NHC Horseplayers to descend upon Las Vegas, including two from TwinSpires Qualifier

March 8th, 2024

The most prestigious handicapping tournament of the year is taking place next week in Las Vegas. The 25th National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) kicks off Friday, March 15, and runs through Sunday, March 17 at the Horseshoe Las Vegas. More than 600 horseplayers will descend on The Strip to compete for nearly $4.5 million in cash and prizes. One winner will go home with $800,000 and an Eclipse Award as the Horseplayer of the Year. 

This year two of the horseplayers at the Horseshoe earned their seat by finishing atop the TwinSpires $5,000 NHC Qualifier: Todd Hartman and Steve Taracks. Both are first-time-qualifiers. There’s been a rumor floating around that TwinSpires has something cooking in the handicapping tournaments world for near future delivery. Possibly next year there will be even more who earned their NHC stripes through TwinSpires. 

As a busy father with kids in diapers and no race track within a three-hour drive, playing in contests was my way to have some sort of social life around my love of betting horses. They allowed me to figure out if I could compete with the best. Sounds like TwinSpires is doing good work in this arena and soon will be unveiling a dynamic new tournament experience. 

This year, as every year, the best of the best will be at the NHC. Thirteen past champions will be in the room, including Michael Beychok (2012), Jim Benes (2013), Paul Matties Jr. (2016), Ray Arsenault (2017), Scott Coles (2019), and Justin Mustari (2021). In 24 years, no one has ever won the NHC twice.

Famous for his work on ESPN’s “College Gameday,” Chris “The Bear” Fallica will be there. Also, keep your eyes peeled for Eddie Olczyk, who spent 16 years in the NHL and won the 1994 Stanley Cup with the NY Rangers. Olczyk won his seat hitting with the 80-1 bomb Command Central at the Hawthorne Invitational. 

No stranger to the NHC, Alexa Zepp will be making her fourth appearance in Vegas. Successful in tournaments, Zepp works for the Daily Racing Form and is the founder of Haphazard Racing. HHH Racing Podcast founder Howard Kravets has long been successful at the windows, and after finishing 40th in 2023, he’s back for his second year. 

Milling about near the buffet, no doubt, will be first-time qualifier, Ed DeRosa of Horse Racing Nation. Frank McGoey will be in attendance, having earned a seat for the fifth time. Possibly the sharpest horseplayer in New Orleans, McGoey is a clocker at Fair Grounds.

How do you qualify? Every year there is a series of tournaments conducted by racetracks, casinos, OTBs, as well as horse racing and handicapping websites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. Although very similar to the World Series of Poker, one big difference is there are no buy-ins to the NHC – you’ve got to earn your spot.

Each day of the NHC there is a list of racetracks players can choose from to make their tournament bets. This year, Turfway Park has been added to the menu, as it should be with all the prices that come home nightly across that enigmatic Kentucky track. On Friday, Fair Grounds’ “Starlight Racing” card will be on the menu. First post is 5 p.m. CT (6 p.m. ET), and I’ll be on-air for the simulcast show offering who I would play, if I was sitting in the Horseshoe Event Center. 

An event like the NHC is a reminder of how crucial the horseplayer is to the industry. Walk into the Horseshoe Event Center next weekend, and you will find a room of independent thinkers. Great horseplayers know better than most what it means to stand in a crowd and be the lone voice of dissent. Great horseplayers mix analysis with imagination, predict market behavior, and filter out the noise to find an edge. Cheers to all who qualified for the 25th NHC. You’re in good company.