01/20/2009 12:00AM

NHC champion defeated competition, cancer


LAS VEGAS - Richard Goodall beat the odds in 2008.

He won the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at the Red Rock Resort here last January over 274 other contestants. In the two-day tournament, which has players make 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers each day, he not only won with a score of $272.30 in mutuel payoffs, but his $78 margin of victory was more than twice the previous record in the nine years of the NHC.

However, the record $500,000 first-place prize wasn't his biggest victory last year. He also beat prostate cancer.

"It was a great year," the 65-year-old Las Vegas resident said Monday as he prepares to defend his title this Friday and Saturday in NHC X. "The two best things were the money, that was great, but I also beat cancer. Forty-four treatments and it's all gone. I feel great. The doctor says it's like I never had it."

His overall health outlook wasn't as bright a year ago and it weighed heavily on his mind as well as with his wife, Sally. At last year's finals, he didn't want to talk about his condition. But he's proud to talk about it now.

Goodall actually had a regularly scheduled radiation treatment the morning of the first day of competition last year. He said at the time that he didn't want to have the treatment because it would drain him and he wanted to be strong for the grueling two-day tournament. This past Monday, he joked that "it also happened to be at the same time as the first mandatory race, and I couldn't miss that!"

Goodall didn't have a "doctor's note" for missing his appointment, so instead he took the big fake $500,000 check to his doctor's office to explain why he skipped his treatment.

"I told him I didn't know how much of a setback it would be, but I hoped this would cover it," Goodall said. "My doctor just laughed and said he totally understood."

Goodall said he has enjoyed his reign as Handicapper of the Year, but not in the way many would think.

"Winning the NHC is what you think it would be," he said. "It's a whirlwind tour - the radio shows, going to all the tracks, meeting a lot of people, people congratulating you all the time. I enjoyed all that, but who really loved it was my wife, Sally, and I loved watching her have the time of her life."

As champion, Goodall received an automatic exemption to this year's finals, and he made it his goal to help get his wife and son, Christopher, qualified as well. On March 9 at Santa Anita, Sally Goodall earned her seventh NHC berth, which is tied for second most in NHC history and one more than Richard has earned.

"We qualified so early this year that we didn't know what to do with ourselves, so we just went ahead and played in all the tournaments we usually play in anyway," he said.

Richard's son also made the field in the Aug. 30 NHCqualify.com tournament, so they will all be competing this weekend. Goodall is trying to be the first two-time NHC champion. Of the other eight champions, four others are in this year's 301-player field: Steven Walker (who won the inaugural NHC in 2000 and has qualified a record eight times), Judy Wagner (who won NHC II in 2001 and is a close friend of the Goodalls), Steve Wolfson Jr. (NHC IV in 2003), and Ron Rippey (NHC VII in 2006).

Except for the tournaments he played in, Goodall took some time off from betting the ponies in order to work on selling some of his health care-related businesses, saying he's ready to retire to just play tournaments and spend more time with his wife. He said he re-immersed himself into handicapping the past month to get back in the mindset to tackle the NHC, and said he's been doing very well.

"The odds are against me," Goodall said, "but I'm going to give it my best shot."

The way he made a mockery of the odds this past year, you might not want to bet against him.