Updated on 09/17/2011 11:18PM

Two players in dead heat after NHC day one

Mark Lowe (left) and Leonard Wells finished in a dead-heat at the end of day one at the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at Bally's Las Vegas on Friday.

LAS VEGAS - Mark Lowe of Bayonet Point, Fla., and Leonard Wells of Ontario, Calf., were tied atop a bunched leaderboard of 225 players at the end day one of the $540,000 at Bally's Las Vegas on Friday.

Lowe, who qualified at Tampa Bay Downs, and Wells, representing the Golden State Rewards Network, both finished with $141.40. Each player earned $4,000 for having the top Friday score. Richard Murray, of North Hills, Calf., (Del Mar #2) ended day one in third with $137.40 and earned $2,000.

The overall winner of NHC VII will receive a record $250,000 grand prize and the title Handicapper of the Year when the competition concludes on Saturday.

All of the top three players are competing in their first NHC. Many of the nation's prominent tournament players in the field were conspicuously absent from the very top of the leader board, but some, like Tim Downs (17th place, $94.40) and Ross Gallo (26th, $87.60), lurk in contention. Defending champion Jamie Michelson Jr. finished day one in 33rd place with $80.40.

Scoring was based on mythical $2 win-and-place wagers on fifteen different races.

Players had to wager on eight mandatory races and picked seven additional races of their choosing from the eligible tracks: Aqueduct, Bay Meadows, Gulfstream Park, Laurel, Oaklawn Park and Santa Anita.

No horse paid more than 4-1 in the first five of eight seemingly wide-open mandatory races, but the leader board changed dramatically after the third at Santa Anita. Lowe, who works in manufacturing quality control, vaulted to the top of the pack when he nailed Add Heat ($92.20, $16). The colt was making his turf debut in the maiden event at 6 1/2 furlongs. The win price was capped at $42 per contest rules.

"I mulled over the race for 40 minutes," said Lowe, who noted that Add Heat's sire, Unusual Heat, had gotten an "A plus" rating as a turf sire in a handicapping newsletter he reads. "I picked it on breeding only."

Lowe, 58, also hit Patriot Game ($29.60, $10) in Gulfstream's sixth, Shakespearesister ($3.40, $2.80) in Gulfstream's eighth and Slew of Harmony ($8.40, $4.40) in the seventh at Bay Meadows, the last mandatory race on day one.

Wells, a 56-year-old retiree, struck on three longshots and climbed the standings through the day. His winners included: Patriot Game, Tioga Junction ($38.60, $9.80) in Santa Anita's fourth and Footie Two ($13.40, $6.80) in Oaklawn Park's ninth.

Seventeen players in the field are eligible for bonus money ranging from $250,000 to $1 million if they win the NHC. William Gonsoulin Jr. (Fair Grounds) from St. Bernard Parish, La., is the highest ranking bonus-eligible player, finishing Friday in ninth place with $116.20. He will receive $1 million from Churchill Downs Inc. if he can win the Championship.

The Golden State Rewards Network has a commanding lead in the team competition with $361.40. Team Tampa Bay Downs is a distant second with $258. Team Suffolk Downs finished day one in third with $254.90.

The competition resumes Sunday morning with Aqueduct's first race. The first mandatory race is the third at Gulfstream Park. The tournament ends with the 10th race at Santa Anita.

Updates will be posted all day Saturday at DRF.com. The entire NHC is being taped for a one-hour special to air on ESPN2 on Feb. 19.