Team Indiana Grand ready for NHC 18 in Las Vegas

Indiana Grand Racing & Casino hosted its first qualifying tournament for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016. The qualifier attracted 94 entries and the top three players will represent the track in the $2.5 million NHC 18 final set for Friday, Jan. 27 through Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017 at Treasure Island in Las Vegas.

From left, Gary Russell, winner of the qualifier at Indiana Grand, Rachel McLaughlin, on-air racing commentator, Jim Bohnhoff, second place finisher and Robert Ferguson, third place finisher. Russell, Bohnhoff and Ferguson will represent Indiana Grand at the $2.5 Million final of the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas beginning Friday, Jan. 27. (Photo by Tammy Knox)

Gary Russell of Gahanna, Ohio, Jim Bohnhoff of Versailles, Ky. and Robert Ferguson of Columbus, Ohio were the top three qualifiers, respectively, from Indiana Grand. They will join more than 500 individuals from across the United States for the first round of the three-day handicapping tournament Friday. More than 650 entries will be included in NHC 18 as some players qualified more than once for the final.

“We are very excited,” said Jim Bohnhoff, second place finisher at Indiana Grand. “My wife and I are going to Vegas for the contest. I will wear my Indiana Grand shirt proudly for my photo.”

Russell, who won the Indiana Grand qualifier, is new to handicapping and will be making his first trip to the NHC final.

“I’ve played in some small on-line contests before, but the contest at Indiana Grand is only the second big contest I have ever played in,” said Russell, who is a financial analyst.

Ferguson, who is an accountant, finished third in the qualifier at Indiana Grand. He has qualified with two entries for the final, also getting a qualifying spot with

“I believe I have qualified for the final at least five or six times,” said Ferguson to NHC contest officials. “My mother, Diana, qualified twice and my brother, Ronald, qualified once before.”

The contest will include Thoroughbred racing from eight tracks: Aqueduct, Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park Casino & Racing, Laurel Park, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita Park, and Tampa Bay Downs. The contest follows a similar format offered during Indiana Grand’s qualifying round with players utilizing a mythical $2 win and place wager on eight mandatory races and 10 optional races on each of the first two days of the competition for a total of 36 races. Players in the top 10 percent after Saturday’s races will advance to the final round Sunday.

Also representing Indiana Grand in the NHC 18 final is track announcer Bill Downes, who qualified for the final through DRF Bets/Xpressbet online contest. Downes, an avid horseplayer and handicapper, has qualified for the NHC final in Las Vegas at least eight times in the past.

“I am very excited for the NHC,” said Downes. “You just try and get on a roll and keep it going. I am cautiously optimistic. You never know. There could be a horse that raced at Indiana Grand last year that helps me win it all. The NHC event has grown so much in the last few years. The NTRA and TI (Treasure Island) do a great job making you feel special while you are out there.”

The 2017 qualifier for NHC 19 at Indiana Grand has been tentatively set for Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017.