01/27/2012 7:09PM

National Handicapping Championship starts with longshot scores

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A horseplayer gets some stress relief at Treasure Island Hotel and Casino.

LAS VEGAS - Will slow and steady win the race?

The 13th annual Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship started off with 26 of the record 482 qualifiers hitting a 30-1 longshot in the first mandatory race, but halfway through Day 1 of the two-day finals that pays $1 million to the 2011 Handicapper of the Year, Phil Hoedebeck, 49, of Wichita Falls, Texas, has moved into the lead as of 2 p.m. Pacific time.

Handicapping challenge finalists, all who had to earn their way into the field over the past year, make 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers today and tomorrow with eight mandatory races that everyone has to play each day, plus seven optional races from seven contest tracks.

In the first mandatory race of the tournament, the third at Gulfstream Park, Freddy the Cap won as a 30-1 longshot and 26 of the competition's finalists had him as their selection. The ballrooms at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino, hosting the event for the first time, were rocking as cheers of "C'mon, Freddy" and "Hang on 7" were heard throughout the tournament area (and hordes of people saying, "I almost played that one" after the race had been run.

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

Payoffs are capped at 20-1 to win and 10-1 to place, so Freddy the Cap was capped at $42 to win but paid the full $21.80 for his place price. Those 26 were tied after the first scoring update, but then the leaderboard thinned out as more races were run.

Hoedebeck wasn't among those 26 but cashed on six of his first nine plays to put up a midday score of $122.70. His big score came in the seventh at Gulfstream, a maiden claiming race, as Starship Quality won and paid $39.80 to win and $20 to place. Hoedebeck, who describes himself as a dental product specialist, qualified for the handicapping challenge at DerbyWars.com.

Lori Hoskins, 47, of Campbell, Calif., was hanging on in second place after being the first to pull away from those who had Freddy the Cap, as she also hit the next two mandatory races, with Woodruff Ridge winning the sixth at Tampa Bay (paying $12.20 to win and $5.20 to place) and Summertime Sal winning the seventh at Aqueduct (paying $5.40 to win and $2.90 to place). Her other score that put her in sole possession of first place was Max the Knife winning the fifth at Fair Grounds and paying $15.60 to win and $7 to place.

Hoskins, who qualified at TwinSpires.com, held the lead until Hoedebeck passed her after the update following the fourth mandatory race.

Today's action will wrap up with the eighth race at Santa Anita -- which is scheduled for 4:07 p.m. PST. It is also the eighth and final mandatory race of the day. Golden Gate is one of the contest tracks, but its eighth race was dropped from the contest.

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.