Updated on 09/16/2011 7:44AM

Oakland player proves a tiger

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Herman Miller topped the 177 finalists at the MGM Grand, winning $100,000 and the Eclipse Award as Handicapper of the Year.

LAS VEGAS - If the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship is the U.S. Open of horse handicapping tournaments, then Herman Miller did a great impression of Tiger Woods last Friday and Saturday at the MGM Grand.

And then he met him.

"After doing all my interviews after the tournament, I was going to see where the awards ceremony would be held when I saw Tiger Woods," Miller said Saturday night.

"I was only able to shake his hand and say I was happy to meet him before I got a dirty look from his bodyguard. But it was a real thrill. This is a day I'll never forget. "

Tiger had no idea he was shaking the hand of a fellow champion.

Miller, a 50-year-old landscaper from Oakland, Calif., won the National Handicapping Championship at the MGM Grand in a field of 177 handicappers who had to qualify for the event. The championship format involves making 15 mythical $2 win and place bets per day, eight on mandatory races that everyone must play and seven on optional races. Over the two-day event, Miller compiled the highest bankroll, $203.50, to outlast Tim O'Leary ($189) of Newville, Pa., and Don Speaks ($183) of Oceanside, Calif.

Miller was the leader after the first day with earnings of $135.90. His biggest score was Crazy Star in Gulfstream's 10th race. Crazy Star paid $75.20 to win and $22.60 to place, but contest rules capped payoffs at $42 to win and $22 to place.

On day two, Miller fell behind early but then closed with a rush. The ninth race at Santa Anita - the next-to-last race of the tournament - put him into the lead for good, as he tabbed Alystone Lane ($11.20 to win and $6.80 to place). Other contenders had one last shot at Miller, but no one had Back O Bourke ($13 to win and $5.20 to place) in the ninth race at Golden Gate, Miller's home track.

Miller earned $104,000 based on $100,000 for his first-place finish, plus $3,000 for posting the top score on Friday and another $1,000 for being on the fourth-place team from Golden Gate.

It's not surprising that Woods is Miller's idol. In the biographical information he filled out before the tournament, Miller listed golf and chess as his hobbies.

"Golf is like handicapping because it's you against the course," Miller said. "The last few days, I felt like I was playing against the races, not against the other players.

"Chess also helps me, because it's an analytical game, just like handicapping. You have to organize your strategy. I like to focus on a part of the board and then dominate that spot. I do the same in my handicapping."

Miller was critical of his performance, just as Woods has been known to be critical of his own play. "Not to sound conceited, but I should have had more," Miller said on Saturday. "I missed a play yesterday and would have had another winner at Aqueduct, so I only had 14 plays on the first day."

On Saturday, he said, "I really liked that Count V Ullmann," referring to the the 7-1 winner of the fourth race at Santa Anita, "but I got distracted and didn't get my play in on time."

Miller has been betting the horses since being taken to the track by a friend in 1988. The Golden Gate qualifier was his first tournament, but that doesn't mean he's a novice. Miller used his analytical mind to devise his own system for picking winners.

"I take the raw data from the Daily Racing Form and rely heavily on the Beyer Figures," he said. "I then come up with a formula in which I coordinate my speed/class/pace 'spectrum' and decide which is more important in that race. I also use other handicapping methods, with jockeys and trainers and the like. I especially like races with full fields in which I think the favorite is going to lose."

Miller wouldn't go into any more detail. He said he is working with a friend on a plan to start a website in which he will "share it with the public."

Miller exuded confidence, predicting he would successfully defend his title next year, and some media observers even commented that he was remarkably calm about all the attention and not thrilled by it at all, talking very matter-of-factly and rarely smiling.

But Miller's steely exterior cracked when a tournament official said he would call Miller next week to arrange for his Feb. 18 trip to Miami Beach, Fla., where he will accept his Eclipse Award for Handicapper of the Year.

For the first time, Miller cracked a smile and asked, "I get to meet Jerry Bailey?" Later, he said, "That's going to be the best part of all this, even better than the money. I get to meet my idols.

"Jerry Bailey is a really great jockey," Miller said, also expressing appreciation for Tiznow's trainer, Jay Robbins, "and so many others."

Miller will have to get used to the fact that people will be looking to meet him - racing's newest celebrity.