A field of 779 horse racing handicappers assembled in Las Vegas last weekend for the 2023 National Horseplayers Championship (or NHC). One of them ended Sunday with a life-changing payout.
Paul Calia, a retired disability officer from Kansas City, Mo., finished first and fourth with his two entries at the Nevada gambling event. For his efforts, he pocketed a total of $960,000, including an $800,000 first-place prize.
How did Calia do it?
Horseplayers qualify for the NHC through satellite tournaments throughout the year. They can earn multiple entries, as Calia did by placing highly enough in a pair of qualifying events.
Each handicapper made 18 mythical $2 win-place wagers on both Friday and Saturday at the event, which was held at the Horseshoe Las Vegas. The full field was reduced to the top 10 percent of the leaderboard after Saturday, and those handicappers advanced to Sunday’s semifinal round. After the semifinal, the top 10 advanced to the final table.
Calia’s performance included a fantastic showing Saturday that vaulted him to second place on the leaderboard. Calia reflected on his performance after the contest was over:
“I started a little slow on Friday, thought I handicapped okay with some seconds and thirds. But Saturday I was pretty hot, and pretty much hit every longshot. It’s hard to put into words how many winners I picked on Saturday.”
Calia finished with $362.50 on his winning entry after Sunday’s semifinal and final table rounds. In addition to his cash prize, Calia will be presented with an Eclipse Award as 2023’s Horseplayer of the Year. His fourth-place entry earned $305.50 over a total of 53 races.
Francis Boustany, who led after both Friday and Saturday, finished second with $330.30. Gary Fenton was third with $309.60. In addition to Calia, one other horseplayer, Steven Wells, had two entries in the top 10. He finished seventh and ninth with $289.40 and $281.60.
Plenty of growth at the 2023 NHC
The top 78 finishers at this year’s event cashed, up from 68 in 2022. The purse of the 2023 event totaled more than $3.1 million, a 33% year-on-year increase.
National Thoroughbred Racing Association President and CEO Tom Rooney was on-site at the NHC. He marveled at the event’s considerable move forward:
“If horse racing is a three-legged stool, we aren’t anything without the horseplayer. My family’s relationship with this sport and with football all traces back to playing horses. The excitement at the NHC is vital to everything we do as an industry. This year’s NHC is bigger than ever before and I’m proud that the NTRA has this unique opportunity to showcase the best of the best in handicapping and celebrate what it means to be a horseplayer.”