02/01/2010 1:00AM

NHC winner took it wire to wire

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LAS VEGAS - Canadian invader Brian Troop proved he wasn't cheap speed.

Troop, a 61-year-old accountant from Barrie, Ontario, had a record-setting Day 1 last Friday in the 11th running of the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship and then held off a field of 300 on Saturday at the Red Rock Resort in winning the $500,000 first-place prize and title of Handicapper of the Year.

:: NHC XI:

Troop's winning score was $266, with $232.60 of that coming on the first day when he shattered the record of $190 by Gwyn Houston way back in NHC II. A handful of contenders, led by runner-up Robert Gregory, 53, of Durango, Colo., made a run at the leader, but Troop's one winner and one place horse Saturday were enough to get him to the finish line in front.

"I was petrified that I was falling back to the field faster than Presious Passion," Troop said. "I was lucky a lot of short prices came in. I feel like I backed into it."

NHC XI finalists, who earned their berths in qualifying tournaments throughout 2009, made 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers each day with prices capped at $42 to win and $22 to place. Eight races each day were scheduled to be mandatory, but the cancellation of Aqueduct's Saturday card after the third race meant that players ended up playing 15 mandatory races over the two days and 15 optional plays.

For all intents and purposes, Troop won the tourney on Friday with six solid winners and one second-place horse. He hit on four of his eight mandatory plays: Glenwood Ace ($21.60) in the ninth race at Laurel; Brave Prospect ($25.40) in the fifth race at Golden Gate; Folk Dancer ($24.80) in the sixth at Santa Anita; and Andina ($8) in the seventh at Santa Anita.

"I don't like having to play mandatory races," Troop said. "I don't have to play mandatory races when I go to the track to bet, but I did okay with them today."

He did find his biggest winner in an elective race as he had Carlyn Darlyn at $39.60 in Aqueduct's ninth race. His other elective winner was Wasten Time ($26.40) in the ninth at Fair Grounds.

What might be the most impressive thing about Troop's feat is that he didn't have a single capped payoff. His place horse was the closest as the 20-1 Malusita paid $17.20 to place in Santa Anita's fourth race

"I just played the horses I had marked in my Form," Troop said Friday, adding that he got up at 3 a.m. to do his handicapping.

He said he got only about one hour of sleep Friday night as he pored over the past performances and tried to plan his strategy for Saturday.

"On Friday, I liked a lot of horses, but today I didn't like anything," he said Saturday. "I was getting more and more nervous, but the more favorites that won the better it was."

There were enough longshots to put a scare into Troop. The closers started making their moves in the morning, led by Russell Weber, 56, of Amityville, N.Y., and by Gregory. They were followed by Tim Simmons, 55, of Lexington, Ky.; Brian Herrity, 53, of Mankato, Minn.; and Elaine Kowaleski, 57, of Farmingdale, N.J.

Troop didn't add to his total until hitting the second mandatory race of the day, the sixth at Gulfstream, with Hollywood Left paying $10.60 to win and $5.60 to place. That took his total to $248.80 just after noon, and that's where he stayed the rest of the day on the leaderboard, which was updated after each mandatory race. He didn't add any more points until having Warrens Summergold, who paid $17.20 place, in Santa Anita's 10th race, an hour after the final mandatory race of the tourney. Without that, he would have lost by $1 and finished third.

Gregory got up for second, with a final score of $249.80 to collect $150,000. Simmons was third at $249.20 to win $100,000, plus another $5,000 for having the top Day 2 score of $181.80. Herrity finished fourth at $240.80 to take home $40,000 as well as another $1,000 for having Saturday's third-highest score. Kowaleski was fifth at $237.80, and she topped three women in the top 10.

In all, the top 30 finishers were paid out of a purse of $947,850.

Even though he scored only $33.40 on Saturday, Troop still posted the third-highest winning score in NHC history under the current format (instituted after Steven Walker won NHC I with a score of $305.40 from 40 total plays). His score was topped only by Steve Wolfson Jr.'s $279.60 in NHC VI and Richard Goodall's $272.30 in NHC IX. Troop's Day 1 score was higher than three past champions' two-day scores.

NHC finalists represent the sites where they qualified. Troop made the field at the Turfway Park tournament on Dec. 6. Three of the top five finishers qualified in online tourneys: Gregory (TwinSpires.com), Simmons (TVG.com), and Kowaleski (NHCQualify.com). Herrity earned his seat by finishing second in the $10,000 buy-in Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge at Santa Anita on Nov. 6-7.

With NHC XI in the books, there already are front-runners in qualifying for NHC XII, to be held Jan. 28-29, 2012, at the Red Rock. Eight already are in the field: Troop with a sponsor's exemption as defending champ, the top five finishers in the '09 NHC Tour (Bryan Wagner and Judy Wagner of New Orleans; Steven Hartshorn of Newport Beach, Calif; Michael Labriola of Richmond, Calif.; and Shawn Turner of Middletown, Md.), and the top two finishers from the Red Rock Shootout held Sunday (John Nichols Jr. of Louisville, Ky., and Joe DeMaria of Las Vegas)

Will any of those go wire to wire?