Updated on 01/24/2015 10:59PM

NHC: Three former champions reach final 50

John O'Neil of Huntington Station, N.Y., is the leader heading into the final day of the National Handicapping Championship with a bankroll of $253.

Three former champions – Brian Troop, Michael Beychok, and John Conte - have made their way into the final 50 at the National Handicapping Championship, the world's richest handicapping contest with more than $2.3 million in purses, held at the Treasure Island in Las Vegas.

The overall leader after the second day of the three-day event is  John O'Neil of Huntington Station, N.Y., who built his bankroll to $253.

O’Neil felt like he was unlucky to have not had an even better day.

:: DRF LIVE FROM NHC: Get real-time updates and insights from DRF reporters and handicappers, including live video

“I bobbed and weaved at the wrong time,” he said. “A couple of guys got really close to me but I feel fortunate about where I am.”

Troop  stands in 21st place with $162, Beychok is 24th at $158.80, and Conte  is 28th with $156.60.

Conte and Beychok were both thrilled about the possibility of becoming the first two-time NHC champion. “Whoever does that, they should put his face up on Mount Rushmore right next to the presidents,” said Conte, the 2009 winner.

Beychok, who won $1 million at the 2012 NHC thinks it would be great for racing if there could be a repeat winner.

“Of course I want to be the guy,” he said, “But if it’s not me, I’ll be rooting for one of them.”

Jonathon Kinchen of Euless, Texas, playing in his first NHC, has two entries in the top 10. He sits in third with $217.40 and seventh with $189.

Kinchen utilized a smart strategy to manage his two tickets. In races where he didn’t have strong opinions, he either fired one bullet or used his two bullets on different horses. When his opinion was strong, he fired on both.

Kinchen hit with big longshot Double Secret in the 10th at Tampa Bay.

 "She ran on December 26th, first time turf sprinting and she drilled them," he said of the filly who went 20 seconds and change in the opening quarter-mile. "She was the speed of the speed here. I've quit picking closers in turf sprints even if there's a lot of speed. Because the speed of the speed usually wins."

 Last year, the two players who landed both their entries in the top 50 received a bonus and only carried one entry forward. Due to a rule change, Kinchen will continue to play both entries until the cut down to 10. At that point, he would receive 11th money for one entry, and play the other one forward.  

The pack is remarkably tight. The gap between 16th ($164.50) and 50th ($145.4) is less than $20, which should make for some excellent drama Sunday afternoon. The day will commence with the field of 50 playing 10 optional races between the start of the day and the cut-off point mid-afternoon.

At that point, the field will be winnowed down to 10  with that remaining group proceeding to the Final Table, where they will make seven final plays, all in mandatory races (see below for a list).

Tune in to DRF Live for complete coverage of the final table starting at noon Pacific.. Before that, look to DRF Live for regular updates as the field of 50 competes to make it down to 10.

All players in the final 50 are guaranteed to win at least $10,000, with $800,000 going to the winner. Click here for the full leader board after day 2.

Final Table/NHCQualify.com Win a Seat races

Early Saturday morning, tournament officials released the list of seven mandatory races for Sunday’s Final Table. Those races, in chronological order (with Pacific time estimated post) are: Tampa Bay, Race 10 (1:50 p.m.); Gulfstream, Race 10 (2:06 p.m.); Gulfstream, Race 11 (2:38 p.m.); Oaklawn, Race 9 (3:10 p.m.); Santa Anita, Race 7 (3:30 p.m.); Santa Anita, Race 8 (4 p.m.); Santa Anita, Race 9 (4:30 p.m.)

These races will also be used on NHCQualify.com for the Play Along Win a Seat contest. For just $50, any member of the 2015 NHC Tour can win a seat to next year's NHC. For free past performances, go here.

Moomey fails to advance

Things just didn’t break right for NHC Tour champion Eric Moomey. He was playing for a $2 million bonus if  he won the whole tournament. He came into the day with $7 on each ticket, and ended up 493rd with $41.40 and 598th with $7.

"I showed up brimming with confidence and I'll leave the same way," said Moomey, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, "I played a good game, just didn’t hit anything. That's just how the cookie crumbles sometimes."

Asked if he considered throwing in the towel at any point, Moomey responded with his characteristic brio, "Never!"

Kolodzej chooses NHCQualify.com over NHC

For one player, NHC Tour qualifier John Kolodzej, $2.3 million in cash was not enough to lure him to Las Vegas for the NHC. He emailed the NTRA staff that when the time came to depart he simply did not feel like leaving his beachfront condo in Puerto Vallarta..

Kolodzej still played the horses on Saturday. He bought two entries on NHC.Qualify.com in their Play Along With the NHC contest. Unfortunately, both of his entries finished out of the money.