NHC Tour Veteran Alexa Zepp Chasing Tournament Dreams While Exploring Other Racing Passions

Alexa Zepp has made a name for herself as a major player on the NHC Tour. (Courtesy of Alexa Zepp)

People from all walks of life and all corners of the racing world will be making the pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the finals of the 24th annual NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), set for March 10-12 at Horseshoe Las Vegas. The handicapping tournament will not only host 620 players who are already qualified for the finals, it will also attract hundreds more who will be in town for one final opportunity to win their way into the main event by playing in the Last Chance/First Chance tournament on the eve of the finals on Thursday, March 9.

For every tournament player that already has qualified to participate in the NHC, there are 10 more who participated in the 2022 NHC Tour who didn’t make it. Some of those on the outside looking in came a lot closer than others and there are lots a great stories and personalities who will be in the room for the Last Chance.

These “last chance” players range from weekend warriors such as Mike Labriola of Richmond, Calif., who has qualified for the NHC a record four prior years in the Last Chance tournament, to all kinds of handicappers with various levels of involvement in the sport of horse racing.

Zepp at Gulfstream Park for Pegasus World Cup (Courtesy of Alexa Zepp)

One of the interesting personalities in Las Vegas for the Last Chance will be Alexa Zepp, a 27-year-old artist from Lawrence, Kansas.  

Many who are familiar with Zepp might actually be surprised to learn that she has not yet qualified for the 2023 NHC finals. On the 2022 NHC Tour, Zepp racked up 10,108 points, which was good for 250th place out of 5,500 members on the tour. She recently finished third in the high-profile Flo-Cal Faceoff tournament on HorseTourneys.com in mid-January to capture a $36,720 slice of that contest’s $500,000 purse. Even that showcase of handicapping prowess, however, was not enough to earn her a berth in the NHC finals. Yet.

As so many horseplayers can relate to, real life got in the way of Zepp being able to play more contests and get over the hump and qualify for the NHC Finals the past year. Zepp spent much of her time and energy chasing her other main passions in horse racing – breeding and ownership – by founding and setting up a new partnership syndicate called Haphazard Racing Inc. Zepp calls the horse ownership experience, “the most thrilling part of it all for me.”

“I will admit that my contest play took the back seat for half of this past year while I was fully engrossed in setting up Haphazard Racing,” said Zepp, who still enjoyed success in 2022 playing in occasional tournaments such as Keeneland’s Grade 1 Gamble and the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC).

“I began chasing an NHC berth in September. I went to Canterbury, Hawthorne, Pegasus, Hialeah, and played online tourneys. I just missed [qualifying for the NHC] at Hawthorne, getting third place in a contest where the top two qualified,” Zepp said.

Zepp has established a deep foundation in horseracing in a short amount of time. She was introduced to the sport as recently as 2018 by her husband, Blake Courtney, who is two-time NHC qualifier who finished in 25th-place finish in the 2019 NHC finals.

Zepp on a visit to Del Mar. (Courtesy of Alexa Zepp)

“I am very competitive and was intrigued by the tournaments, so it didn’t take long for me to decide I wanted to compete as well,” Zepp said. “For the next few years, we basically lived and breathed horse racing. I was like a sponge trying to absorb everything I could about racing and handicapping.

“I love to travel and meet new people, so the tournaments were also exciting as I got to make friends all over the country and see new tracks all the time. I currently live in Kansas, so traveling is the only option to see live racing.”

Zepp also learned about all of the camaraderie that exists on the tournament circuit, and the networking opportunities it can provide.

“I have gotten involved in a myriad of other things in the racing industry through meeting people at tournaments. My background is in art, and I have been able to work with the Breeders’ Cup and the Kentucky Derby and they have produced my designs on T-shirts,” Zepp said.

Meanwhile, Haphazard Racing is in the process of getting off the ground after Zepp spent the last two years learning the ins and outs of horse breeding and ownership in Florida, Indiana, and Kentucky.

“I bought a broodmare in 2020 and decided to expand my stable into a full racing syndicate in the beginning of 2021 – Haphazard Racing,” Zepp said. “I am filling partnerships for this spring and summer and my homebred 2-year-old will be racing this year.”

For one magical week in Las Vegas every year, however, everything else takes a backseat to handicapping for all that participate in all or part of the NHC activities. For Zepp, it all comes down to Thursday’s Last Chance qualifier, for which she has already won a paid entry.

“It looks like I will be shoving all my chips in to give it one last go,” Zepp said. “I feel the most confident I have ever felt about my mythical $2 win-place contest play.”

Even if she can’t make it into the field for the 2023 NHC finals, Alexa Zepp will remain fully emersed in horse racing as a handicapper, active contest player, producer of equestrian fine art, and owner and breeder, while all the while experiencing and enjoying the camaraderie that handicapping tournaments have long been known for.

“I am really hoping I can land an NHC seat because I feel like I have a pretty good chance, but if not, I will be cheering for my friends and planning my attack for the next NHC,” Zepp said. “The great thing about the tournaments is that if you’re out or not having your day, there’s a friend nearby that you can cheer for.”

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