01/27/2008 3:29AM

NHC Day 2

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Emergencyphone
LAS VEGAS -- The phone rings in my room at the Red Rock here Saturday morning just after 9 a.m., and the unfamiliar voice on the other end of the line is polite, apologetic and filled with despair.

"Mr. Crist, I'm really sorry to bother you, but I didn't know who else to call or what to do. I'm here in Las Vegas and my wife is a contestant in your tournament and I have to get an urgent message to her."

He gave me her name, badge number and seating assignment in the tournament area of the racebook. I told him I'd be glad to help, and steeled myself to go deliver whatever urgent bad news was coming for this poor woman, perhaps a death in the family or a sick child.

"Please tell her," he said, "that she should bet the 4 horse in the 7th at Santa Anita."

I swear I'm not making this up.

I of course told him that I couldn't be relaying betting advice to tournament contestants, and he continued to be perfectly polite and said he understood and apologized for bothering me. And when I told the story from the podium at the NHC Awards Dinner tonight, the guy gamely stood up at the table where he was sitting with his wife and took a bow. Horseplayers, you gotta love 'em.

As you've probably heard by now, the NHC ended in a runaway victory for Richard Goodall of Las Vegas, a retired lawyer, fulltime tournament professional and five-time NHC qualifier. That's one time fewer than his wife of eight years, Sally, to whom he said he's giving the $500,000 first prize. He said he was "in that zone we all get into so infrequently" for both days of the tournament, putting together back-to-back strong performances to trounce his 276 opponents.

Goodall turned $120 in bets into a $272.30 return, the only contestant to double his money. That may at first sound highly unimpressive. If you go to the track and bet $120 and get back $272.30, it's hardly having the day of a lifetime -- that's about what you'd get if you bet $120 to win on a single $4.50 winner. It's an entirely different feat, however, to turn $120 into $272 by making 30 $2 win/place bets, half of them on races you're forced to bet. If it sounds so easy, go try it some time -- preferably in the NHC finals, where such success would have won you half a million.