01/30/2008 1:00AM

A lawyer and the ladies steal the show


LAS VEGAS - At the awards banquet for the $1 million Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship last Saturday night at the Red Rock Resort, Richard Goodall was the man of the hour - but it was also ladies night.

Goodall, 64, of Las Vegas, won the $500,000 first-place prize for topping a field of 277 horse players in the two-day tournament that concludes a year-long series of qualifying contests from around the country and names the Handicapper of the Year.

When emcee Eric Wing asked him the obligatory question "What are you going to do with the money?" Goodall replied, "I'm going to give it to my wife."

That drew applause and cheers from the audience in the Red Rock Ballroom, especially from the women. But the women weren't just wives and girlfriends of the contestants. Twenty-five women were in the NHC field, a full 9 percent, and six of them - 25 percent - finished in the top 30.

Goodall also tried to deflect praise for his own accomplishment by pointing out that his wife of eight years, Sally, whom he met in the Chinatown district just west of the Strip, was playing in her sixth NHC compared to his fifth. As the reigning champion, he is given an automatic berth to next year's finals.

But he had plenty of right to brag if that were his nature. Contestants make 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers each day and Goodall compiled a score of $272.30, second-highest in the NHC's nine-year history behind Steve Wolfson Jr.'s $279.60 in NHC IV, and his $78 margin of victory smashed the previous record of $31.60 by James Michelson Jr. in NHC VI. And Goodall did it in consistent fashion, as he had the second-highest score on each day.

"It was just one of those things that happens for all of us horseplayers but far too infrequently," he said. "A couple of bombs hit late and I got lucky."

Goodall's luck was by design. He said the best advice he got from his wife was to go to sleep.

"I was fresh and able to make good decisions," he said, and he was able to formulate the winning strategy. "I held my optionals. I only played the mandatories for the first few hours so I could see what the other players did."

The cautious approach really paid off when he had Angle of Attack, who paid $18.60 to win and $8.40 to place, in the first mandatory race, Tampa Bay's third. He moved into the lead when the first scoring update was posted in the Red Rock race book, and that really gave him the chance to be patient.

Goodall said he didn't use his first optional play until the eighth at Fair Grounds, and he won that race with Big Love Bill, a 23-1 longshot. The next update had him with a score of $252.30 and a commanding lead. Only three competitors were within $64 and the payoffs are capped at $42 to win and $22 to place.

After the day's final mandatory race, the scores were posted and Goodall was still ahead by the same amount. Goodall figured out he could be more than a cap horse ahead with another $6.10, so in the ninth race at Golden Gate he used 7-5 favorite Brigitta, who won and paid $4.80 to win and $2.60 to place.

"I was doing a lot of math to figure out what I needed," Goodall said. "The only way someone could catch me was with a bomb and I needed to safeguard against it."

Don Beardsworth, 64, of Peoria, Ariz., was sitting in second behind Goodall in the last couple of scoring updates. Before the final race of the tournament, Santa Anita's 11th, he told his friends, "I went for the win with the 6."

In poker terminology, he was drawing dead because he wouldn't have caught Goodall even if his play, the 26-1 Soul Comet, had paid the maximum. But Beardsworth, who is part owner of the Black Diamond Racing stable, held on with a score of $194.30 to earn the second-place prize of $150,000.

While Goodall was well clear of the field, the second- through fourth-place finishers were separated by just 40 cents. Roberta Cote, 52, of San Diego finished just 30 cents behind Beardsworth but collected 33 percent less at $100,000. Albert Wong of Calgary was just a thin dime behind Cote at $193.90 to earn $45,000. Harry Seaman, 58, of Goodland, Fla., rounded out the top five at $188.70 to take home $30,000.

In all, the NHC paid out $1 million to the top 30 finishers plus another $17,700 in daily prizes.

David Neuburger of Forest Hills, N.Y., was the leader after Friday's action and earned $4,000. Goodall was second to pick up $1,500, with Lorne Weiss of Thornhill, Ontario, winning $1,000 and Steve Wolfson Sr. collecting $700.

Prizes were increased Saturday, and David Stalrit of Burbank, Calif., had the top score to earn $5,000, followed by Goodall ($3,000), former Penn St. quarterback John Sacca ($2,000) and NHC II champ Judy Wagner ($1,500).

Goodall spent most of his adult life as an attorney in Baltimore and used his earnings to start a health care company, which he sold in 1995. He is a longtime tournament player dating back to the Penn National World Series of Handicapping and Mike Lavine's World Cup tourneys in the 80s and 90s and has cashed often, but this was his biggest win by far. He has also owned horses with Bryan and Judy Wagner through a friendship they developed on the tournament circuit.

"This is my biggest racing thrill," Goodall said, "and that's only because of my wife. She's with me all the time in these tournaments. Winning this has been a big goal of ours."

During his acceptance speech, Goodall sincerely thanked all the friends he had met through handicapping tournaments.

"We have a fraternity here," he said. "Everyone wants to beat everyone else, but when they're out of it they root for you and it's not baloney."

Goodall told the crowd he's a longtime user of the Form and also uses Brisnet, but said the HTR software program of Ken Massa took his game to a new level.

And even though he had more than half a million dollars waiting for him, he said, "The luckiest day of my life was when I met my wife."