01/30/2010 1:00AM

Troop holding on to lead by $25


LAS VEGAS - Brian Troop is like the speed horse that opens up by daylight and then tries to hold on in deep stretch.

Through seven of the eight mandatory races on the final day of the 11th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, Troop of Barrie, Ontario, was holding on to a $25 lead with a score of $248.80, just $16.20 more than he started the day with after setting a record total on Day 1.

Stalking in second is Russell Weber, of Amityville, N.Y., at $223.60, with Tim Simmons of Lexington, Ky., moving into third at $220.60 ahead of Robert Gregory of Durango, Colo., at $211.20. Elaine Kowaleski of Farmingdale, N.J., was the only other competitor over $200 at $202.60, but the top 13 on the leaderboard were within a "cap horse" - scores are capped at $42 to win and $22 to place - of catching Troop. Last year, John Conte of Oceanside, N.Y., jumped from 11th to first in the final race of the tournament to win the $500,000 first-place prize.

The field of 300 horseplayers, who earned their spots in the NHC XI final through a series of qualifying tournaments, make 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers on each day of the two-day tournament. Eight of the races are mandatory and the other seven are player's choice. The seven contest tracks are Aqueduct, Laurel, Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn, Golden Gate, and Santa Anita. However, Laurel and Oaklawn canceled racing Saturday and Aqueduct only ran three races before canceling as well. That left contestants with just 44 total races in which to make their 15 plays.

Troop entered the day at $232.60 after he shattered the Day 1 record of $190 set by Gwyn Houston of Fallston, Md., way back in NHC II.

Troop earned his seat to NHC XI at Turfway Park on Dec. 6 when he finished in fourth place. He qualified for the contest because two players ahead of him had already qualified. Ricky Hurd of Lexington, Ky., who was fifth after Day 1 also qualified in that same Turfway tourney.

Weber made the field at NHCqualify.com, Simmons qualified at TVG.com, and Gregory made it through TwinSpires.com.