Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Bright Moon Over NHC Tour

The enormous body of freelance study put forth by publisher Lenny Moon on NTRA's apparent lack of transparency on National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Tour operating costs, in my view, is worthy of an award (i.e., Eclipse) for enterprise writing, but is more likely to be cast aside by the powers that be as mere muckraking in an age of in-your-face social media.

Equinometry: Looking Out For
The Horseplayers' Interests
Which would be a shame.

Everyone that pens a blog is not some unqualified dolt. 

In my case, I am a former local sportswriter with a different profession and set of responsibilities today, who merely wants to articulate some thoughts and raise discussion on a beloved niche topic of horse racing; handicapping tournaments, specifically. 

Lenny, meanwhile, is as passionate an advocate for the horseplayer and the game as they come. 

Granted, there is a lot of garbage on the Web, but if you sift through the blogosphere, there are clearly select diamonds in the rough that add value to the discussion.

Transparency, Please

In Lenny's case, his trumpet blares for simple answers on the whereabouts of NHC Tour members' money, vis-à-vis annual membership fees and costs to enter thoroughbred handicapping tournaments. 

This is not the first time anyone has posed this question, or why the NTRA-sanctioned NHC Tour's $1.5 million annual national championship cannot pay out more to the players who actually fund the Tour.

Edward De'Ath, a former member of a Horseplayers' Advisory Committee to the NTRA (National Thoroughbred Racing Association, a not-for-profit trade group touting the interests of thoroughbred racing, from owners and breeders down the food chain to bettors), has called out the Association for dismissing horseplayers' concerns and even devaluing its own worth to member tracks.

Hell, as Lenny also shares with his readers, even my great friend and fellow horseplayer-turned-blogger "Red Rock Or Bust" (the erstwhile Terry Flanagan) questioned in mid-2012 the true value of an NHC berth.

The premise of these arguments is simple.


The "take-out," or what the horseplayer is willing to concede to the host of any tournament, is shrouded in mystery and in certain cases inflated, relative to conventional bets (i.e. win, exacta, Pick 4) made at the track, but should be clear to all paying customers (NHC Tour members, in this case).

To win a "seat" in the national championship, a horseplayer must pony up $50 to join the NHC Tour.

In Danny Noonan parlance from Caddyshack, when D'Annunzio wouldn't pay 50 cents to buy a Coke (after the boss raised prices because he was, ahem, losing money at the track), "oh, then you ain't getting no Coke. Know what I'm talking about?!"

The benefit of membership, far as I'm concerned, is solely the right to qualify for the national championship.

Membership Has Its Benefits?

Take this Sunday's Simulcast Series Challenge qualifying tournament (SSC#2) at Monmouth Park, which feeds into 2 NHC berths (but, ironically, could lose players who opt for a similar-cost rival tournament that is being staged online the same afternoon).

I can plunk down $200 to play for cash prizes and not be a Tour member, but I would miss out on the opportunity for 1 of 500 coveted seats to the NHC next January, or at the least some "Tour points" in the NHC Tour's yearly standings (the top 150 point earners qualify for the national championship).

As far as I am concerned, $50 outweighs the missed opportunity cost by a mile.

The other "benefits" of the $50 fee are much less a factor, as the supposed five "free" NHC qualifying tournaments sponsored by NTRA as part of my membership dues are almost impossible to win, and I do not perceive myself as a direct beneficiary of NTRA's lobbying efforts pitched to Tour members.  

Lenny's first published piece on the topic, "NHC: Show Me the Money", lays the groundwork for expressing the need for NTRA to be far more transparent about operating the NHC Tour.  Lenny's Excel spreadsheets alone are worth their weight in gold in terms of articulating the apparent devaluation of winning the prestigious Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year, and his notion of NTRA turning the NHC Tour and, for example, into a profit center.

Validating Lenny's research, I have found to provide exceedingly better value (and convenience) for my online handicapping contest pursuits than, whose user interface and schedule are dated and rigid, when stacked up against other online venues.  A takeout five percentage points below NTRA's host online qualifying site otherwise increases's appeal.

The point on takeouts is embellished in Part 2 of Lenny's research: "NHC Qualifiers: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," where the thesis is that, broadly speaking, the NTRA and fellow NHC title sponsor Daily Racing Forum are moving toward a model that will not only monopolize the online contest circuit, but eventually maim on-track tournaments -- a cautionary tale earlier shared by De'Ath.

Necessary Discussion

The two (and soon to be three)-part expose on Equinometry, if nothing else, fosters frank and candid discussion on well-intended research across a host of consumers, including champion horseplayers and a key NTRA official to the anonymous poster.

Considering the nearly 30% year-over-year decline in NHC Tour membership (i.e., the $50 fee noted above) quoted in the ensuing discussion to Part 1 of the expose, the NTRA had better respond in a more-open format than tit-for-tat entries on someone's blog.

The appropriate step to take would be to spell out the financial parameters of the NHC Tour itself, whether within the NTRA's annual report or as an "off-balance sheet" presentation for member consumption.

The horseplayer is the NHC Tour consumer.

Without consumers, the product will cease to exist, and based on some of the commentary I read it seems that Tour members are looking elsewhere for their contest play, shrugging at the perceived prestige that comes with qualifying for and possibly winning the $1.5 million National Handicapping Championship.

For the time being, I'm still in the NHC game, but other, lower-takeout products are increasing in appeal, as exhibited by Lenny Moon.


  1. I'm not buying my $50 Membership until the NTRA/DRF can provide the transparency we deserve.

  2. Good article from everyone involved! NJ horseplayer I was curious about your thoughts on the final table. If you make it to the finals. How about dropping the top prize too 500 grand and spreading that 250 among the other 9 players, so when you play the final table would be very lucrative no matter where you finish, Just a thought I don't think you would have a problem winning 500 thousand