01/26/2014 10:56PM

National Handicapping Championship: Arias holds on to win

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Jose Arias of Los Angeles won $750,000 by capturing the National Handicapping Championship with a final bankroll of $338.20.

Jose Arias is $750,000 richer after hanging on to win at the final table of the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at Treasure Island in Las Vegas on Sunday. Arias finished with a bankroll of $338.20, just ahead of Tony Brice at $337.

Arias, a 36-year-old environmental safety engineer from Bell Gardens in Los Angeles, came into Sunday with a two-day score of $326, a significantly higher total than any previous NHC winner.

But Arias’s work was not done. This year, for the first time, the NHC was expanded to a three-day format. The top 50 contestants from the first two days advanced to Day 3. After the first 10 races on Day 3, the field was winnowed down to a final table of 10 for a five-race contest of all mandatory races, with scores carrying over.

Arias started slowly on Day 3. But despite cooling off after his torrid first two days, none of his competitors was able to catch him, even with several prices coming in throughout the day.

In the second race at the final table, race 10 at Gulfstream Park, a six-furlong claimer, Arias picked up critical place dollars on Wonderfully, who paid $7 to place, just enough to hold off Brice. Brice picked the winner of the last contest race, Fit to Rule ($15.60 to win, $9.80 to place), who won Santa Anita’s race 9, another six-furlong claimer, but he still fell $1.20 short.

:: Get comprehensive coverage of the NHC

Even after the horses crossed the wire, Arias didn’t know who had won.

“I didn’t know because I thought that horse [Fit to Rule] was around 8-1,” Arias said. “Someone in the crowd told me the horse got bet down to 6-1, so I was trying to do the math. It was very hairy. I just made it. I’m still just walking on air. I can’t believe it.”

Brice knew there was a chance that Fit to Rule’s win might not be enough to get him there.

“Once I got to the final table, mainly I was just focused on finishing second,” he said. “Jose had such a great tournament, but I thought second might be there for me. I had to go with the horse I loved in the last race, even though I knew it probably wouldn’t be enough to win it.”

Arias, a cool customer throughout the contest, was gracious in victory. “There are so many great handicappers here, and I just did what I always do and tried to get a winner,” he said. “My horse didn’t win this time, but I’m so glad I just barely held on.”

Arias’s victory was popular with his fellow handicappers, especially the large California contingent, who swarmed the final table, offering high-fives, hugs, and handshakes and chanting, “Jose! Jose! Jose!”

By virtue of his victory, Arias automatically earns a spot in next year’s NHC finals.

The NHC finals paid out to the top 50 finishers from a total purse of $1,470,000. An additional $75,000 went to the top 20 in today’s Consolation Tournament. Including $247,000 paid out to the top finishers in the yearlong NHC Tour, plus $30,000 worth of Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge prizes in the form of entry fees, bankrolls, airfare, and hotel stays, the payouts this weekend to NHC contestants totaled a record $1,862,000.

The highest finish among seven previous NHC winners at this year’s event was recorded by 2001 champion Judy Wagner, who checked in 12th with a $266 bankroll, good for a $10,800 prize. No one has ever won the NHC more than once in the event’s 15-year history.

The top 10, with final bankroll and prize:
1. Jose Arias, $338.20 ($750,000 and Eclipse Award for Handicapper of the Year)
2. Tony Brice, $337 ($200,000)
3. Nick Alpino, $334.10 ($100,000)
4. Michael Piccola, $310.80 ($55,000)
5. Daniel Kovalesky, $310.70 ($30,000)
6. Paul Shurman, $302.60 ($17,000)
7. Christopher Skotz, $300.80 ($14,000)
8. Mike McIntyre, $299.80 ($12,900)
9. Ryan Flanders, $281.80 ($12,000)
10. Lynn McGuire, $273 ($11,600)