01/27/2012 11:32PM

National Handicapping Championship: Nolan White, 36, leads field of 480 after Day 1

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LAS VEGAS – Call it beginner's luck if you want, but Nolan White hopes it continues.

White, a 36-year-old attorney from Canton, Texas, leads after the first day of the 13th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship presented by Sovereign Stable. There are 480 horse handicappers vying for the record $1 million first-place prize and title of 2011 Handicapper of the Year. NHC XIII concludes Saturday at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino, which is hosting the finals for the first time.

White posted a score of $164.30 on 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers in his first trip to the NHC finals. Alan Levitt, a 53-year-old retired physician from Baltimore, stands in second place at $151.40, while Sean Nolan, a 47-year-old retired military contractor is in third at $147.30.

NHC finalists have to earn their way into the field by winning or finishing high in qualifying tournaments over the past year. White made it into the NHC in his very first qualifier – “Beat the Host” at Xpressbet.com – when he finished third. The two players who finished above him hadn't signed up for the NHC Tour.

[NHC 13: Live updates, leader board, and video reports from Las Vegas]

White earned $2,500 for being the Day 1 leader, while Levitt, who qualified at Ellis Park/Horsetourneys.com, and Nolan, who made the field through NHCqualify.com, win $1,500 and $1,000, respectively.

 “When you're in the lead, people are going to come after you,” White said. “But I can't do anything different. I'm inexperienced at this, but maybe ignorance will be bliss.

“After I qualified, I played in some online tournaments to try and get more used to it, but nothing can simulate this,” he added while pointing to the Treasure Island ballroom that was packed with horseplayers and 18 big-screen projection TVs. “There are also more tracks and races available than in most contests.”

White was among 26 contestants that had 30-1 longshot Freddy the Cap in the first mandatory race of the day, the third race at Gulfstream Park. Freddy the Cap paid $62.20 to win and $21.80, but the win price was capped at $42 with the place price coming in just under the contest cap of $22 to place.

“I liked Freddy the Cap initially, but I decided to go with No. 3 [King Kitten] but when I saw he was bet down to 8-1, I voided my ticket and went back with Freddy,” White said.

White drifted down the leaderboard early in the afternoon as he only had a few place prices, but then he scored big in the fourth race at Santa Anita with an optional play on Melrose Woods, who paid $92.40 to win and $27.40 for a capped contest total of $64.

“I set up my picks throughout the day and looked where I thought I could take some shots,” White said. “I also liked the 4 in that race, but he scratched, so I went with Melrose Woods and knew I was back in it.”

About 10 minutes later, he had another winner in the sixth mandatory race of the day, the ninth at Fair Grounds with Gator Dawg, who paid $13.20 to win and $6.40 to place and put him in the lead.

White said he knows it's going to be tough hold off this talented field, especially with a lot of those behind him having vast tournament experience, but he has a lot of life experience as he was in the Army in the 82nd Airborne, battled testicular cancer, played football at Texas Tech and then went for his law degree.

In addition to Levitt, a four-time NHC qualifier, and Nolan, a six-time qualifier who finished runner-up to Judy Wagner in NHC II, the top 30 include veterans such as Joseph Corvi in seventh, Steve Davidowitz tied for 25th, David Gutfreund tied for 28th with Paul Weizer, and Paul Shurman - the NHC Tour winner who is also going for a $2 million bonus if he wins NHC XIII - in 30th. All are within one cap horse of the leader.

A link to the current leaderboard can be found on Daily Racing Form's dedicated NHC page   with Twitter updates posted by Dave Tuley @DRFInsidePost and video reports by Kenny Peck.