by Noel Michaels
Another year of intense competition on the National Horseplayers Championship Tour is in the books, and a new NHC Tour Champion has been crowned. The NHC Tour winner was veteran player David Gutfreund of Chicago, who has been a prominent figure on the tournament scene for decades. Gutfreund won the NHC Tour’s grand prize of $100,000.
After a relatively quiet first half of the season on the NHC Tour, Gutfreund caught fire and rode an epic hot streak in November and December to capture the Tour title, shocking Paul Shurman, who had been atop the overall leaderboard for much of the season. Shurman held on for second place, but ultimately had no answer for Gutfreund’s late point-scoring onslaught.
Gutfreund actually participated in far fewer tournaments throughout the year than other past NHC Tour winners and the other players atop this season’s Tour leaderboard, but when he did play, he often made those appearances count in a big way. Gutfreund also accumulated far more points in on-track contests than the other top players and compared to NHC Tour winners of years past. Five of Gutfreund’s seven qualifying scores were earned in on-track contests.
Paul Shurman, an NHC Hall-of-Famer from Dix Hills, NY, who will be appearing in his 17th NHC Finals this February, appeared to be coasting home on top of the NHC Tour leaderboard, based on a consistently strong performance throughout the season. Gutfreund, on the other hand, had been a non-factor much of the year.
Gutfreund, now a 14-year NHC qualifier, earned his first 2019 NHC qualifying berth with a victory in Hawthorne’s July 27 on-track tournament and then qualified for the world’s richest handicapping tournament a second time with yet another victory, this one coming at the Meadowlands in its on-track contest on Sept. 15.
Even with those two wins on the NHC Tour and the maximum number of two NHC qualifying berths in his back pocket at that point, Gutfreund still was not a factor on the overall NHC Tour leaderboard at that juncture. That all changed in November and December, however, as Gutfreund went on an unprecedented hot streak during a 5-week period from Nov. 24 to Dec. 29.
During that stretch, Gutfreund won three more on-track tournaments — at Hawthorne, Los Alamitos and Monmouth, plus added two third-place finishes in major online qualifying events at HorsePlayers.com on Nov. 30 and Dec. 14, to rocket up the leaderboard and ultimately come out on top. In that 5-week period, Gutfreund earned an unheard of 16,350 overall Tour points. To put that in perspective, just his score from those five weeks would have been enough to land him in 39th place amongst the thousands of participants on the year-long NHC Tour.
In addition to the $100,000 grand prize, Gutfreund also gets an automatic qualifying berth into the next NHC main event in 2020. He also is eligible for a record $5 million bonus if he goes on to win at the 2019 NHC finals. Considering the hot streak Gutfreund is on, an NHC victory certainly would not be considered out of the question.
His prior top NHC finishes include a ninth-place finish in 2011 and a Final Table appearance and fifth-place finish in 2016. According to NTRA statistics, Gutfreund is the fifth-leading point-scorer in the history of the NHC finals with 1,687 points earned in 13 prior appearances.
Shurman earned a $50,000 prize for his second-place finish. The top five placings in the NHC Tour were rounded out by third-place finisher Philip Lam of Fresh Meadows, NY, who earned $25,000, fourth-place finisher Karen Carey of Saratoga Springs, NY ($17,500 prize), and fifth-place finisher Kevin Willett of Hastings, Neb. ($10,000).
Cash and prizes up for grabs on the 2018 NHC Tour totaled $425,000, of which $285,000 was dedicated to the final overall NHC Tour Leaderboard. Half-year prizes amounted to $100,000 in value, plus there was a $15,000 Rookie Leaderboard purse structure. There is also a pending $25,000 bonus available that will go to the NHC Tour top-40 finisher that goes on to finish highest at the 2019 NHC main event.
NHC Tour points were awarded based on a player’s top seven point scores throughout the year in NTRA-sanctioned NHC qualifying tournaments. Points are earned on a sliding scale based on top 10% finishes in NHC Tour on-site or online handicapping tournaments.
The 20th annual NTRA National Horseplayers Championship [NHC], presented by Racetrack Television Network, Stats Race Lens and Treasure Island will be held on Feb. 8-10, 2019 at Treasure Island Las Vegas. With an estimated total value of $2.8 million, the NHC is the richest, most important and most prestigious tournament for horseplayers in the world and is the culmination of a yearlong series of sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping websites. Each year, the NHC winner joins other human and equine champions as an honoree at the Eclipse Awards.
Place Player Tour Points Cash Prize
- David Gutfreund 24,123 $100,000* + 2020 NHC entry
- Paul Shurman 23,425 $50,000
- Philip Lam 22,460 $25,000
- Karen Carey 22,002 $17,500
- Kevin Willett 21,688 $10,000
- Joe Pettit 21,347 $9,000
- Dave Nichols 19,904 $8,500
- David Snyder 19,735 $8,000
- Christopher Podratz 19,275 $7,500
- Brent Sumja 19,191 $7,000
- Bill Rendino 19,186 $6,500
- Alan Levitt 18,996 $6,000
- David Trey Stiles 18,889 $5,500
- Kevin Engelhard 18,753 $5,000
- Tyler Hoffman 18,606 $4,500
- Timothy Yohler 18,425 $4,000
- Jim Benes 18,394 $3,500
- Mike Ferrozzo 18,358 $3,000
- Richard Nilsen 18,289 $2,500
- Nick Fazzolari 18,223 $2,000
* NHC tour Winner is eligible for a $5 million bonus for winning the NHC.
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.