LAS VEGAS -- Richard Goodall doesn't have to go far to take home the $500,000 first-place prize he won Saturday in the ninth annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at the Red Rock Resort.
The 64-year-old Goodall lives right here in Las Vegas with his wife, Sally, and has earned the title of 2007 Handicapper after topping a field of 277 in the two-day tournament that concludes a year-long series of qualifying contests from around the country.
"This is my biggest racing thrill," said Goodall, who is a veteran tournament player and also owns horses with Bryan Wagner, husband of NHC II champion Judy Wagner, "and that's only because of my wife. She's with me all the time in these tournaments. Winning this has been a big goal of ours."
The NHC finalists made 15 mythical $2 win-and place bets each day with eight of them being mandatory races that everyone had to play and the others being player's choice from seven contest tracks. Prices were capped at $42 to win and $22 to place for contest scoring purposes.
Goodall finished with a final bankroll of $272.30 and set an NHC record for biggest margin of victory as he was $74 ahead of Don Beardsworth, 64, of Peoria, Ariz. The second- through fourth-place finishers were separated by just 40 cents. Beardsworth held on for second at $194.30, good for the $150,00 second-place prize from the purse of more than $1 million. Roberta Cote, 62, of San Diego finished just 30 cents behind Beardsworth but collected 33 percent less at $100,000. Albert Wong of Calgary was just a thin dime behind Cote at $193.90 to earn $45,000. Harry Seaman,, 58, of Goodland, Fla., rounded out the top five at $188.70 to take home $30,000.
In all, the NHC paid out $1 million to the top 30 finishers plus another $17,700 in daily prizes.
Goodall was in second place after the first day of competition and he said that affected his strategy.
"I held my optionals," he said. "I only played the mandatories for the first few hours so I could see what the other players did."
The cautious approach really paid off when he had Angle of Attack, which paid $18.60 to win and $8.40 to place, in the first mandatory race, Tampa Bay's third. He moved into the lead when the first scoring update was posted in the Red Rock race book. That really gave him the chance to be patient.
Goodall said he didn't use his first optional play until the eighth at Fair Grounds, and that was the right decision also as he used Big Love Bill, a 23-1 longshot in Fair Grounds' eighth race. The next update had him with a score of $252.30 and a commanding lead as only three competitors were within $64 (the amount of a horse capped at $42 to win and $22 to place).
After the day's final mandatory race, the scores were posted and Goodall was still ahead by the same amount. Goodall figured out he could be more than the $64 ahead if the 7-5 favorite won the ninth race at Golden Gate so he used Brigitta, who paid $4.80 to win and $2.60 to show.
"I was doing a lot of math to figure out what I needed," Goodall said. "The only way someone could catch me was with a bomb and I needed to safeguard against it."
Goodall said after that win was the first time he felt confident the championship was his.
Goodall also had the second-highest score Saturday to add another $3,000 to his winnings.
David Stalrit, 68, of Burbank, Calif., had a score of $131.20 on Saturday to win the $5,000 daily prize and he also finished 19th overall to earn another $4,600. Former Penn State quarterback John Sacca was third on the day at $117.80 to win $2,000 and NHC II champ Judy Wagner was fourth at $116.20 to earn $1,500.
Friday's top four were David Neuberger, who won $4,000; Goodall (yes, he had the second-highest score each day), who adds another $1,500 to his record haul of $504,500; Lorne Weiss, who won $1,000; and Steve Wolfson Sr., who collects $700.