01/27/2011 3:33PM

Q&A: Thomas Noone

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A service manager at an auto dealership in Redondo Beach, Calif., he was the winner of the National Handicapping Championship Tour in 2010. As such, he is eligible to win a $2 million bonus, in addition to the $500,000 first prize, should he prevail in the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship this weekend in Las Vegas.

Birthdate: May 10, 1957, in Torrance, Calif.

Family: Single

Got into racing because . . . “I was big into sports. I played Little League, then played baseball in high school. My dad and brother on Saturdays would take off for the track. One day, when I was 14 or 15, it rained, and I went to the track with them. You know what happens from there. Off it went. I’ve been a horseplayer since I was 15. I was just a $2 bettor then. When I was about 20, I claimed my first horse. Right now I have two horses, one with trainer Tom Proctor, one with Bobby Troeger. I’ve also had horses from time to time with my neighbor, Mike Mitchell.”

How does it feel to be shooting for as much money as the connections of Blame got for winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic? “I had never thought of it like that! There’s 303 other people there, and I’m friends with a lot of them. They’re super handicappers. It would be amazing if I pulled it off. If I won, I would retire, no two ways about it.”

You won the tour last year. How many tournaments did you play in 2010? “Probably 25. Most of them were online or in Southern California. I played at Fairplex, Surfside at Del Mar, Hollywood Park. I played three at Red Rock in Las Vegas or its sister properties. I did go to the Breeders’ Cup and Keeneland, but the majority of them were here in California.”

How much time do you spend playing tournaments compared to playing the horses at the track? “If I’m not playing a tournament, I’m going to the track. It’s probably 50-50. I go to Santa Anita on the weekends. I work Monday through Friday. I buy the hard copy of the Racing Form every day, but I’m pretty much a weekend player.”

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Do you approach tournaments differently than when you are playing at the track? “I do. At a tournament, I focus on it. I can get the past performances, watch a lot of races, do a lot of homework. At the track, it’s somewhat social. I go to enjoy the day, try to pick winners, and win money, but it’s more of a social thing, hanging out with friends. One of the things I like about tournaments is the camaraderie and the friendships I’ve made during the tour. You sit side by side with your competitors, but if he has a bomb going, you root for him. It’s like going with your buddies. I really want to thank everyone for their support during the tour. It was fabulous.”

You live in Southern California. Is that the circuit you play most? “I also enjoy betting Keeneland and Churchill Downs. I like betting Gulfstream Park, too.”

Do you think you could make a living playing the horses? Would you ever want to try that lifestyle? “By nature, I’m pretty conservative. I enjoy knowing where my mortgage payment is coming from. Could I do it? Maybe. But it’s not something I would want to try. I’m a pretty selective handicapper. At the track on a Saturday, I might only play four races. I’m very patient and selective. I like a paycheck coming in.”

Describe the things you go through when looking at a race? “I’m very big on conditions of the races. That’s the first thing I read. A lot of people playing don’t read the conditions. There might be a horse with a hidden class drop that people might not see. It might be a $12,500 claimer, but people don’t notice that it’s for nonwinners-of-two lifetime. You can get some good prices doing that.”

What are the elements of handicapping you find essential when evaluating a race? “Watching a lot of races. Sometimes a horse had a horrible trip, or a jockey took a horse back and he never had a chance to run. I find watching in person, or on television, very, very helpful. If everything looks the same, you want to find something different. Maybe a rider switch where the horse will be ridden differently or blinkers on or blinkers off.”

Do you watch horses warming up before betting? “I do. That’s one of the things that I love about Fairplex. I love to play tournaments at Fairplex because you can handicap the races, and you can watch them on the track real close. You can get a pretty good idea if a horse is sore or sweating. There are so many things you can see live.”

How did you learn to handicap? “I just kind of watched my dad and brother. I really enjoyed math. I picked up on the fractions. When I first started, 35 years ago, I had some favorites like Bobby Frankel’s Pataha Prince. That’s the first horse I bet on.”

Hopefully, you’ll have a different answer Saturday night. But, as of now, what’s your biggest score? “I won the 2004 Gold Coast Summer Classic for $123,000. That was very nice. And my biggest score at the windows happened that weekend. Just back from that tournament, I wanted to celebrate at Hollywood Park. I was so burned out from the tournament. I had a $56 voucher in my pocket. I came up with a pick-four play, going five deep in the first leg, then two by two by two. That was $40. I decided instead to buy all seven in the first leg, which made the ticket $56. Well, in the first leg, the longest shot wins and pays $105. That was one of the horses I wasn’t going to use. The pick four paid $9,500. It was the magic weekend. That’s when you know you’re going good.”

Do you just play the horses, or do you bet on other sports? “I just bet the horses. If I go to Las Vegas, I’ll bet a baseball game just to sit back and have a beer and watch the game. But that’s a Vegas thing.”

What’s your favorite track? “Fairplex. I love it. The ambience. It’s real tight. Everything is right there. You don’t need binoculars. And they have tournaments there. They are tough tournaments. Judy Wagner goes there. Ron Geary from Ellis Park is there. It’s a who’s who of handicappers.”

Best horse seen? “Affirmed was my favorite horse, but Spectacular Bid was the best horse I saw other than Zenyatta. I saw her run 16 times, including all of her Breeders’ Cup races. I missed her two races at Oaklawn, one at Del Mar, and one other race. I saw her maiden win. She galloped by looking at the stands.”

Hobbies? “This is pretty much it. I’m a race guy every weekend. I do enjoy visiting other tracks. I visited Saratoga last summer. I had a great time. Once or twice a year, I like to visit a new track that I’ve never been to before.”

Future ambitions? “If I win this, I’d retire. Some people retire and go shopping or buy golf clubs or go fishing. I’d go shopping at Keeneland in September. Wouldn’t that be fun?”