LAS VEGAS - Friday's opening day of the two-day Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship didn't have a ton of longshots, but that was fine with Thomas Mooney, 55, of Lindenhurst, N.Y.
Mooney finished the first day with the top score of $152 after making 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers with eight plays being mandatory and seven being player's choice from the seven available contest tracks. Payoffs are capped at $42 to win and $22 to place. In big-time horse racing tournaments - and this is one of the biggest of all time with a field of 301 going for a purse of $962,000, including $500,000 to the champion - you usually have to hit a few bombs to be in contention, but they were hard to find on Friday.
I'm not a cap player, said Mooney, who has been playing the ponies since first visiting Belmont when he was 20. I didn't hit any huge prices but I had six winners overall and I don't play chalk. I missed on the first five mandatories, but they were all chalky.
In fact, the win mutuels for the first five mandatories were $4, $15, $6.90, $4.40, and $5.20.
Meanwhile, Mooney got on the board with one of his elective plays in the fourth at Tampa Bay with Marky P, who paid $28 to win and $10.20 to place. He added two smaller winners at Tampa and Fair Grounds and then made his big move at just after 2:15 p.m. Pacific. He used Candle Maker, a first-time starter from Bill Mott's barn, in the ninth at Gulfstream and that paid $25.40 to win and $9.40 to place. Just a few minutes he finally hit a mandatory race with Joshua's Dream in the ninth race at Oaklawn, paying $18.80 to win and $9.40 too place.
That put him into a tie with Robert Swickard, 59, of Commerce Township, Mich., at $132 when the next scoring update was announced. Mooney then added a second mandatory winner with Mr. Grumpy Stripes in the ninth at Oaklawn, which paid $11.40 to win and $4.80 to place.
That put Mooney at his total of $152 to win the $2,500 for the top prize on Friday. Swickard held on with a score of $134.80 to collect the second-place daily prize of $2,000. Louis Licata, 49, of Independence, Ohio, is sitting in third with $136.60 to earn him $1,500. Joe Rotell, 47, of Farrell, Pa., who was in first place most of the day Friday, held on for fourth with a score of $132.40 to win $1,000, and Terry Nolan, 46, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., rounded out the top five to collect $500 for his score of $128.60.
Mooney, who qualified this year in the Aug. 23 tourney at NHCqualify.com, said he's not used to being in the lead - Look at this body, all I can do is go slow and steady, he joked - but he doesn't plan to change his strategy.
I'm not going to do anything different, he said. I'm going to go to dinner and won't even look at the Racing Form. I hope that doesn't offend those who think they have to handicap for hours and hours, but I'll get up and go to the book at 8 a.m. like I did today and quickly go through all the cards. I'll find some later races that I want to save some plays for, but other than that I'll just handicap as the races come along.
Mooney said his 30 years on Wall Street as a financial analyst helps him make decisions on the fly.
As for his handicapping style, he said, I'm a DRF guy.
NHC X concludes Saturday with the contestants making 15 more plays. Winners will receive their awards at a 7:30 p.m. banquet. Saturday's daily prizes increase to $5,000 for first, $3,000 for second, $2,000 for third, $1,500 for fourth, and $1,000 for fifth.