01/31/2010 2:55AM

NHC XI

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Brian Troop had a pretty lousy day at the races Saturday: $60 in bets and only a $33.40 return. The net result? A check for $500,000. 

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Troop, coming off the best Day One ($232.60) in the history of the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, had the worst-ever Day Two ($33.40) by an eventual winner but held off the closers to win NHC XI. As he later said, his performance reminded him of one by Presious Passion -- open up a huge lead on the field, dig in late, and just hang on. Even so, Troop’s total of $266 was the third-highest winning score in NHC history behind Steve Wolfson Jr.’s $279.60 in NHC VI and Richard Goodall’s $272.30 in NHC IX.

Troop and everyone else had to scramble a little when Laurel and Oaklawn cancelled their cards and Aqueduct cancelled after its third race. (The Laurel cancellation also meant the scrapping of the year's inaugural Magna 5, because Laurel hubs the bet and Magna had no backup plan.)

"I never look at Golden Gate," Troop said, "but today I had to."

This year's field of 300 (down from 302 after late scratches), included 7 of the 10 previous NHC winners, but as a group they underperformed. Judy Wagner (NHC II) rallied to finish a fine 21st, but the six others ran 78th, 145th, 223rd, 235th, 243rd and 296th.

The top finishers reflected racing's mature demographic -- the first five finishers were all between 53 and 61 years old. On the other hand hand, three of those five qualified in online tournaments. So I guess a few of us with AARP cards can actually also operate computers.

Troop, an accountant from Ontario, does not seem likely to quit the game and sit on his winnings. As he was surrounded by photographers and well-wishers on the racebook floor after his victory was certified, he had two requests. First, he asked someone to bring him a Heineken. Then he wanted to know where he could get tomorrow's Racing Form.