01/31/2010 12:00AM

With eye to the weather, Troop holds on in NHC

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LAS VEGAS - Brian Troop is an accountant by trade, but he is also a talented handicapper and weather forecaster, and he used all of his skills to win the 11th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship Saturday night at the Red Rock Resort.

The 61-year-old single man from Barrie, Ontario, proved best in a field of 300 contestants who qualified over the past year to capture the $500,000 first-place prize and title of Handicapper of the Year. Contestants made 30 mythical $2 win-place wager over the two-day tournament but Troop practically locked up the contest Friday as he racked up an NHC Day 1 record $232.60 to hold nearly an $80 lead on the field.

In preparing for Saturday's final day, he turned into a weatherman.

"After I picked up my overnight sheets last night, I went back to my room and turned on The Weather Channel," Troop said. "From watching the forecasts, I figured that Oaklawn and Laurel would cancel and maybe even Aqueduct."

That's exactly how it worked out with Oaklawn and Laurel canceling their cards early in the day and Aqueduct only running three races. That left only 44 total races for the contestants to make their 15 plays, seven of which were mandatory as chosen by contest organizers. Even though there were some longshots during the day, the lack of opportunities for his competitors helped Troop secure the title with a final score of $266.

After only having about an hour of sleep Friday night, Troop said he didn't know what to expect Saturday.

"On Friday, I liked a lot of horses but today I didn't like anything," he said. "I was lucky a lot of short prices came in. I feel like I backed into it."

Troop only had one winner and a second-place horse on the day, but it was enough as only four competitors were able to surpass his Day 1 score. Robert Gregory, 53, of Durango, Colo., finished second with a score of $249.80 to collect $150,000. Tim Simmons, 55, of Lexington, Ky., was third at $249.20 to win $100,000 plus another $5,000 for having the top Day 2 score of $181.80. Brian Herrity, 53, of Mankato, Minn., was fourth at $240.80 to take home $40,000 as well as another $1,000 for having Saturday's third-highest score. Elaine Kowaleski, 57, of Farmingdale, N.J., was fifth with $237.80 and earned $25,000 plus $2,500 for having Saturday's second-highest score.

Even though he only scored $33.40 on Saturday, Troop still posted the third-highest winning score in NHC history under the current format - instituted after Steven Walker won NHC I with a score of $305.40 from 40 total plays. Only Steve Wolfson Jr.'s $279.60 in NHC VI and Richard Goodall's $272.30 in NHC IXwere higher than Troop's score this weekend. Troop's Day 1 score was higher than three past champions' two-day scores.

NHC finalists represent the sites where they qualified for the finals. Troop made the field at the Turfway Park tournament on Dec. 6. He finished fourth in the tournament that awarded three spots but was moved up because two of the players ahead of him had already qualified for the NHC. Troop, a member of the NHC Tour that uses qualifying tournaments throughout the year as a circuit, would have still qualified as one of the tour's top point-earners. Three of the top five finishers qualified in online tourneys: Gregory (TwinSpires.com), Simmons (TVG.com) and Kowaleski (NHCQualify.com). Herrity earned his seat by finishing second in the $10,000 buy-in Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge at Santa Anita on Nov. 6-7.

In all, the top 30 finishers were paid out of a purse of $947,850.

The first 2010 qualifying tournament for NHC XII, to be held at the Red Rock on Jan. 28-29, 2011, is being held Sunday. The Red Rock Shootout has a $100 entry fee and will send the top two finishers to NHC XII.

Troop has an automatic entry into next year's finals as the defending champ.