaction, but perhaps the silence was a stunned one because the methodology is so utterly brilliant.)

These player ratings differ from the NHC Leaderboard by counting misses as well as hits. It's all well and good to have the most NHC Tour points, or lead in the NHCQualify-specific "Cyberstars" competition, but the reality for those thingamabobs is that frequency of contest play is at least as important, if not more important, than quality of contest play. In other words, you need to play in a boatload of contests (and spend a boatload of $) to have any realistic chance at being a top dawg in the eyes of the NHC Tour.

The egalitarian NHCQualify player ratings level the playing field by recognizing quality of play only. As long as you've played a reasonable minimum number of entries (25% of all possible NHCQualify entries this year so far, or 9 after the May 15 contest), you're eligible.

Enborg, who was written about by the NHC marketing dude in 2014, has a player rating of 2.91, well ahead of the competition. He has produced 32 points over a relatively modest slate of 11 NHCQualify entries. Enborg finished 6th of 658 entries on January 30, earning 10 points (see methodology here); 3rd of 133 on May 8, good for 8 points; 6th of 199 on May 15, for 7 points; and 13th of 364 on Feb. 6, also 7 points.

That's pretty damn good for just 11 entries.

Here's the top 10:

Player (Points/Entries=Rating)
1. Edward Enborg, Jacksonville FL (32/11=2.91)
2. James Riley, Mansfield, MA (22/10=2.20)
3. Samuel DeCicco, Kingston NY (20/10=2.00)              
4. Bernard Reilly, Fair Haven NJ (17/9=1.89)
5. Dan Shugar, Los Angeles CA (22/12=1.83)
6. Michael Doheny, Bronxville, NY (16/9=1.78)
7. Craig Hom, San Francisco, CA (21/12=1.75)
8. Eliot Honaker, Lexington KY (26/15=1.73)
9. Robert Gianquitti, Lake Worth, FL (27/16=1.69)
10. Jonathon Kinchen, Austin, TX (20/13=1.54)

And the full rankings of the 132 people who have played at least 9 NHCQualify entries this year, and finished in the top 10% at least once:

Lastly, let's look at the 'Cyberstars' of the NHC. How do the top-ranked NHCQualify players, as per NTRA, stack up in the highly egalitarian NHCQualify Player Ratings?

The answer is, not great. Here are the top 10 Cyberstars:

Player (NHCQ/Cyberstars Points) (NHCQualify Player Ranking) 
1. Joseph Costello (9,649) (27th)
2. Kenneth McMahan (8,475) (28th)
3. George Chute (8,423) (11th)
4. Kevin Engelhard (7,891) (38th)
5. Geoffrey Schutt (7,815) (21st)
6. Eric Moomey (7,518) (26th)
7. Joe Pettit (7,283) (44th)
8. Robert Gianquitti (7,224) (9th)
9. Tanya Taylor (7,195) (41st)
10.Robert Gilbert (6,469) (61st)

Robert Gianquitti is the only Cyberstar with a top-10 NHCQualify Player Rating. George Chute is a strong 11th.

But the rest of the top 10 Cyberstars' player ratings are fair to middling, certainly nothing to write home about. The common denominator is that they have played a lot of entries -- 30+ for a number of them -- which elevates their standing in the Cyberstars competition.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Introducing NHCQualify Player Ratings

The PGA Tour has World Golf Rankings. Tennis has ATP Tour Rankings.

The NFL has Quarterback Ratings. The NBA has Player Efficiency Ratings. Baseball has a host of stats including On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, and good ol' fashioned Batting Average.

Which NHC Tour data point(s) similarly rank players based primarily on quality of play, rather than quantity of play?, there really aren't any.

Until now.

Red Rock or Bust is pleased to introduce NHCQualify Player Ratings, which grades players based on quality of play, i.e. counting successes as well as failures. In other words, viva la denominator!

Look, the NHC Leaderboard serves its purpose as far as rewarding the top NHC Tour point earners with cash prizes and NHC seats. But as tour operator,  DRF/NTRA has a vested interest in getting players to pony up cash to play contests, so not surprisingly, its ranking system rewards brute force, as quantity of play is more important than quality of play. Granted, only a player's top six finishes count, but if you play 10 or 20 contest entries over the course of the year, do you stand a chance against the person who plays 60 entries?

Not bloody likely.

Enter NHCQualify player ratings, which is RedRockorBust's humble attempt to address the situation.


I kept the methodology sensible, simple and straightforward.

So far this year, nine contests have awarded seats for the 2017 National Handicapping Championship -- 1/30, 2/6, 2/13, 2/20, 2/27, 3/5, 3/12, 3/19, and 3/26.

In each of these contests, I awarded players 10 points for a top 1% finish, 9 points for a top 2% finish, 8 points for a top 3% finish....on down to 2 points for a top 9% finish, and 1 point for a top 10% finish.

Players who qualified for the NHC in a given contest received a +3 bonus on top of that.

A player's total number of points earned is divided by the total number of entries played to derive the NHCQualify Player Rating.

It ain't rocket science.

Players must have played at least 20% of the total NHCQualify contest entries to be rated. The 9 contests so far each allowed 2 entries for a maximum total entry number of 18, so the minimum number of entries to be rated is 4 (18*0.2=3.6).

Jim Sebes Leads After 1Q

Kudos to Jim Sebes of Hillsborough, New Jersey, whose 4.4 rating leads all NHCQualify players at the conclusion of 2016's first quarter.

Sebes won the 291-player Feb. 20 contest, qualifying for the 2017 NHC in the process, and most importantly, earned 13 (10+3) rating points for his effort. He added 9 points by finishing 4th in the 245-person March 19 contest.

A handful of players have earned more points than Sebes' 22, but Jim is the highest-rated of 'em all because he has made his mark in limited attempts -- just 5 entries.

22/5 = 4.4.

James Riley of Mansfield, Massachusetts is #2, with an NHCQualify Player Rating of 3.67. His 22 points matched Sebes, but he has played one more entry. Howard Yancovitch of Montreal is 3rd, 21/6 = 3.5.

Here's the top 10:

Player (Points/Entries=Rating)                                                       
1. Jim Sebes, Hillsborough NJ (22/5=4.4)                 
2. James Riley, Mansfield MA (22/6=3.67)               
3. Howard Yancovitch, Montreal (21/6=3.5)
4. Jim Covello, New Providence NJ (16/5=3.2)
T5. Michael Tomatz, Minneapolis MN (12/4=3.0)
T5. Peter Rotondo, New York NY (12/4=3.0)
7. Edward Enborg, Jacksonville FL (17/6=2.83)
8. Cory Hodskins, Lexington KY (11/4=2.75)
T9. Joe Maneen Jr., Haverhill, MA (13/5=2.6)
T9. Eliot Honaker, Lexington KY (26/10=2.6)

And the full rankings of the 139 NHCQualify players who have played at least four entries and registered at least one top 10% finish:

Note there are plenty of folks who haven't hit the top 10% this year, so while William R. of Utica, NY may be the lowest-rated point earner, sing no sad songs, as he's ahead of all those who have goose-egged in 2016.

(Also note that while the embedded spreadsheet seems totally navigable on desktop, it doesn't seem to work too well on mobile. Or maybe I'm just an idiot who can't figure out how to do it.)

But Wait, Before You Go...

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a few caveats to the NHCQualify Player Ratings.

1. The numbers do not present a full picture of NHC Tour play -- it's NHCQualify Player Ratings, not NHC Tour Player Ratings. I calculated the former rather than the latter simply because NHCQualify shows full historical results from previous contests.

A low-rated NHCQ player might be killin' it on other contest site(s) and/or at live events, just as a high-rated player here could be striking out elsewhere. This is just one part of the picture.

2. I'm not sure my formula is perfect. I think it's sensible and simple, but maybe there's a better way. I'm open for suggestions to that end.

3. I'm 98-99% confident in the accuracy of my data. I automated much of the spreadsheet slicing and dicing of sorting and cross-referencing, but I still had to key in some manual entries, and I was bleary-eyed at times. Also, IDK if NHCQualify changes things in terms of when people move or not, so for example if John S. of New York, NY turned into John S. of Chicago, IL during the quarter, I missed that.

I'm happy to correct any errors that are drawn to my attention.

Monday, November 30, 2015

3 Ways to Improve the NHC Tour

I haven't been much for weighing in on the NHC Tour in this lonely outpost of cyberspace, mainly because I never qualified for the NHC in any previous year. So offering my 2c would have been like my alma mater Rutgers offering unsolicited advice to the NCAA regarding the format of March Madness.

But this year, finally, I'm in baby. So I figure that allows me to opine on what I see and offer a few constructive suggestions.

Plus, in all likelihood this will be my only blog post of 2015, so I thought I would make it count, rather than just rehashing my own personal contesting situation.

So without further ado, I recommend that the DRF/NTRA...

Add More 'Tour' to the NHC Tour

The NHC Tour which I believe has been around for 6-7 years or so was a great idea and it has boosted interest in the NHC, but it has not realized its potential.

Reserved seating for Kinchen, Moomey, and Flanders defines tour as 'a traveling around from place to place', and this is where the NHC Tour underperforms.

The tour offers seats mostly through online events, and there are also brick-and-mortar contests at 18 North American racetracks. That's not a horrible number at face value, but cross-referencing the list of thoroughbred racetracks with the NHC Tour tracks shows that the following tracks were not represented in 2015:    

Charles Town
Churchill Downs
Delaware Park
Delta Downs
Ellis Park
Emerald Downs
Evangeline Downs
Finger Lakes
Golden Gate
Hoosier Park
Indiana Downs
Louisiana Downs
Oaklawn Park
Penn National
Presque Isle
Sunland Park
Tampa Bay Downs
Turf Paradise
Turfway Park

That's at least 23 tracks absent from the NHC Tour, which exceeds the number of tracks that are on the tour.

As I understand it, the issue is money. The no-show tracks aren't NTRA member tracks, which mean they would have to pay through the nose for an NHC seat, so they say thanks but no thanks.

But there's gotta be a compromise here, in the interest of the greater good. Can't the NTRA offer a fair deal for non-member tracks to offer just 1 seat per year at a live event? Not a giveaway, but a fair deal in which both sides give some. The tracks would benefit because of the additional handle on contest days; the NHC would benefit by bringing in new players; local players benefit by having a live option; out-of-town NHC Tour members would have other tracks to possibly tour. Win-win-win-win.

From my New Jersey home base, there are about 6-7 tracks on my no-show list that are a reasonable drive away, and at least a few other tracks could be intriguing possibilities to tie in a contest as part of a general leisure trip. My pal NJHorseplayer is often up for an adventure -- heck he's flying to Lone Star this coming Saturday -- and I'm sure other players would be amenable to hitting the road to some new places in the quest for an NHC seat.        

It would be tremendous if the NHC Tour could bring 12-15 new tracks into the fold. 10 would be great. Heck, adding even a half dozen would meaningfully bolster the schedule and make the tour more of a tour.

Come on NTRA folks. I'd find it hard to believe that the benefit of expanding the bricks-and-mortar NHC Tour would be less than the costs associated with making some concessions to non-member tracks to make it happen.

Help the Middle Class

The NHC Tour deck is stacked in the favor of the biggest players.

I'd go as far as positing that the single biggest determinant of whether one qualifies for the NHC is frequency of qualifying-contest play. Handicapping ability, contest skill, and luck rank 2, 3 and 4, in my opinion.

It's even more the case when it comes to NHC Tour points. If you plan on qualifying for the NHC via finishing in the top 150, you need to play a lot of contests to be competitive. If you don't play very many contests, you really have to thread the needle in an improbable way, i.e. do very well (without qualifying directly) in a high percentage of the contests that you do play. And forget about winning prize money by finishing near the top of the points standings, as aspiring for that without being a heavy player is like bringing a 1970s-style squirt gun to a Super Soaker fight. 

But, I get it.

Hotels give free nights to regular guests. Stock exchanges rebate high-frequency traders. Credit-card companies give more rewards to the biggest spenders. I could go on.  

An enterprise should reward its best customers. 

So I'm not here to whinge about the NHC's non-level playing field. In a perfect world, the NHC Tour would rank players based more on quality of play than on quantity of play, but ours is an imperfect world, it ain't gonna happen, and I'm not gonna go there.

But, I do recommend one simple, elegant and eminently sensible tweak that would tip the NHC tour scale at least a token smidge back toward equilibrium. This would help the middle class (always an attractive cause heading into an election year), which is up against it vs. the heavies.

Here's my plan:

Add a few seats (IDK maybe 10? Five? At least three) for middle-class NHC Tour members. I define middle-class NHC Tour members as those who play at least 10, but no more than 25, non-free, point-awarding contests over the course of the year. 
A chicken, and an NHC seat, in every pot

Score by dividing the middle-class player's NHC Tour points by the number of contest entries he/she played. Simple as that.

For example, say I earn 3,000 points along the way of playing 15 contests in a given year. I would have have 200 middle-class (MC) points.

Someone else has 3,500 points over 20 contests, that's 175 MC points. Yet another player has 4,000 points over 10 events -- 400 MC points.

The top (insert # here) MC scorers at the end of the NHC Tour year go to the NHC.

Note this qualifying route would award 1st NHC seats only, i.e. if an MC player qualifies directly through a contest, he/she becomes ineligible for an MC seat.       

I gotta say, I love this idea. Seats are now awarded through 'rookie' contests which is a nice addition to the tour; in the same spirit, shouldn't there be something that helps the middle class, i.e. the folks who do NHC stuff as a casual hobby but don't play every weekend?

How about it NTRA? 

Cap the NHC

When I launched RedRockorBust dot blogspot dot com in 2009, I think the NHC had about 320 players. A few years later, it was close to 500. The 2015 version, which I believe was the first NHC that allowed two entries per player, had north of 600 entries. I was surprised at that last jump, as I thought 500 made a lot of sense as a stopping point.

I recently checked with Michele Ravencraft over at the NTRA -- she said there were 601 entries at the Jan. 2015 NHC, and about 625 entries are expected this coming January.

Look, I understand that growth of the NHC and NHC Tour is a good thing for all parties. But at the same time, when everybody plays, nobody wins. The NHC field has doubled over the past six years, and while still navigable at current levels, it's pushing the bounds of unwieldiness. Doubling it again over the next six years would result in an NHC that is more of a lottery-ticket proposition than a handicapping contest.

Is this the 2025 NHC?
I don't think anyone wants that.

My suggestion is twofold: in the short term (say for the next couple years), cap the number of entries at 650.

For the longer term, say three to five years out, articulate a vision as to what the field size will be. Is it meant to be about what it is now? Or is the plan to start ascending towards 1,000 entries? If the latter, how will it be managed so that it retains the ethos of a handicapping contest rather than 'de-evolving' into something more akin to an online free-for-all.

As I mentioned, I was taken aback by the >600 number from Jan. 2015 -- unless I missed something, I don't believe this bump was communicated in the e-mail blasts to the masses. If there are more material step-ups planned, I think it should be spelled out in advance.

Okay, that's all I got. Use it in good health.

Perhaps I'll come up with three more ideas for next year's blog post.  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

5.26 Percent

I'll be competing in Monmouth Park's Simulcast Series Challenge Invitational on Saturday, luckily with two entries. Nicole Lince of Monmouth Park told me of the 80 entries signed on for Saturday, 76 are NHC Tour members -- the top 2 finishers who are NHC Tour members qualify for Vegas, so that puts my chances at 2 * (2/76), or 5.26%.

The good news is, 1/19 is a heckuva lot better than the ~1/60 shot that you get in most online contests, and there's no entry fee -- each entry is $200 live bankroll only. The not-so-good news is, the chance is still slim city, as there's almost a 95% chance that come Saturday evening, I'll be telling my sob story to anyone within earshot.

I'm happy to have two entries, but in general it's really not my thing and I can't recall ever playing two entries in the decade+ I've been playing contests. I understand a double entry gives you a better chance, but in my opinion there are some factors pertaining to strategy and decision making that complicate things. So when the cost is double but both the chance of winning and the enjoyment increase by less than double, flying solo is an easy decision for this budget-conscious contest player.

That means Sat. will be uncharted territory in terms of how I play the two entries.

I was first thinking I'd play one entry normally (i.e. methodical, mostly minimum $20 bets with only moderate risk-taking through early and mid-afternoon, hoping to be in with a chance late in the day)

and the other entry with some kind of risky hell-bent-for-leather strategy, say perhaps $200W on an 8-1 shot or something, or maybe play only $100 or $50 bets on this ticket. This way I'd have some chance to hit a big score early and be in front, but if I lost (most likely scenario), I'd still have the other entry to play as usual.

But while this strategy holds some appeal, and if I had a third entry I absolutely would play one like this, I'm now leaning toward a more conservative approach. This is certainly subject to change, but I'm thinking I'll play both entries in the same methodical, slow-early, hopefully-fast-late fashion. I'll play the same horse on both entries maybe a few times (i.e. my strongest calls); play more tepid calls on one entry only (though I'm not sure which one -- this to me is the biggest strategic challenge in having two entries); and in the instances when say I dislike a chalk but I can't decide between two alternatives, I'll play one on each entry.    

Assuming a best-case scenario of a few wins over the course of the afternoon, this strategy can have me in contention late in the day on both tickets, allowing me to swing on both.

Of course I'll need to have a very good handicapping day with at least a few decent-priced winners to have a shot at finishing in the top 2, but I'm thinking with the approach I outlined, I'll have at least some margin for error. If a couple of my core plays come in I can still win even if a key decision or two doesn't go my way, whereas with one entry, there's that much less margin for error.

With the risk-on approach of big early bets, my chances are certainly increased versus having only one entry, but they're increased in more of a random or lucky sense rather than a sound strategic sense. (If that makes any sense.)

Anyway, just some musings a day and a half before Saturday's first post.    

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Luck o' the Irish

Monmouth Park food is hardly magically delicious -- but I got friggin lucky in SSC3
I'm as likely as the next guy to moan about bad trips, tough beats, capricious stewards and the countless other vagaries that can befall a horseplayer.

But sometimes things just go your way. Exhibit A of plain ol' dumb luck was my experience at yesterday's Simulcast Series Challenge 3 at Monmouth Park.

I finished 7th of 298 contestants with a $681 bankroll. That plus $447 in prize money netted out to a +$900-and-change day, plus a second seat in next month's SSC Invitational.

I have only Bruno's workout reports to thank, really. My handicapping for this SSC series has been a three-legged stool of sorts: (listed in no particular order) Bruno's workout reports for the Gulfstream card; my own proprietary (patent pending) trainer-recency angle, which I find tends to work best at Tampa; and old-fashioned perusal of DRF past performances. But yesterday, the second two legs were essentially no-shows, leaving me with Bruno, who thankfully killed it with good skinny on Hot and Spicy, who won GP3 at 13-1 (I had $10W, $5P) , and Little Daddy, who won GP8 at 16-1 ($10W).

Fast forward to 5:45 pm, when there were two races left. I had a $274.50 bankroll after winning on H&S and LD but losing on 10 other bets, spanning six of the $10 variety, plus 2 $15s, 1 $20, and 1 $40 (Gamay Noir in Tam9).

I liked Centre Court in GP10 based largely on Bruno's info. I wasn't crazy about the 3-1 price but I figured it was just good enough. So I slapped down $174W, figuring if she lost I would have a Ben for a spec play in the finale.

Centre Court got an okayish trip before being fanned 7 wide into the stretch while making her move. She got the lead and barely, barely held on in a photo finish that was about as close as it could be without it being a dead heat. (Unfortunately the photo went the wrong way for not one but two contest brethren.)

In the last race I went $100W on 6-1 Gratitude, who opened up a too-long lead and burned out and finished 4th. The 6-1 Pletcher/Castellano winner was very playable but I probably liked it 3rd best, c'est la vie. I would have loved to bang up into the top 5 where the real money is, but I was more than happy staying in 8th.

So that was that, at the time I figured I had a reasonably (but not especially) lucky day with some good handicapping. After a lovely home-cooked meal of corned beef and cabbage with the NJHorseplayer clan, I headed north to Essex County.

It was only when I was home and reviewing stuff from the day that I realized just how lucky I was. The startling revelation was that Centre Court broke through the gate before the race. I TOTES missed that, as I guess I was chatting or somesuch. I'm a big believer in canceling bets when pre-race shenanigans happen, whether it be significant reluctance to load, or a jockey toss, or a gate break-through. Stuff like that just expends physical and mental energy needed for the race (someone who goes by o_crunk tweeted "Cheers to Centre Court for winning after breaking thru gate. Unscientific study of horses breaking thru gate last 24 mos - 22/402 $0.52 ROI"). And Centre Court's trainer even said post-race that his horses never run well after breaking through the gate.

So, I should have caught the gate break-through, and I should have ran up to cancel the bet. But because I missed it, the bet stood, and the bet won. I was essentially rewarded for not paying attention.

Now THAT is lucky.              


Friday, February 21, 2014


I had a good day this past Sunday at Monmouth Park's Simulcast Series Challenge #2. I goosed my $100 starting bankroll into $332 by day's end, good for a $132 net profit, 15th place (of 274 entrants), and a berth in April's SSC Invitational, which qualifies 2 of 80 for the NHC.

It was a good day (for a change), not a great day.

I went 5-for-15 in my wagers, and while I had no bombs to speak of (there weren't really any on the day), each was reasonably priced. My often-trusty trainer-recency angle helped land me on Bico Blanco, who paid $17.40 in Calder's 5th race; Quelch, who $11.80 in Tampa 6; and Chief Redneck, who paid $8.60 to place in Tampa 10. Bruno's workout report pointed me to Straight Town, who paid $19.60 in Gulfstream 9, and just some straightforward handicapping of a turf-route-to-dirt-sprint led me to Cowgirl Spirit, who paid $14.40 in Tampa 3.

My winners were spaced out so I was banging around the lower end of the 25-person leaderboard for most of the afternoon. My first 12 bets were of the $10W variety, before I hung a little fire with a $20WP bet on Chief Redneck. My luck was pretty decent, as aside from a missed break or two I saw generally clean trips, and Quelch actually finished 2nd but was the beneficiary of a disqualification that could have gone either way. (Unfortunately the DQ hurt my neighbor Paul Zerbst, who co-owned Onto Luck, the 1995 Cherry Hill Mile runner-up.)    

So heading into the last contest race, I had $342 and was in 15th place, a few hundred bucks or so away from getting paid (top 10 finish), and at some risk of falling out of the top 20. What to do? GP11 was a 13-horse field of maiden turfers, so it was wide wide open. I didn't have any real conviction, but of course when I looked I found some interesting stuff. Among others I liked Cinnamon Spice, a first-time starter trained by Chad Brown who went off at 16-1, as well as Lusaka, a seemingly safer Pletcher-Velazquez debuter who went off at about half those odds.

I typically go for broke in last-race situations, so my first inclination was to put down $150, or maybe even my whole bankroll of wax, on Cinn Spice or Lusaka. But I thought long and hard about it, and I did want to stay in the top 20, so I backed off. I ended up putting just $10P on Cinn Spice, kind of a weird bet but I guess I was thinking if he placed it would give me a few shekels. Cinn Spice ran decently but could manage only a non-threatening 3rd, and Lusaka did nothing.

You don't often root against your horse, but looking back maybe I should have, as the worst outcome probably would have been Cinn Spice winning at a $35.40 mutuel, which would have meant I missed an opportunity to win a contest by going conservative and turtling. But luckily things worked out okay, and I was happy to get out of there on the plus side, with an invitational berth in my back pocket, and without any haunting regret.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What Up Wit the NHC? Q&A with NTRA's Keith Chamblin

(Photo forthcoming)
The Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship will be held in Las Vegas later this month. I won't be there for the umpteenth consecutive year due to tough luck, bad breaks, a limited budget, and general ineptitude (not necessarily in that order), but I wanted to get an update on the state of the NHC and the NHC Tour. Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of the NTRA, was kind enough to answer my questions via e-mail.

Red Rock or Bust: Assess the current state of the NHC Tour.
Keith Chamblin: Overall, the Tour is strong. Prize money offered from the NTRA doubled from 2011 to 2012 to $250,000. Bonuses were added to reward multiple winners. Some 1,000 players earned points in 2012. Nearly 4,500 players competed. Based on research and feedback from players and participating host sites, the Tour absolutely has led to increased participation in the NHC. I wish we had even greater participation by fans and racetracks, but overall we feel that the NHC Tour has been a very positive addition to the NHC landscape since it was instituted in 2008.

RRoB: How has the 2012 NHC Tour season (not counting the Jan. 2012 NHC itself) compared with 2011 and also previous years in terms of interest, number of contests, revenue, etc?
KC: We instituted a number of changes to the Tour in 2012. Total prize money was more than doubled to nearly $300,000. The Tour calendar was divided into two seasons. Significant bonuses were instituted for players who win more than one tournament. A tiered points system was instituted to encourage on-track tournament play. We’re still analyzing the numbers, but it’s fair to say that participation is up, the number of contests is up, total prize money is up, and revenue is up vs. 2011. 

RRoB: How is the Jan. 2013 NHC shaping up? What will be new/different compared with last year's event?
KC: The biggest change at this year’s NHC is the addition of a “Best Bet” wager, whereby one mandatory play each day will count double. We think this will introduce a unique variable that will add another layer of excitement to the NHC.

RRoB: What are the challenges/opportunities involved with getting broader media coverage of the event?
KC: The challenges and opportunities involved with obtaining broader media coverage of the NHC are similar to the challenges we face in obtaining broader coverage of thoroughbred racing in general. We have a great sport with beautiful equine athletes and a passionate fan base, but we are a niche sport compared to sports like baseball, football and basketball. That makes it difficult to attract mainstream media coverage. However, we are making strides. The NHC has been featured in Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, USA Today, the Washington Post and many other high-profile outlets over the years. We expect to add to that list this year. In some respects, we have better luck with mainstream media coverage than we do with coverage inside our industry. I’d like to see us celebrate the horseplayer more than we currently do.

RRoB: What changes/improvements (if any) are planned for the NHC Tour?
KC: Stay tuned. We are considering a number of changes that we will be announcing in the near future.

RRoB: Are you considering increasing the number of players who qualify via NHC Tour points, to make that more meaningful? Currently it's the Top 100 but the vast majority of the top 100 already qualified via a contest. 
KCPossibly. Several years ago, there were no players who qualified based on their year-end points totals on the leader board. Now, the top 100 players are guaranteed entry into the NHC regardless of whether they win a spot in a tournament. This year, eight people qualified based on finishing in the top 100.

RRoBThere has been some criticism among players that the NHC Tour favors the most regular (and better-funded) players, not necessarily the best players. How do you respond to this?
KC: Great question. There will be plenty of regulars and plenty of casual fans at the NHC. Almost by definition, a “tour” (be it in golf, tennis, handicapping or any type) is going to favor those who make the commitment to “travel” on it. There is no question that there is a core group of players who play frequently. They also contribute a large amount of revenue to the NHC prize pool. However, with the expansion of online play, the addition of more free tournaments, and the emphasis we’ve placed on trying to maintain and grow on-track tournaments, there is a wide menu of tournament offerings for a variety of players. Plus, only the top six tournament scores count toward Tour points. We like to think that there are ample opportunities for players of any budget and commitment level.

RRoB: There has been some criticism among players regarding a perceived lack of transparency on the part of the NHC Tour with regard to its finances. Specifically, online qualifying contests have comparatively high effective 'take' rates and some say it's not clear where all the money goes. How do you respond to this?
KC: Some online and on-track tournaments have a higher take-out than others. Some have zero takeout. Players can make choices on which tournaments they wish to play in much the same way they decide which races or tracks they like to bet on when they play the horses. For each spot sold to an onsite location/tourney, a total of $3,333 goes toward the NHC and NHC Tour prize pool. The number is closer to $6,500 for online tournaments. There also are variances between what NTRA members and non-members pay. In principle, we like low- or zero-takeout qualifiers better, but plenty of players have told us they’d prefer to absorb more takeout in an online tournament in exchange for the added convenience and reduced travel expense.  Obviously the market ultimately dictates a tournament’s popularity. If players see no value in a tournament, they won’t play it.

RRoB: Will NTRA lobby for New Jersey-based players to be able to play venues such as TwinSpires, rather than be captive to the state ADW?
KC: We only get involved in state legislative advocacy efforts if we are invited in by the tracks and horsemen in that specific jurisdiction.

RRoBPlease mention anything else that I didn't specifically ask about that is pertinent to this conversation.

KC: We truly appreciate the players’ support of the NHC and NHC Tour over the past 13 years, and we are continuously impressed by the people who qualify for the NHC each year. Nothing could more quickly dispel the tired, old stereotype of the “degenerate horseplayer” than to have someone spend a half hour at the NHC. Ultimately it is the players who will determine the future level of success for this event, and so we take very seriously what they have to say. We strive to give them a pleasant and fun experience during the year as they attempt to qualify, and a really stimulating experience when they play for the big money in Las Vegas. It’s impossible to please everyone, but it is incumbent upon us to ensure that we are pleasing most.