The 19th annual NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) is in the books and the winner of the three-day event at Treasure Island resort in Las Vegas was Chris Littlemore of Ontario, Canada, who became the second Canadian player in a row to win the tournament that decides the Eclipse Award for Handicapper of the Year. Littlemore defeated a field of 703 entries to earn the grand prize of $800,000.
The NHC, held on Feb. 9-11, 2018, was the biggest and richest in the history of the prestigious tournament. A total of 570 individuals (two entries maximum allowed per person) competed for record prize money of $2,361,000 by making mythical-money wagers throughout the weekend on eight tracks, including Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate, Gulfstream, Laurel, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita and Tampa Bay Downs. When other purse awards and prizes are considered, the total purse of the event climbed to $2,974,700.
Littlemore, a 58-year-old retired automaker and five-time NHC qualifier, accumulated a contest-winning total of $348.30 based on the results of a total of 53 mandatory and optional $2 win-and-place wagers over three days. His bankroll was enough to hold off runner-up finisher Keith Fenton from Fort Worth, Texas with $315.10. Fenton, in turn, narrowly held off Garett Skiba of Hinsdale, Ill, who cashed on the final race of the contest to climb to $314 but was just short of moving up into second. Fenton took home $250,000 for second while Skiba settled for a not-too-shabby third prize of $125,000. The top five was rounded out by NHC rookie Stephanie Schmidt, who won a $100,000 prize with $277.90, and Scott Carson of Westchester County, New York, who finished with $263.40 to earn $75,000.
This was the fifth year of the NHC’s “Final Table” contest format, which narrowed down the field from 703 entries on Friday and Saturday to the top 10 percent (70 players) making the cut for Sunday morning’s action. Those 70 players were eventually pared down in a semi-final round to the top 10 finishers, who all advanced the compete in the all-mandatory seven-race Final Table finals on Sunday afternoon. Players made 18 mythical $2 win-and-place bets on Day One (Friday) and Day Two (Saturday) of the NHC Final, and then as many as 17 more win-and-place bets on Day Three, including 10 optional morning plays in the semifinals, and then seven more mandatory bets at “Final Table”. Payoffs on all days were capped at 20-1 ($42) to win, and 10-1 ($22) to place.
You can get involved in the NHC for 2018 by simply going to www.NTRA.com and joining the NHC Tour. You can’t buy your way into the NHC. Players must qualify into the field with a win or high finish in one of the numerous NHC Tour on-site and online qualifying contests held year-round, or by amassing cumulative NHC Tour points in online and on-site handicapping events.
In 2017, over 45 racetracks, race books, contest websites, wagering sites, and other organizations partnered with the NTRA to host qualifying contests. Littlemore had qualified for the NHC in 2017 based on points he earned on the NHC Tour.
Littlemore’s final winning three-day point total of $326.30 was less than recent winners, including fellow Canadian defending champion Ray Arsenault who totaled $407.70 to win the finals of the 2017 NHC. The 2016 NHC winner, Paul Matties, finished with $399.50 in what was the first year of the current 53-race NHC Finals format.
This year, scores at the NHC were relatively low throughout Day One as grinding players did well with a steady stream of $8, $10, and $12-type winners rolled in at the NHC tracks and in the day’s eight mandatory races. That all changed, however, on Saturday’s Day Two when fields were larger and price horses were more plentiful across the country. Littlemore took advantage best of all on Saturday to build an impressive $311 total at that point, giving him a $51 lead over second-place Keith Fenton going into deciding Day Three on Sunday. During Sunday’s action, Littlemore’s lead continued to shrink throughout the day, but he never relinquished the lead at any point. Fenton held on for second after a see-saw battle with Garett Skiba, who settled for third.
The remaining seats at the Final Table were filled by fomer NHC Tour champion Tom Noone of Redondo Beach, Calif. ($262.60, $62,000), seventh-place finisher David Watts from Vancouver, Wash. ($260.70, $58,500), eighth-place finisher John Roe from Brookfield, Ill. ($260.10, $55,500), ninth-place finisher Gloria Kahlden from St. Petersburg, Fla. ($258.70, $52,000), and tenth-place finisher Daniel Hart from Batesville, Ark. ($256.10, $50,000).
In addition to his $800,000, Littlemore also wins the 2018 Eclipse Award as Handicapper of the Year. He also wins an automatic berth into next year’s NHC XX to defend his title.