05/26/2010 11:00PM

Homework pays off on NHC tour

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A lot of horse racing handicappers try to specialize on a particular circuit. When it comes to tournaments, they certainly feel they have a home-field (or home-track) advantage against the competition.

Thomas Noone, 53, of Redondo Beach, Calif., seems to have found his own home-field advantage: at home. He has played four online tournaments at NHCqualify.com this year and has won two of them. His first victory in a full field of 200 entrants on March 20 earned him a berth in the 12th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas on Jan. 28-29, 2011, with an estimated purse of $1 million and a guaranteed $500,000 to the winner. His second win in a field of 176 on Preakness Day, May 15, put him atop the leaderboard in the year-long NHC Tour. The Tour champion wins $75,000 plus a $2 million bonus if he goes on to win NHC XII.

"I love playing the online tournaments because you don't have to travel," Noone said. "I'll spend four to five hours at home the night before watching replays to find things that might not be in the past performances."

Noone said his homework paid off in both victories, but especially on March 20.

"I had to work that day and put all my plays in at 7 a.m.," said Noone, who is a service manager at a Ford dealership. "It was probably a good thing that I relied on my preparation and didn't have the chance to change any horses, as I had two $40 horses."

Technically, his first winner, Wingedlie in the fourth race at Gulfstream, paid $53.80 to win and $19.80 to place, but contest rules cap payoffs at $42 to win and $22 to place. When Ice Box won the Florida Derby, paying $43.40 and $20.40 at the track, Noone's final score of $143.20 from 12 mythical $2 win and place bets got him his sixth straight trip to the NHC.

In the May 15 tourney at NHCqualify.com, Noone needed a score of $114 for the victory. He had only accumulated $15 through his first six plays that day, but then had Taqarub in the 10th race at Pimlico - the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap - for payouts of $28.60 to win and $15.60 to place.

"While watching the replay of his last race at Keeneland, I thought he won easily and they didn't really let him run," Noone said. "I thought he was a fresh horse at a nice price."

In the penultimate race of the contest - the eighth at Hollywood Park - Noone added Acclamation at $31 to win and $12.40, and then wrapped up his victory with Lookin At Lucky in the Preakness at $6.80 to win and $4.60 to place.

"I was $1.60 behind the leader heading into the last race," Noone said, "and I thought Lookin At Lucky was the best horse in the race."

NHC Tour members earn points based on their top five finishes in qualifying tournaments throughout the year. The basic membership is $100 and $500 for those who want to go for the year-long title (both levels are eligible for the $2 million bonus, though obviously those who play in more tourneys have a better chance). 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 can receive points, up to a maximum of 30).

Noone also finished 11th at Surfside Race Place in Del Mar, Calif., on April 17-18 to pick up an additional 715 points to give him 6,715 overall. Donald McNeil of Chicago is in second place with 5,625 points; Steve Meyer of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, is in third at 5,200; Eric Yee of Staten Island, N.Y., is in fourth at 5,100; and Joe Jarvie of Renton, Wash., is in fifth at 5,074.

"I signed up for the Level 2 membership because I wanted to make it my goal to win this," Noone said. "When I won the first one, I knew I would have to keep entering more contests to keep scoring points."

Noone said he'll be at Aliante Station on Saturday for its $200 buy-in qualifier. Of course, he'll be playing in the month-long contest at NHCqualify.com in June. As opposed to the one-day tourneys that NHCqualify.com held earlier this year, this has pre-qualifying tourneys with $100 buy-ins on the first three Saturdays of the month. June 5 is sold out, but more than 140 spots were available for the June 12 contest as of Thursday morning; the June 19 contest will go on sale at

approximately noon Eastern on June 15. The top 30 finishers in each pre-qualifier advance to the monthly finals on June 26, when the nine NHC berths will be up for grabs.

Flanzbaum wins Oaks/Derby event

The Oaks/Derby Challenge, held April 30-May 1, attracted a field of 822, the largest ever for an NHC Tour online qualifying tournament. This was the second of five free tourneys that are open only to NHC Tour members. The remaining ones will be July 24, Aug. 28, and Oct. 9.

Dave Flanzbaum of Rolling Meadows, Ill., won the Oaks/Derby Challenge with a score of $111.60. Playing under the online alias of Retiredandroasting, Alan Levitt of Baltimore, finished second with a score of $100.40, followed by Michael Harrington of Pensacola, Fla., at $98.60, and a tie for third place at $97 between Robert Gianquitti of Lake Worth, Fla., and Donald Bucholtz of Staten Island, N.Y.

The tournament awarded three NHC berths, but since Levitt had already qualified in the Xpressbet Showdown on April 17-19, the spots went to the fourth-place finisher as well. It came down to a tiebreaker between Gianquitti and Bucholtz. Both had the same number of first-place finishers, so it went to the second tiebreaker of highest single-race payoff and that was won by Gianquitti with Atta Boy Roy,

returning a combined $31.40 to win and place in the Churchill Downs Stakes.