01/24/2014 10:09PM

National Handicapping Championship: Jose Arias of California tops Day 1 leaderboard

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Jose Arias has the lead entering Day 2 of the National Handicapping Championship.

A nearly full field competed on Day 1 of the National Handicapping Championship at the Treasure Island in Las Vegas on Friday. The leader at the end of Day 1 is Jose Arias, an environmental safety engineer from Bell Gardens, California, with a $198.80 bankroll. As Day 1 leader, Arias earned a $6,000 bonus and an expenses-paid trip to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

The top five Day 1 leaders earned bonuses. Rich Pawloski sits in second with $172.20 and earned a $5,000 bonus, followed by Tony Brice ($169, $4,000), Mike McIntyre ($168, $3,000) and John Wilhelm ($167.20, $2,000). The Top 10 is rounded out by Chris Skotz ($161), Francis Boustany ($158.60), Robert Bertolluci ($154.60), Craig Hom ($149), and Mike Hackworth ($140.40).

:: National Handicapping Championship leaderboard

NHC entrants were required to place 15 mythical $2 Win and Place wagers – seven on mandatory races that everyone played and eight on any of about 50 other races from seven designated racetracks across the country. Initially, there were supposed to be eight mandatory races and seven optionals but Aqueduct canceled on Friday due to weather conditions.

The day got off to a slow start with only a few high-priced horses coming in and favorites winning the first several mandatory races. The action picked up in the second half of the day with several longshots winning and scores rising accordingly.

Arias vaulted to the lead in the day’s final mandatory race by picking the 21-1 winner of the seventh at Santa Anita, a downhill turf allowance race. The winner was Macaabra, who paid $44.20 for a $2 win wager and $12.80 for the $2 place bet. For NHC purposes, payoffs are capped at 20-1 ($42) to win and 10-1 ($22) to place.

“I thought her closing numbers were the fastest,” Arias said of Macaabra. “There was a little bit of speed and I figured she had a good post to set her up for the run, which she did. She just mowed them down.”

Arias’s day could have been even better as he had two selections run third. Despite holding a lead in the world’s most prestigious handicapping tournament, the 36-year-old seemed very calm at the end of the day, showing impressive equanimity.

“My thing is to just not get nervous and do what you normally do,” Arias said. “The years that I’ve been handicapping, since I was 15 years old, it all pays off. You just keep calm and pick winners.”

:: Get comprehensive, real-time coverage of the NHC

Only one Day 1 leader has ever gone on to win the NHC – Brian Troop in 2010. That year, Troop posted what was then the highest single-day total in history with $232.60 on Day 1. Last year Richard Grosse tallied a single-day record of $235.60, but for that year only the format included $4 win-place “best bet” options, one of which Grosse hit with a $76 winner.

The three-day NHC continues Saturday at Treasure Island in Las Vegas. Things will get interesting as players jockey for position in an attempt to finish in the Top 50 and advance to the  third day of competition. Day 1 bankrolls will carry over to Day 2, which will have the intended eight mandatory races and seven optionals. The top 50 after Day 2 will continue on to a “Final 50” tournament Sunday and the top 10 will play at the “Final Table” later Sunday to determine the final rankings, including the $750,000 grand prize and Eclipse Award winner. Players outside the Final 50 will play in a separate $75,000 consolation tournament on Sunday with reset mythical bankrolls.

Mandatory races for Saturday

Saturday’s eight mandatory races are, in chronological order: Gulfstream Park, Race 5 (11:36 a.m. Pacific); Tampa Bay Downs, Race 8 (12:53 p.m.); Tampa Bay, Race 9 (1:22 p.m.); Gulfstream, Race 10 (2:03 p.m.); Santa Anita, Race 7 (3 p.m.); Santa Anita, Race 8 (3:30 p.m.); Santa Anita, Race 9 (4 p.m.); and Golden Gate Fields, Race 8 (4:15 p.m.).