11/19/2010 4:31PM

National Handicapping Championship standings suddenly get tighter


Thomas Noone, 53, of Redondo Beach, Calif., has led the National Handicapping Championship Tour year-long standings since Preakness Day, May 15, but now he has company near the top and it’s looking like it could come to a photo finish.

With slightly more than a month remaining and the number of qualifying tournaments dwindling, Noone has accumulated 11,775 points with Hesham Ragab, 49, of Los Angeles closing the gap at 11,600 after shipping east to win the Fall Handicapping Challenge at Aqueduct last Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 13-14.

Ragab earned $37,600 for winning the tournament, but he’s aiming for even bigger potential paydays as he had already qualified for the $1.1 million Daily Racing Form /NTRA National Handicapping Championship at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas on Jan. 28-29, 2011, and its $500,000 first-place prize. The NHC Tour title that Ragab is chasing Noone for has a $75,000 payoff, plus the winner is eligible for a $2 million bonus if he goes on to win 12th annual NHC.

NHC Tour members earn points based on their top five finishes in qualifying tournaments throughout the year. The basic membership is $100, or $500 for those who want to go for the year-long title (both levels are eligible for the $2 million bonus, though obviously those who play in more tourneys have a better chance). Tourney winners receive 3,000 points with 2,100 for second and so on, with a graduated scale depending on the number of entries (10 percent of entries can receive points, up to a maximum of 30).

Aqueduct was Ragab’s second tournament victory this year to go with a Fairplex Friday win on Sept. 24. He also had runner-up finishes at Surfside Race Place on Oct. 23 and Boulder Station in Las Vegas on June 26, plus he earned 1,400 points for a third-place finish at Santa Fe Station on July 31. Noone’s victories came at NHCqualify.com tourneys on March 30 and May 15 with runners-up at Fairplex tourneys on Sept. 17 and Sept. 25, plus 1,575 points earned for a fourth-place finish in an NHC Tour online tourney on Oct. 9. The latter, and its 175-point edge over Ragab’s fifth score, is the overall difference in their point totals. Since Ragab’s bottom score will be dropped if he has a higher score, he will need a third-place finish of his own to catch Noone and a first- or second-place finish to bypass him. (It’s interesting to note that Noone has scored in a whopping 11 qualifiers this year, but only the top five count; Ragab has scored in seven.)

James M. Henry of Torrance, Calif., is in third place with 8,925 points. He does not have a tourney victory to his credit this year but has three second-place finishes. He would need two wins to get past Noone.

Brian Chenvert of Rogers, Minn., actually has a better chance to pull off a fantastic finish as he has 8,127 points from just four contest scores and would get the full 3,000 if he were to win his third tourney of the year (to go with victories at Del Mar on July 31 and Fairplex on Sept. 10) and then he would need to make up the rest of the difference by topping the 552 points he earned at an NHCqualify.com event back on March 20.

Free online tourney added

West Point Thoroughbreds joined the NTRA as an industry sponsor last week and as part of that deal is hosting a free online qualifying tournament on Saturday, Nov. 27, with one NHC seat up for grabs, including round-trip airfare and hotel accommodations. The tourney will take place at http://games.ntra.com and will have contestants make mythical $2 win-and-place wagers on 10 races from designated contest races at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, and Hollywood Park.

Those on the Tour or otherwise trying to qualify for the NHC finals will obviously be interested in this tourney, but the second-place prize might be just as appealing to horse racing fans and anyone who has dreamed of owning a horse: The runner-up will receive a $3,000 credit toward the purchase of an interest in a West Point Thoroughbred racehorse. Third place will receive a WPT apparel package valued at $250.

◗ Other upcoming qualifiers: NHCqualify.com two-round final on Saturday, Dec. 4 (as of Friday morning, there were only 23 spots remaining for the Nov. 27 $100 pre-qualifier); Keeneland on Saturday, Dec. 4; Turfway Park on Sunday, Dec. 5; NHCqualify.com one-round tourneys on Saturday, Dec. 11, and Sunday, Dec. 19; and Beulah Park on Saturday, Dec. 18. The final NHC Tour event of 2010 will be at Surfside Race Place in Del Mar, Calif., on Dec. 26-27. We will preview that next month.

Virginia man tops BC Betting Challenge

The Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge was held for the second straight year over the two days of the Breeders’ Cup. The field of 95 put up the entry fee of $10,000 (or earned it through pre-qualifying satellite tournaments like they do in poker) with $2,500 going toward the prize pool and the remainder used as a live money bankroll. Robert Hansan of Reston, Va., built his bankroll to $44,863 to collect the $137,000 first-place prize and also earn a berth in the NHC finals.

Henry finished with a bankroll of $30,010 to take the $78,010 second-place prize with Dennis Decauwer of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., placing third at $24,893 to take home an additional $48,893. The BCBC rules call for the top finishers to earn NHC berths, but since Henry and Decauwer were already qualifers, the rest of the spots went to the fourth- through eighth-place finishers: Michael Moran, Brian Bingham, Kenneth Hopkins, Daniel Slattery, and Ron Bowden.