Early Leader Arias Wins Top Handicapper Title

Early Leader Arias Wins Top Handicapper Title
Photo: Horsephotos.com
Jose Arias

Jose Arias of Bell Gardens near Los Angeles topped a field of 500 to win the 15th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship Jan. 26 in Las Vegas.

Arias took home the $750,000 first-place prize and an Eclipse Award as "Handicapper of the Year" in this year's event presented by Racetrack Television Network, Sovereign Stable, and Treasure Island Las Vegas.

The 36-year-old environmental safety engineer amassed a winning score of $338.20 over the three-day tournament Jan. 24-26 from 45 mythical $2 win and place bets. They consisted of 15 each on Friday and Saturday, 10 in Sunday morning's Final 50 contest, and five in the climactic Final Table contest exclusive to the overall top 10.

Arias ($338.20) defeated Tony Brice ($337) by $1.20 in an extremely tight contest. Nick Alpino ($334.10) in third, was $4.10 behind the winner.

The NHC was held for the third straight year in the Treasure Island Ballroom.

The official Top 10, with final bankroll (and prize):

First - Jose Arias, $338.20 ($750,000 and Eclipse Award for Handicapper of the Year)
Second - Tony Brice, $337 ($200,000)
Third - Nick Alpino, $334.10 ($100,000)
Fourth - Michael Piccola, $310.80 ($55,000)
Fifth - Daniel Kovalesky, $310.70 ($30,000)
Sixth - Paul Shurman, $302.60 ($17,000)
Seventh - Christopher Skotz, $300.80 ($14,000)
Eighth - Mike McIntyre, $299.80 ($12,900)
Ninth - Ryan Flanders, $281.80 ($12,000)
Tenth - Lynn McGuire, $273 ($11,600)

Arias, who qualified for the NHC at Surfside Race Place at Del Mar, assumed the lead on the first day's final mandatory race and never looked back. Going into the NHC's final raceRace 9 at Santa Anita ParkArias held a slim $4.10 lead. His pick in the contest finale, Tribal Smoke, hit the front entering the stretch but was passed and finished third. The race winner, Fit to Rule, was the choice of Tony Brice, who came into the last race in third place, $26.60 behind.

"I didn't know because I thought that horse (Fit to Rule) was around 8-1," Arias said. "Someone in the crowd told me the horse got bet down to 6-1 so I was trying to do the math.

"It was very hairy. I just made it. I'm still just walking on air. I can't believe it. There are so many great handicappers here and I just did what I always do and tried to get a winner. My horse didn't win this time but I'm so glad I just barely held on."

Fit to Rule paid $15.60 and $9.80, leaving Brice behind in second.

Including a $6,000 Day 1 bonus he received for registering the top score on Friday, Arias won $756,000.

The victory by Arias was a popular one with his fellow handicappers, who swarmed the Final Table with congratulatory hugs and handshakes. A laid-back California guy who rarely betrayed any hint of nerves this weekend, Arias employs a straightforward approach to picking winners. 

"I use race replays and I read the DRF, that's it," Arias said. "There's a lot of great information in the Form and that's where I get most of my information."

By virtue of his victory, Arias also automatically earns an exemption into next year's NHC finals.

The NHC 15 finals paid out to the top 50 finishers from a total purse of $1,470,000. An additional $75,000 went to the top 20 in Sunday's consolation tournament. Including $247,000 paid out to top finishers in the year-long NHC Tour, plus $30,000 worth of Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge prizes in the form of entry fees, bankrolls, airfare and hotel, the aggregate payouts this weekend to NHC contestants totaled a record $1,862,000.

Full official standings for the NHC, including the consolation tournament, can be found at www.ntra.com.

More than 3,200 NHC Tour members participated in 2013 qualifiers, hoping to win a coveted spot in the NHC Finals.

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