01/26/2008 1:00AM

Neuburger takes Day 1 prize at NHC

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LAS VEGAS - During the opening day of the ninth annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at the Red Rock Resort, photographer Harold Roth was going around taking pictures of the contestants as he does every year, especially those on the leaderboard.

When he approached David Neuburger of Forest Hills, N.Y., Roth said Neuburger didn’t want his picture taken. He took some anyway since that’s his job.

Well, Neuburger did his job as he finished Friday as the leader in the two-day tournament in which the winner will win $500,000 and be named Handicapper of the Year. In all, the NHC will award $1 million in prize money among the top 30 finishers, plus another $17,700 in daily prizes.

Neuburger won the Day 1 prize of $3,000 when he finished with a score of $150.50 from 15 mythical $2 win-and-place bets, eight of which were mandatory with the other seven being player’s choice from the remaining contest tracks, which included just Aqueduct, Tampa Bay, Gulfstream, Fair Grounds and Golden Gate after both Santa Anita and Oaklawn canceled their cards. For contest purposes, payoffs are capped at $42 to win and $22 to place.

Neuburger took over the lead when standings were posted at 12:49 p.m. Pacific time after the fourth mandatory race, the eighth at Aqueduct, when he had a score of $82.30. At that time, there was a logjam on the leaderboard as 36 contestants were still within $30 of the top spot.

By the 2:45 p.m. update after the eighth and final mandatory race, the eighth at Golden Gate, Neuburger had improved his score to $150.50 and only two contestants (five-time NHC qualifier Richard Goodall of Las Vegas and Steve Wolfson Sr., the father of NHV IV champ Steve Jr.) were within $30.

With Oaklawn and Santa Anita not running and only Golden Gate still available for optional plays, the room cleared out with just a smattering of contestants using the rest of their plays.

When the day had ended, Neuburger remained in first place to earn the daily prize. Calls to Neuburger’s room at the Red Rock were not answered after it was verified he was the Day 1 leader.

Goodall’s $148.90 held on for second and the $1,500 runner-up award.

Lorne Weiss of Thornhill, Ontario, waited out the extra time and used Tom’s Defense in the Golden Gate eighth race. When the 12-1 shot paid $26.60 to win and $12.40 to place, Weiss vaulted into third place with a score of $136.80 to earn the $1,000 third-place prize for the day. Wolfson was fourth with $136.80 to collect $700.

The leaders will have a bull’s eye on their backs as the rest of the field tries to catch them and cash the big money. In addition to the $500,000 top prize, second is worth $150,000, third is $100,000, fourth if $45,000, fifth is $25,000. Prizes are paid through 30th place.

All 278 players, even those who might be considered helplessly out of it such as the nine who ended the day with zero points -- including defending champion Stanley Bavlish of Virginia Beach, Va. -- will also be able to go for the increased daily prizes of $5,000 for the top score on Saturday, $3,000 for second, $2,000 for third and $1,500 for fourth. Interestingly, also among those tied for last are Sally Goodall (whose husband is in second place) and Jay D. Clark, who was the only no-show in the field.

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