12/31/2010 3:42PM

Hitting the road pays off big for Tom Noone


Tom Noone won $75,000 for compiling the most points on the National Handicapping Tour in 2010 and is eligible for a $2 million bonus if he goes on to win the $500,000 first-place prize in the Daily Racing Form /NTRA National Handicapping Championship at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas on Jan. 28-29.

But he insists it’s not about the money.

“The money is fantastic and I’m cashing the check, but it’s more about competing and proving I belong,” said Noone, 53, of Redondo Beach, Calif. “I entered the NHC Tour this year to see if I could do this, to see if I could beat all these great handicappers.”

In 2010, the NHC Tour had two levels of membership with Level 1 costing $100 but with those wanting to compete for the year-long prize putting up the Level 2 fee of $500. Tour members earned points based on their top five finishes in qualifying tournaments throughout the year. Tourney winners receive 3,000 points with 2,100 for second and so on, with a graduated scale depending on the number of entries (10 percent of entries received points, up to a maximum of 30).

Noone finished with 11,775 points to hold off Hesham Ragab (11,600) of Los Angeles and Eric Yee of Staten Island, N.Y., with 10,525.

Noone moved atop the leader board back on Preakness Day, May 15, by winning a free online tourney that was only open to NHC Tour members. That was added to an earlier win at NHCqualify.com on March 20 when he earned his sixth straight trip to the NHC finals.

“That’s when I knew I really had to make the effort to win this,” he said. “I love to play the online tourneys from home and I had planned to play some tourneys at tracks here in Southern California, but I knew to really have a chance to win I would have to do more traveling.”

Noone ended up traveling to Vegas for a couple of the one-day contests at Station Casino race books and also went to Saratoga in August as well as Keeneland and Turfway Park earlier in December. He also played in all six Fairplex tourneys in September as well as tourneys at Hollywood and Santa Anita. In all, he earned NHC Tour points in a whopping 13 events though only the top five scores count in his total.

It all came down to the final NHC Tour event of the year at Surfside Race Place in Del Mar, Calif., last Sunday and Monday, Dec. 26-27. Ragab and Yee were also in attendance as Ragab needed to finish first or second to pass Noone while Yee needed to win outright.

Surfside contestants make eight mythical $20 win-and-place wagers on the last eight races at Santa Anita each day with prices capped at $42 to win and $22 to place for contest scoring purposes. The scores are posted after every contest race and Noone said he was nervous the whole time.

“Hesham and Eric had great years so I knew they were capable of winning it,” Noone said. “I knew they would have to be going for longshots and I played even more of them than usual in case they hit. I’ve never been such a fan of favorites in my life. They were my friend this time.”

Neither of them was able to make a run and Noone had the title. Noone said he was saddened by the fact the Tour only had first-place prize money this year and that Ragab and Yee deserved more for their efforts, though they do all have exemptions for the 13th NHC in January 2012. He also added that the great thing about this game is that players are truly happy for each other’s success.

“The support I received from friends and fellow competitors in my quest for the Tour title was unbelievable and truly humbling,” said Noone, whose full-time job is as a service manager at a Ford dealership. “It really is the camaraderie and friendships we make along the journey which makes the Tour so special.”

California man wins final 2010 qualifier

Charles Bernhardt, 58, of Las Flores, Calif., won the Surfside tourney and the $12,700 first-place prize as he qualified for the NHC for the first time.

He finished with 1,336 points to hold off John Lovett (1,217) of Escondido, Calif and Stephen Stange (1,132) Albuquerque, N.M., who also earned NHC berths. Bernhardt was the leader after the first day and, like Noone, was cheering for favorites to come in and it wasn’t until the seventh race that a winner paid more than $10.

“I love horse racing and own and breed horses,” Bernhardt said. “I haven’t had one run since 2008, but I will have Dinnr With Nikki C running Sunday at Santa Anita [race 5].”

Bernhardt said he would use his winnings to pay some trainer bills.

NHC Tour news and notes

The 2011 NHC Tour kicks off early with a free online tourney this Sunday, Jan. 2. A new rule requires that everyone wanting to play for a spot in the 13th NHC in January 2012, when the prize pool will increase to an anticipated $2 million with a first-place prize of $1 million. must pay a $45 membership fee. This first tourney is only open to those who register early. The 2012 Tour will return to having guaranteed prize money for the top five finishers. For full details, go to ntra.com/nhctour

◗ NHCqualify.com, which sends the most qualifiers to the finals each year including 75 to this month’s 12th NHC, also gets an early start on next year’s finals with two-round monthly tourneys in January and February. Contestants pay $100 in the pre-qualifying tourneys, the first of which is Jan. 8, and try to earn their way into the monthly finals where players then compete for the NHC berths, which include hotel accommodations plus a $250 travel voucher. Full details are at nhcqualify.com

◗ For those still dreaming of qualifying for the 12th NHC, the appropriately named Last Chance Tournament is at the Red Rock on Wednesday, Jan. 26, two days before the finals, with an entry fee of $500 and three seats up for grabs. Seventy percent of the entry fees get added to the NHC purse.