Monday, February 19, 2018

What's the Point? Tackling the New NHC Scoring System

As a part-time tournament horseplayer, accruing NHC Tour leaderboard points never meant that much to me, as the system clearly favors full-timers who pony up stacks of cash for multiple entries in online qualifiers or travel extensively for on-track contests.

The NHC Tour is a churn-based business, and most of us recognize and accept that, as it caters -- whether fairly or not as an assessment of the best handicappers -- to the volume player.

Changes in Tour points allocation for 2018 make that abundantly clear.

Folks like me who play for entertainment purposes and aren't double- and triple-entered in handicapping tournaments each weekend can't compete for year-end cash prizes for landing in the Top 20 of the Tour leaderboard, let alone make the Top 150. Those inside that latter benchmark make the $2.9 million NHC championship each February in Las Vegas, regardless of whether they've won a tournament outright or not. The reward is consistency over a full season, and it's enough of a carrot for some players to play in more tournaments.

Locally, two friends made it on points -- Steve Fitzpatrick, a part-timer like me who executed extremely well in Monmouth Park on-track tournaments and within a rational budget to tie for 101st on points, and Frank Gryboski via a late-season push to qualify on points; he turned that into a 20th-place finish at the NHC for a decent paycheck.

I just missed out, finishing 172nd in points with three consecutive Top 10 finishes in online tournaments from Dec. 3-15. If only Whatta Girl (#7) had passed two others in the stretch in an inconsequential Sunday allowance race at Woodbine, I'd have taken down the qualifier that afternoon and made it to Vegas without having to accrue Tour points. 

It cost me only, and exactly, $257 of entertainment to pick up about 5,000 points in those three qualifiers, though I couldn't convert in a few $50 and $100 online tournaments thereafter to crack the Top 150, and I wasn't going to spend a ton on an investment -- really a sunken cost -- into something with questionable economic value and with 1-in-700 odds of the top prize. 

Plus, as the NHC Tour still hasn't broken the $3 million purse value despite having 100 more qualifiers to Las Vegas than just three years ago, I've got my doubts about a presumably high takeout that more than a few followers have addressed online. To me, it begs the question of whether the Tour is truly growing (i.e. more players qualifying for Vegas but a relatively static total purse and top prize) and has a true value proposition that's largely being return to the players. Or are members funding NTRA salaries and industry lobbying?

It also raises some questions about three notable changes in the Tour's leaderboard-points system:
  • Points accrual will expand to each player's 7 top tournament scores instead of 6.
  • "Free" NHC qualifiers that host more than 1,000 players will cap the Tour-point payout to the 100 top finishers, rather than to the top 10% for such tournaments. 
  • Creation of a "separate" Top 50 leaderboard for those who've yet to directly qualify for Vegas by winning a qualifying tournament.

Top 7 vs. Top 6 Scores

Adding yet another tournament score will widen the chasm between full- and part-time players. 

In 2017, it took 18,825 Tour points, and who knows how much money, to win the regular-season scoring title, worth a $100,000 prize and potential $2 million bonus for winning the NHC in Vegas (an annuity at that, not an outright lump-sum payout). Surely it takes a lot of great handicapping to accrue that many points, but probably also a good chunk of change to accomplish. If we average that total out across 7 events, it'll take about 22,000 points to win it in 2018.

Is it worth the expense to get there? Maybe for some. Definitely not for me and almost certainly not for all but a few hardcore NHC Tour members.

Less Points for Freebies

I'll use yesterday's first NHC Tour Free Contest as an example of the effect of a rule change to reward only the top 100 finishers -- no longer the top 10% -- with points in tournaments with 1,000+ players.

I finished 54th out of 1,920 players. Not a bad start to the year, and no out-of-pocket cost, with this being 1 of 5 "free" tournaments hosted by the NHC for our $50 annual membership.

For my effort, I receive 1,569 Tour points based on this season's calculator with a 1,000-player cap.

In 2017, I'd have gotten 2,255 Tour points -- about 700 more.

At the same time, 92 players (finishers 101-192) who would have received Tour points last season get a goose egg in 2018's format.

So, sorry Mark Richards. The Tour's giving you zero points on the 2018 calculator for your 101st-place finish vs. 1,594 in 2017.

Based on this, it's clear that Tour rule makers want to reward -- or bleed dry -- the players willing to spend $1,000 or more a weekend in travel and tournament entry fees at tracks across the U.S., or who wouldn't blush at spending $500 or more to enter a "more-exclusive" online contest. Or who participate in both at the same time.

I don't necessarily understand the rationale of curbing the reward of mythical points with zero economic value but that might entice a player (like me at the end of 2017) to fork over some money to online-contest venues to play in more tournaments. But whatevuh...

Separate Top 50 Leaderboard

To me, this is sort of a wash, since about 50 Tour players always end up ranking in the Top 150 of the year-end points leaderboard and, by that virtue, qualify for Vegas regardless. 

Admittedly, I don't know the first
thing about Vonnegut either
Similar to my other rather unscientific opinions, this probably helps the high-volume player over weekend or sporadic Tour members.

It's akin to Rodney Dangerfield telling his hired team of writers in the movie "Back to School" to add another 100 pages to a 600-page report to turn that B+ paper into an A.

If the NHC's new take on Tour points is volume, then have at it hoss!

Maybe that 500-point finish gets you that coveted 7th score that was erased in 2017 but is counted and vaults you to Las Vegas in 2018. If so, congrats!

Otherwise, it's hard to see the value of the 2018 changes to grow the sport, which should be the overarching theme of the rules committee.

Let us know what you think.


  1. Bill, I won February's Tourney at Monmouth. I will get no points for it. I will continue to play them though because they are fun and lucrative and I meet my friends there once a month. I don't do it for the NHC points, mostly because of what you pointed out in your article.

    Frankie Sal

  2. I didn't play on Saturday but heard from my buddy Terry that you had taken it down, well done...congrats! I think most of us play there for the same reasons; it's a fun day, regardless of NHC ramifications.