01/25/2013 5:17PM

National Handicapping Championship: Early leader makes aggressive use of best bet


LAS VEGAS – Richard Grose of Wentzville, Mo., didn’t hesitate in using his “best bet” on Friday’s first day of the 14th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship and it landed him in the early lead.

The 56-year-old Grose, who wrote his own handicapping program, took Grande Chica in the third race at Gulfstream Park, the first of eight mandatory races that each contestant each day in addition to seven optional selections. As in years past, NHC finalists make those 15 mythical wagers each day but this year they designate one of their mandatory plays as a best bet worth $4 to win and place.

A lot of tournament players prefer to hold onto such plays until later, but Grose had another plan.

“She came up as one of the top plays on my program and I got the odds I was looking for,” said Grose, who qualified for the NHC finals at horsetourneys.com. “I heard people talking about how the California tracks were going to be sloppy or with small fields, so I decided to let it rip. It seemed like no better time than the present.”

Grande Chica rallied in deep stretch to get up by a long nose over the 8-5 favorite Bin Elusive and paid $29 to win and $9.40 to place in the $15,000 claiming race. The score was worth $76.80 to Grose and a few smaller payoffs put him at $123 when the first leader board update was posted after the race.

Grose stayed at $123 the rest of the morning with no one making a big move on him. By the fourth mandatory race around 1:30 p.m, Pacific, he had increased his score to $182 with Eric Moomey of Aldie, Va., a distant second at $121.60. Jim LaMattina, of Stoneham, Mass., was third at $109.60, Tommy Massis of Toronto was fourth at $98.80 with James Nace of Egg Harbor Township, N.J. in fifth at $91.60.

But there’s a long way to go as the NHC finalists chase the $750,000 first-place prize and title of Handicapper of the Year. None of these leaders is guaranteed anything unless they hold on for daily money with $5,000 going to today’s leader, with $4,000 for second, $3,000 for third, $2,000 for fourth, and $1,000 for fifth.

The $1.5 million NHC runs through Saturday  in the ballrooms at the Treasure Island on the Las Vegas Strip. The field, which was expected to have 459 finalists had only 455 as of late Friday morning. Three players didn’t make the trip to Vegas due to illness while another had checked into the hotel but hadn’t registered at the tournament site.

Friday’s contest tracks were trimmed to six with the cancellation of Aqueduct, leaving just Gulfstream, Tampa Bay, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn, Golden Gate, and Santa Anita for contest plays. Tournament organizers had already decided not to use Aqueduct for any mandatory races just in case