We're crowning the National Turf Handicapping champion in tourney twosome Sept. 13, 16

Jennie Rees

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020) — America’s most unique racetrack is staging a one-of-a-kind online handicapping tournament twosome during the RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs.

The Kentucky Downs Turf Handicapping Challenge presented by Daily Racing Form, America's only tournament using exclusively grass racing, will award multiple seats at the 2021 National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) and the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) during stand-alone tournaments on Sunday Sept. 13 and Wednesday Sept. 16. The twist is that the player with the highest aggregate two-day total will be crowned the National Turf Handicapping Champion, receiving additional prize money and a BCBC spot, worth $10,000.

The separate online tournaments are live-money events, meaning that entrants use a real bankroll and get to keep whatever they might earn. The competition will be based on Kentucky Downs’ all-grass cards, with the Sept. 13 contest also offering the option to play turf races from New Jersey’s Monmouth Park. Betting in the tournaments will be conducted through Xpressbet, TVG and 4NJBets online-wagering platforms.

The Sept. 13 tournament has a $1,000 buy-in, with $500 comprising the player’s bankroll and the other $500 going to the prize pool. The buy-in is $600 for the Sept. 16 tournament, with $300 going to the prize pool and $300 for the contestant’s bankroll. Players must compete in both tournaments to be eligible to earn the distinction of being National Turf Handicapping Champion.

Both contests require entrants to bet a minimum of $50 (win, place, show and/or exacta) on a minimum of 10 races on Sept. 13 and six on Sept. 16. Complete rules will be available soon on kentuckydowns.com. Monmouth Park marketing director Brian Skirka is the tournament director. Players must pre-register with Skirka by emailing bskirka@monmouthpark.com or by calling 732-571-6595.

“We were looking at an online tournament even before we had to make the tough decision to go spectatorless at our live meet because of the COVID surge,” said Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs’ senior vice president and general manager. “Our betting product has become so popular across the country that we wanted to let as many people as possible participate, and we wanted to come up with prizes to make it worth their investment in time and money.

“Horseplayers’ enthusiasm for our American-best large fields and low takeout has led to a 244-percent increase in wagering on Kentucky Downs since 2015. This is one way of showing our appreciation. We are the nation’s turf-racing capital and we want to showcase that by having a National Turf Handicapping Champion.”

Regular tournament player Adam Aiken, who coincidentally is moving from Springfield, Mass., to Nashville in early September, makes a point to bet Kentucky Downs’ elite meet and was thrilled to hear about the track’s tournaments. He applauds the idea of a two-day overall champion.

“That’s an interesting format, kind of a unique and different format that isn’t around anywhere else,” Aiken said, adding with a laugh, “It obviously gets you to want to play the second one. You have three chances in a way” to win the big prizes.

Aiken said he’ll be firing away on his mobile device to try to be anointed Turf Champion.

“I’ll be playing wherever I am,” he said. “I was in a tournament where I finished fourth and 13th and I was at a wedding…. I love turf racing. I love turf sprints. I always play Kentucky Downs. The big fields and low takeout are just the ticket for serious handicappers.”

Based on 100 entries in the Sept. 13 tournament, the total prize pool will be $50,000, including four NHC prize packs (including flight reimbursement up to $400 and hotel) and one BCBC berth. The top five finishers will split $5,000, with $2,500 to the winner and an estimated $2,956 toward the cash awarded to the National Turf Champ. The top 10 finishers also receive a free spot in the Sept. 16 contest.

Prize money paid to the Turf Champ will increase along with the number of entries. At 150 entries, five NHC prize packs and two BCBC berths will be awarded.

Based on 80 entries in the Sept. 16 contest, the total prize pool will be $24,000, with the top three finishers earning an NHC prize pack and splitting $3,000, including $1,500 to the winner, with remaining cash going to the champ. Additional seats could be awarded based on final participation.

“I’m honored that Ted reached out to me to assist with putting on this unique tournament,” Skirka said. “Kentucky Downs is known for some of the biggest fields and best turf racing around, and I’m excited to help make this first-of-its-kind contest a success. From my experience, I think players will really gravitate to a tournament featuring such wide-open, competitive and high-class racing.”

Players must be an NHC Tour member prior to the start of the contest to be eligible for NHC seats.

Horsetourneys.com will stage online feeder tournaments, providing low-priced ways to win spots into both contests.