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Contact: Tim O’Leary, O’Leary & Cosentino Communications (914) 592-5020
Scott Cooper, O’Leary & Cosentino Communications (609) 391-8166
Eric Wing, NTRA Communications (212) 230-9511


Defending champion James Michelson Jr. of West Bloomfield, Mich., heads a field of 226 horseplayers who will gather at Bally’s Las Vegas on January 27-28 to vie for horse racing’s official title of “Handicapper of the Year” and a first-place prize of $225,000 in the $500,000 Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship: the U.S. Open of Thoroughbred racing handicapping tournaments.

This year’s DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) will be the richest in the event’s seven-year history, offering total prize money of $500,000, $100,000 more than last year. The winner’s share of $225,000 is also an all-time NHC high. ESPN will be taping the competition in preparation for a one-hour National Handicapping Championship special to air on February 19 (6:00-7:00 p.m. ET). Regular Championship updates will be posted on the Internet throughout the two-day contest at both and

As the 2005 DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship winner, James “Jamie” Michelson Jr. received a special exemption into the tournament to defend the title he won last January when he bested 213 other horseplayers in the two-day competition. The 40-year-old Michelson won by amassing a mythical bankroll of $240.40 from a total of 30 $2 win-and-place wagers pared from a mind-numbing menu of more than 130 races run at seven different tracks.

One other former champion will also be back in the hopes of becoming the first to win the National Handicapping Championship twice. Sioux City, Iowa, landlord Kent Meyer, the 2004 winner, will be back representing Team Bally’s #1.

A new element in this seventh renewal of the NHC is the existence of bonus money available to any of 18 contestants should one of them win this year’s event. Eight competitors (Dominick Coppla, James Dennis, Steve Duncan, Ross Gallo, William Gonsoulin Jr,, Rich Grose, Eric Isaacson and Billy Weiss) who emerged victorious at Churchill Downs, Inc.-sponsored “Million Dollar Bonus Tour” qualifiers during 2005 are eligible for a $1 million bonus that would bring their total potential NHC winnings to $1,225,000. One entrant, Robert Chandler, is eligible for an identical $1 million bonus from Sam Houston Race Park should he win. And all nine representatives of Emerald Downs (Robin Carlson, Don Cook, Peter DeFotis, Donald Fischer, Al Martineau, Eric Schweiger, Scott Sinclair, Marty D. Smith and Don Sullivan) would receive bonus money that would bring their total payday to $500,000 with a win at the NHC.

In just its seventh year, the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino racebooks, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping Web sites, each of which sends its top three qualifiers to the national finals. This year’s finalists advanced from one of 92 local tournaments held at 57 different sites across North America from February through December 2005. So far, more than 100,000 people have participated in these local tournaments.

This year, for the first time ever, two “last chance” tournaments are being held at Bally’s in the days leading up to the NHC to fill the final five available starting berths. Proceeds from these two qualifiers, to be held on January 22 and January 25, will be rolled over into the NHC’s overall prize pool, which is currently at $500,000. (For “Last Chance” tourney entry information, contact Chris Eggers of Bally’s Las Vegas at 702-967-4540).

The 221 qualifiers thus far for this year’s NHC reside in 34 states and three Canadian provinces, and come from every imaginable walk of life—from aerospace engineer to horse dentist.

California is represented by the most finalists (36). Other well-represented states include Texas (18), New York (16), Kentucky (15), Florida (14), Illinois (13) and New Jersey (13). Nine competitors hail from Canada.

The NHC finalists are predominantly male, with the 22 women in the field making up 10 percent of the qualifiers to date. Every age group will be represented, with contestants ranging in age from the 22-year-olds Lisa Kaufman of Hacienda Heights, Calif., (Gulfstream Park) and David Crone of New Albany, Ind., (Churchill Downs #1) to 87-year-old Dominick Coppla, who hails from Hallandale, Fla. (Calder #2)

The tournament format for the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is meant to be the best possible test of overall handicapping ability. Players attempt to earn the highest possible bankroll based on 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers on each day of the two-day tournament. Eight of those wagers will be on mandatory races as selected by a panel that includes NTRA Tournament Director Jeff Sotman. “We try to make it as tough as possible,” admitted Sotman. The eight mandatory races will feature a mixture of distances, classes and surfaces.

The remaining seven races each day are optional plays to be made on races at one of six designated NHC tournament tracks: Aqueduct, Bay Meadows, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park, Oaklawn Park and Santa Anita Park.

Of the $500,000 in total prize money, the top 20 finishers in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship will divide $470,000. In addition to the individual prize pool, all of the NHC finalists with the exception of defending champ James Michelson Jr. also will be playing in a separate team competition, with the top-finishing trio splitting $15,000. There is also an additional $20,000 in prize money to be awarded incrementally to the three best finishers on each day.



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