Kentucky Downs, with its full fields and low takeout, offers handicappers the best overall value in American racing. And horse players will have two opportunities — one at the pastoral track on Sept. 10, one online two days earlier — to parlay that into a seat at the 2017 National Handicapping Championship in Jan. 27-29 in Las Vegas.
Kentucky Downs is offering guaranteed NHC seats to the top three finishers in its ninth annual Kentucky Downs Turf Handicapping Challenge on Saturday, Sept. 10, the day of its marquee card featuring four stakes capped by the $600,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup. The entry fee is $200 (maximum two entries), with $100 going to the player's bankroll and the rest to the prize pool. Contestants keep their remaining bankroll at the tournament's conclusion. The top three also will receive a $400 travel voucher and hotel accommodations.
Kentucky Downs will add a fourth NHC berth if there are at least 160 entries. Players wager $5 each to win and place on one horse in all of the 10 Kentucky Downs races that day. There are no caps on payouts.
“We like giving our players who don't win one of the top prizes at least a chance to go home with some money,” said C.J. Johnsen, Kentucky Downs' live-racing director and a past NHC qualifier who also made the 2015 Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge after having nine winners and three second-place horses in a 12-race contest. “We choose not to have a cap because with our field sizes averaging more than 10 horses per race and 16-percent takeout on straight wagers, some very good horses are going to pay terrific prices. The contest player who can ferret out winners at more than 20-1 odds should be rewarded, not penalized.
“The Sept. 10 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup is at least the second-best day of predominantly grass racing in America. We expect that entire card to be high-class races. That's not just the four stakes but a couple of our $130,000 maiden races, $140,000 first-level allowance races and $145,000 second-level allowance races with a $62,500 claiming option, which gets a really nice horse.”
BetAmerica, the advance-deposit wagering platform that contributes a portion of its wagering to licensed charities, is staging an online contest utilizing only races from Kentucky Downs on Thursday, Sept. 8, which is Old Friends Day at Kentucky Downs. Net proceeds from the BetAmerica contest will be donated to Old Friends, the retired-racehorse venture whose three sites includes Kentucky Downs.
“We pride ourselves on delivering a top-quality wagering experience, so it makes sense to partner with a track that regularly receives the top marks from horseplayers,” said Merv Huber-Calvo, BetAmerica's director of product marketing. “Both BetAmerica and Kentucky Downs view handicapping contests as an important engagement and fan development tool, which leads to increased pari-mutuel handle.
“We're happy to play a part in making Old Friends Day as successful as it can be. Old Friends not only cares for over 160 retired race horses but also drives awareness for Thoroughbred retirement.”
The contest utilizes a $2 win and place wager on a horse in each race. The top two finishers will receive a seat, along with airfare and hotel, to the NHC at Treasure Island Casino. The cost is $55, with a maximum of three entries per person and a limit on 400 overall entries.
BetAmerica will donate profits from the contest to Old Friends, the non-profit thoroughbred retirement center that specializes in taking horses after their racing or breeding careers are over while providing fans an up-close look at some of the sport's most accomplished horses. Old Friends, founded by longtime horse player and former Boston Globe critic Michael Blowen, is headquartered in Georgetown, Ky., with satellite facilities at Kentucky Downs and in New York.
“Once they pay out the prize money, what's left over we get,” Blowen said. “I think that's great. The other thing that's great, it's really first the time one of these ADW accounts has gotten involved with us. As a lifelong handicapper, I think it's a great idea. It's terrific. Things at Kentucky Downs couldn't get going better.
“I was totally surprised, absolutely flabbergasted — and of course very, very grateful.”
“This is the ultimate win-win-win,” Johnsen said. “Our mantra is that Kentucky Downs is the Horseplayers' Race Track, and this is a contest for a cause. BetAmerica is an ADW that gives back to the sport, as does Kentucky Downs. We love that retired turf stalwarts will benefit from this NHC qualifier. And, of course, two players will be on their way to Vegas.”
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