Aside from a yawner in the Daily Racing Form (DRF) last Thursday, the fragmented industry seems to do little to generate fanfare for its Super Bowl, if you will -- the DRF/National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) National Handicapping Championship, or NHC XII, for those in the know.
Face it. The horse racing industry as a whole could use new blood. I am only a horseplayer hobbyist attempting in my spare time (i.e. between the priorities of family, work, etc.) to win a coveted seat for NHC XIII (January 2012), but I've been to the track enough over 30 years to see the waning interest in the sport; I'd otherwise be blind or oblivious.
The NHC, where 300 of the world's top handicappers gather for a 2-day tournament in Las Vegas for more than $1 million in prize money, is the vehicle that could lead the domestic industry out of the 20th Century and shake the doldrums. Unlike the media support vis-a-vis ESPN for the WSP, NHC XII seems to be going off to noise of crickets. However, the human interest stories and drama that will unfold for the $500,000 top prize is sure to match that of poker and could translate just as well as a packaged television product.
Recognizing there is little major media interest in handicapping tournaments - and largely for the thoroughbred racing industry itself - I propose only a few simple solutions to breathe some life into promoting NHC and to shed more light on what is one of the few thriving niches of horse wagering (handicapping contests):
- The Daily Racing Form should feature a week-long section or a pullout devoted to NHC-oriented stories, whether they be contestant profiles, contest strategies, previews of the NHC final contest cards, etc., along the lines of its specials for the Triple Crown races and Breeders Cup
- Mandate all tracks that send local contest winners to the NHC dedicate their home pages to promoting the annual championship in the weeks leading up to the event. My quick sample of the four tracks' websites in my general area - Monmouth Park, Aqueduct, PARX and Penn National - yielded no mention of this weekend's NHC. I'll pick on Monmouth since it my beloved "home" track, but how hard in the dead of winter would it be to profile the contestants who won contests throughout the year on its website, to induce some local flavor into the NHC?
- Get the NHC on TV. How hard could it be for the NHC organizers to align with TVG or HRTV, at the least, to come in and put together an hour-long package for broadcast at some point after the championship? Ever seen Swamp People? Hell, there's everything imaginable on television at this point...why not a prestigious handicapping tournament? I'm sure the likes of Steve Byk will talk up the NHC on "At the Races" (Sirius Channel 126) or you may hear something on Dave Johnson and Bill Finley's weekend broadcast, but is anyone else really chatting up this event?