Highway Robbery

Dylan Donnelly just had the 2020 NHC Tour Championship stolen from him. Let me explain.

Soon after the Breeders’ Cup Classic was declared official, I took the Gulfstream Park elevator down to the ground floor and headed through the mostly-deserted facility on my way to the parking lot. I had opted to play from Gulfstream, a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge satellite location, so that I could potentially earn much-needed on-track NHC Tour points, which are awarded at a much more generous rate based on contest finishing position than are online Tour points.

By the time I arrived at my car, the final results for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge had been posted. Since I finished in a massive tie for last place with a final score of $0.00, I was really only interested in the finishing position of my buddy Dylan Donnelly, whom I believed was in a position to not only win the BCBC, but also effectively lock up the NHC Tour with a big finish.

A review of the final leaderboard revealed Dylan ran 3rd and took home a massive pile of cash. The result was not surprising to the group of handicappers and contest players who make up what has become affectionately known as the LoneSpeed Group Text. Those of us who exchange text messages weekend after weekend with Dylan have been privy to a long line of not only contest scores, but also other winning wagers which it’s not my place to discuss in further detail. Suffice it to say, Dylan has had an unreal year betting the races with cash in addition to his contest triumphs.

I headed up the Florida Turnpike towards my home in the Orlando area, and in an effort to make the almost four-hour drive go by a little quicker, I called Dylan, who I figured was probably waiting to collect his winnings at Santa Anita, the BCBC satellite location where he participated. He didn’t answer. So I called Rich Nilsen, and we agreed that Dylan had probably locked up the NHC Tour with his 3rd place finish, which by our recollection of the on-track Tour points scale was worth somewhere around 3,800 Tour points.

Dylan called me back a few minutes later, and I said something to the effect of “Dude, amazing job. I don’t want to jinx you but it’s very hard to imagine you not winning the Tour at this point. I think someone would need a big on-track score to beat you, and the only event big enough to offer those kinds of points is the Pegasus.” Dylan was hesitant to accept my premature congratulations, but he agreed the points he had just earned gave him a pretty sizable lead with limited scoring opportunities remaining.

Over the course of the next couple of days, a few racing personalities who follow the contest world and the Tour made mention of Dylan’s BCBC effort and the likelihood that he had probably locked up the Tour title. Those declarations were made based on the following understanding: The BCBC was listed as a “hybrid” event on the NHC Tour calendar when that calendar was released earlier in the year. A hybrid contest offers on-track points to those who play on-track or at an official satellite location, and it also offers online points to those who choose not to play onsite.

On Thursday of the week following the Breeders’ Cup, the NHC Tour leaderboard was updated. Dylan was in 1st place, as he had been before the BCBC. But his margin was far smaller than expected. A review of his top seven scores showed he was awarded 2,874 points for his 3rd place BCBC effort, about 1,000 fewer points than the LoneSpeed Group Text had determined he had earned. I sent an email to the NHC team at the NTRA, and I was informed that the BCBC had been designated an “online” event once the event was closed to on-track participants. I follow the NHC Tour extremely closely because I’m stupid and I decided to chase the Tour this year after winning two NHC seats in seven days back in March and earned enough Tour points to give myself a reasonable chance to cash (which I didn’t do, FYI). And as someone who follows the Tour very closely and who pays close attention to all developments, I had no idea that a decision had been made to remove the eligibility to earn on-track Tour points from the BCBC. Had I known that, I would not have spent eight hours in the car round trip and spent $250 on an Aventura hotel room so that I could play from Gulfstream Park. I would have played from home and lost my money online. I was told by NTRA staff that the Tour calendar had been updated prior to the BCBC to reflect the change in designation from hybrid to online. I was also told that in one of the weekly Tour emails that the NTRA sends out, the calendar posted in the body of the email mentioned that the BCBC was “online points only”. And I am sure all of the above is true. However, it’s still absurd, illogical, and unjust.

Again, due to COVID, BCBC participants were not allowed to play from Keeneland, and had the option to play from a satellite location or online. COVID created extreme difficulty for all of Planet Earth this year, including the racing world and all the folks who play a part in organizing contests. No one disputes that fact, and no one can fairly criticize the people in this industry who were repeatedly forced to make last-minute decisions in an effort to keep racing from being forced to stop completely due to the pandemic and its effects.

Having said that, the decision, whenever and however it was made, to designate the BCBC as an online event and therefore stripping it of its “hybrid status” and NOT offering on-track points to anyone is truly inexplicable. People who choose to participate in the NHC Tour (some may call us suckers) have every right to know in advance how the Tour is mapped out and where the scoring opportunities sit on the calendar. Yes, events can appear and disappear from the calendar as the year progresses, especially when a global pandemic is raging. But there was no good reason whatsoever to remove the ability to earn on-track points from perhaps the biggest event on the Tour calendar AFTER the year had already started and AFTER Tour participants had planned their attack on the Tour Championship. The right decision would have been to award on-track points to ALL BCBC participants, including those who opted to play online due to health concerns. The needless and poorly-communicated decision to offer only online points when the original Tour calendar listed clearly that on-track points would be up-for-grabs cost Dylan Donnelly his much-deserved 2020 NHC Tour title. And that’s a travesty. And it should force everyone to take another look at the NHC Tour before deciding how much time and money they want to invest in chasing the Tour.