12/20/2010 4:37PM

National Handicapping Tour leader tries to maintain slim advantage over two rivals

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The final event on the 2010 National Handicapping Tour circuit will be held Sunday and Monday at the Surfside Race Place in Del Mar, Calif., and it has been a year-long chase for the title that comes with a $75,000 prize and the shot at a $2 million bonus if the champ goes on to win the $500,000 first-place prize at the 12th annual Daily Racing Form /NTRA National Handicapping Championship at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas on Jan. 28-29.

The race has come down to Thomas Noone, 53, of Redondo Beach, Calif.; Hesham Ragab, 49, of Los Angeles; and Eric Yee of Staten Island, N.Y., with Yee trying to make it cross-country and into the starting gate for the final contest.

NHC Tour members earn points based on their top five finishes in qualifying tournaments throughout the year. The basic membership was $100, or $500 for those who want to go for the year-long title. 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).

Noone, who has 11,775 Tour points has been atop the leaderboard since winning the NTRA’s online tourney on Preakness Day, May 15. Ragab, with 11,600 Tour points, moved into second place last month by winning the Fall Handicapping Challenge at Aqueduct on Nov. 13-14.

Neither has been able to add to his totals. Yee, on the other hand, was among the leaders early in the year after earning his NHC seat with a second-place finish in the NHC Tour’s online tourney on Feb. 20 and then winning the Xpressbet Showdown on April 17. He was as high as second place in June but added only a few minor finishes until catching fire this month. On Dec. 4, he finished second in a tourney at NHCqualify.com to increase his total to 9,259 and then last Saturday he notched another second-place finish at Beulah Park. Because only the top five scores count for each person’s Tour total, a previous 834 points had to be dropped and Yee’s total now stands at 10,525.

The Beulah tourney is another popular late destination for handicappers trying to qualify for the NHC because it offers six spots, or for those looking to add to their Tour points. Contestants made 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers on the day. Beulah’s live card was supposed to be part of the tourney, but racing was canceled and players used all 15 plays from eight simulcast tracks. Bob Rubin of Stuart, Fla., won with a final score of $150.20 to take the $17,950 first-place prize and qualify for the NHC, with Yee in second place at $123.20 to earn $7,180.

“I was actually leading the tournament most of the day but he [Rubin] passed me late in the afternoon and I wasn’t able to find any more winners to catch him,” Yee said.

It’s worth noting that even if Yee had won, the 900 additional Tour points would still have him trailing Noone and Ragab.

With Yee and sixth-place finisher James Templin of West Chester, Pa., already having qualified for the NHC, the other five spots went to Dennis Martin of Toronto; Gina Turner of Galloway, Ohio; Chris Russo of Staten Island, N.Y.; Matthew Fuchs of Grove City, Ohio; and Todd Stark of Mt. Sterling, Ky.

Yee took another shot at passing Noone and Ragab in the $400 buy-in online tourney at NHCqualify.com on Sunday, but finished 33rd. That tourney was also affected by weather when Hollywood Park canceled after its second race and erased three races that were to be used in the contest. The nine from that tournament to earn NHC seats were winner Frank Klich of Maspeth, N.Y.; Henry Damgaard of Charlottesville, Va.; Derek Isenberg of New Haven, Conn.; Dave Sellner of Palatine, Ill.; Alan Rudin of Burnaby, British Columbia; Kevin Geragnty of Mission Viejo, Calif.; Jerry Barash of Staten Island, N.Y.; Edmund Teichtt of Englewood Cliffs, N.J.; and Timothy Herboth of Chicago.

As it stands, Ragab can pass Noone for the Tour title if he finishes first or second (as long as Noone doesn’t win) at Surfside. Yee would need to win as a runner-up finish would only get him to 11,400 after his fifth score was dropped. But first Yee has to get there as he has more obstacles than his Southern California opponents face.

“I’m looking into flight options,” he said Monday morning. “With it being Christmas weekend, there’s not a lot of flights available and a lot of flights are full. I’d love to make it out there; it would be quite a showdown.”

Surfside contestants make eight mythical $20 win-and-place wagers on the last eight races at Santa Anita each day with prices capped at $42 to win and $22 to place for contest scoring purposes. Based on a full field of 200, first place is worth $10,000, $4,000 for second, $2,000 for third, $1,000 for fourth, $500 for fifth and $200 for sixth through 15th. The top three finishers who haven’t already qualified for the NHC will also earn seats in the finals, plus airfare and hotel accommodations in Vegas.

After this weekend, the only remaining spots in the NHC will be up for grabs in the aptly named Last Chance Tournament at the Red Rock on Wednesday, Jan. 26, two days before the finals. The entry fee is $500.

◗ Registration for 2011 NHC Tour memberships, which will be required to earn berths in the 13th annual NHC in January 2012, will cost $45 and are being accepted at ntra.com/nhctour. There will be three free online tournaments open to members, with the first being Jan. 2 with five berths up for grabs.