Thoughts From the NHC

By Alex Waldrop, President and CEO of the NTRA 

I just spent a fascinating two days at the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at the Red Rock Resort, Spa and Casino in Las Vegas.

I met scores of dedicated, loyal horseplayers and talked to many about "the game" and what they believe horse racing needs to do to compete in the current environment.  Here are my initial thoughts and impressions from the experience.

First and foremost, horseplayers are passionate, knowledgeable supporters of the horse racing industry whose voices (and accomplishments) are too often overlooked or ignored.  That needs to change.  Here is what they are saying.

- Their message to tracks: Price matters. They want the NTRA to find a way to eliminate or minimize federal withholding on winning wagers because withholding directly affects the amount they can wager. And our takeout rate is generally too high. According to one very knowledgeable race and sports book operator I spoke with in Vegas, they are seeing a steady migration of players from horse racing to sports betting and other gaming.  Why?  Lower takeout on casino games and sports betting are a big part of the reason.

- Their message to trainers: Safety and integrity matter.  If you think the way you treat your horse is a private matter between you and your vet, think again. Players want a fair game and they resent horsemen who seem determined to bend the rules where drugs and medications are concerned.  Bad horsemanship hurts the horse and the game.

- Their message to owners: Run your horses. Keep them in training. Horseplayers want full, competitive fields regardless of class or grade.  They love to bet horses, especially when they have a chance to cash a big ticket.

- Their message to regulators: Be tough but fair in regulating the game.  And be consistent. Explain why you are fining or suspending licensees. As one player told me, "It's not so much that punishment lacks severity.  It's the lack of consistency, state to state."

Nothing will eliminate negative industry and societal stereotypes of horseplayers like a trip to the NHC. A room full of men and women, including young people and professionals, all totally focused on winning the $500,000 grand prize, was a sight to behold.  It was one of the most positive racing experiences I have had in years.

The NHC started 11 years ago with a $100,000 grand prize. This year there were more than 100 qualifying tournaments and a total of more than 100,000 contestants vying for the 300 coveted NHC spots. Competition was fierce. No wonder. In the past week, we have distributed more than $1.1 million in prize money, including $500,000 to winner Brian Troop. Brian is an accountant from Ontario, Canada. He's an avid NHC Tour player who qualified at Turfway Park. Like the 10 NHC Champions before him, I have no doubt that he will be a terrific ambassador for our game over the next 12 months.

The NTRA is determined to continue growing the NHC. It will take broad industry support from tracks, horsemen, regulators and others to take it to the next level.  Player input is also a key part of the process. Our NHC Players Committee is up to the challenge.

We are going to grow the NHC.  It's going to happen. Everyone involved in racing should support the NHC  The players  deserve it. The industry needs it.  Let's get it done.

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