Updated on 09/16/2011 6:44AM

Herman Miller is Handicapper of the Year

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Ron Koch
DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship winner Herman Miller (center) is presented his $100,000 first prize by NTRA senior vice president of industry relations Keith Chamblin (left) and Daily Racing Form publisher Steven Crist.

LAS VEGAS - Herman Miller, a 50-year-old landscaper from Oakland, California, jumped out to an early lead and never looked back on his way to victory over a field of 177 horseplayers in the third annual $212,000 Daily Racing Form / NTRA National Handicapping Championship which concluded Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Miller, a member of the four-person team representing Golden Gate, led at the end of day-one in the two-day contest and then survived a see-saw battle with several challengers throughout the event's final day to take first prize of $100,000.

Miller hit a total of nine winners in the 30-race tournament on his way to a contest-winning bankroll of $205.30 based on $2 win-and-place bets.

Miller built his day-one lead with the help of Crazy Star, who won Friday's 10th race at Gulfstream for maiden claimers and returned $75.20 to win and $22.60 to place (payoffs were capped at $42, to win and $22 to place).

After losing his lead early on Saturday, Miller stormed back late in the contest with a string of three winners which put him ahead to stay. Miller began his late rally with Torgan who won race 10 at Fair Grounds paying $11.20 to win and $6.80 to place. He continued his charge with Goldworks ($12.00 to win, $5.60 to place) in the 10th race at Turf Paradise, and capped the day off in the 9th race at Santa Anita with Alystone Lane who returned $11.20 and $6.80.

Miller's secret to success throughout the contest was going against bad favorites in wide-open races.

"If it's a full field and I think the favorite is going to lose, than I use my own system to find the winner."

Miller says he plans to put the $100,000 first prize toward his two teenaged daughters' college education. As an additional prize, Miller earned a special exemption into next year's national championship field and will not need to re-qualify.

"I'm 90 percent sure I'll be able to defend my title next year. There's no sure things besides death and taxes, but I'm confident."

David Brownfield from Toledo, Ohio (team Hoosier Park) lead at varying times during both days of the tournament but had no answer for Miller's afternoon surge and ended up finishing seventh ($164.60).

Second-place went to Tim O'Leary, 45, from Newville, Pa. (Maryland Jockey Club) who tallied $189 after hanging around in the top five in the leaderboard throughout the contest. O'Leary won $30,000 in prize money for the runner-up finish.

The remainder of the top five was rounded out by Don Speaks, 65, of Oceanside, Calif. ($183) who won $10,000, Sid Weiner, 71, of Saugus, Mass. ($179.30) who made $5,000, and John Martin, 50, from Lexington, Ky. ($167.30) who took home $3,000 for fifth. Martin also earned another $3,000 in daily prize money for compiling Saturday's top bankroll ($113.60).

Brownfield and the rest of the 6th-10th place finishers (Frank Auriemma of Plainview, N.Y., Rich Nilsen of Lexington, Kentucky; Bobby Brendler of Rockville, Md., and Jesus Bravo of Long Beach, Calif.) each earned $2,000.

In addition to individual competition, players were also divided up into four-person teams representing the site where the qualified. A total $32,000 in prize money was up for grabs in the team competition which was won by the Keeneland "A" Team. The foursome of Don "Hee Haw" Alvey, Rich Nilsen, Tony Martin, and Tim Holland split the $20,000 first prize ($5,000 each) with a total of $506.10. Teams from Suffolk Downs (split $8,000) and Golden Gate ($4,000) finished second and third.

A seperate media charity event with identical rules was held alongside the main event. Four five-member teams, each captained by a Daily Racing Form handicapper, competed for a $10,000 purse. The winning team was Team Penthouse which was made up of Penthouse Pets Alexa Lauren (Sept. 1999) and Cheyenne Silver (Dec. 2001), Penthouse director of communications Michael Moi, and Penthouse senior editor Ed Dwyer in addition to DRF captain Mike Watchmaker. The group is expected to donate their winnings to NTRA Charities and a yet to be decided Sept. 11th fund.

Miller and the rest of the winners were honored in a post-contest awards dinner at the MGM Grand. The winner will also be flown out to next month's Eclipse Awards ceremonies in Miami Beach, Florida where he will officially be crowned the new DRF / NTRA Handicapper of the Year for 2002.