Chris Littlemore accepts a big check from NTRA president Alex Waldrop at the National Horseplayers Championships at Treasure Island, Las Vegas

Chris Littlemore accepts a big check from NTRA president Alex Waldrop at the National Horseplayers Championships at Treasure Island, Las Vegas

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Littlemore Scores at National Handicapping Championship

Littlemore seized the lead early and carried his advantage to the wire.

Chris Littlemore, a retired autoworker from Whitby, Ontario, Canada, was never seriously threatened throughout the semifinals and the Final Table, cruising to an $800,000 first-place prize and an Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year Feb. 11 at the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship presented by Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens, and Treasure Island Las Vegas.

The NHC had a record field of 702 entries (568 individual players, 134 of whom held the maximum two entries) and offered record overall cash and prizes totaling $2,974,700.

It's the second consecutive NHC victory by a Canadian from the Toronto area, following a similarly dominant performance by Ray Arsenault of Thornhill, Ontario, last year.

For his winning effort, Littlemore also receives a berth into next year's NHC finals, an entry to the Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship, an entry to the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge, and an annual subscription to STATS Race Lens.

The 58-year-old Littlemore amassed a winning score of $348.30 over the three-day tournament from 53 mythical $2 win and place bets—18 each on Friday and Saturday, 10 in Sunday morning's semifinal round and seven in the dramatic Final Table contest exclusive to the overall top 10.

"I didn't feel that confident," Littlemore said of entering day three as the leader. "I didn't like the card that well; I didn't like the races. I got lucky that a lot of chalk came in and kept me on top. I kept my distance. As the day wore on, I wasn't having a good day, so I just kept picking away, picking away. I was fortunate enough that no big longshots came in to overtake me, and I picked the right horse in the last and it got me through."

Keith Fenton of Fort Worth, Texas, came out on the winning end of a head-bobbing photo for second, posting a final bankroll of $315.10, good for a $250,000 prize. Garett Skiba of Hinsdale, Ill., picked War Heroine, the 9-2 winner in the contest finale, the Good Life Stakes at Santa Anita Park, but the return wasn't enough to help his position. Skiba will take home $125,000 thanks to his $314 bankroll.

The top 10

Finish - Name, Hometown (Final bankroll) - Cash and awards

First - Chris Littlemore, Whitby, Ontario, Canada ($348.30) - $800,000, Eclipse Award, STATS Race LensTM annual subscription, and berth to NHC 19

Second - Keith Fenton, Fort Worth, Texas ($315.10) - $250,000

Third - Garett Skiba, Hinsdale, Ill. ($314) - $125,000

Fourth - Tom Noone, Redondo Beach, Calif. ($287.60) - $100,000

Fifth - Stephanie Schmidt, Goodyear, Ariz. ($277.90) - $75,000

Sixth - Scott Carson, New York City ($267.80) - $62,000

Seventh - Gloria Kahlden, St. Petersburg, Fla. ($262.50) - $58,500

Eighth - David Watts, Vancouver, Wash. ($260.70) - $55,500

Ninth - John Roe, Brookfield, Ill. ($260.10) - $52,000

Tenth - Daniel Hart, Batesville, Ark. ($256.10) - $50,000

Littlemore first assumed the lead Saturday mid-afternoon when he landed an 18-1 winner, Holiday's Angel, in the seventh at Oaklawn Park, followed later by a 12-1 shot, Dano's Dream, in the eighth at Golden Gate Fields. At the end of Day 1 Littlemore was in 11th place with a bankroll of $124.60.

"My goal the first day was to try to get to $100," he said. "I got $125. That was a good day. You have to have two pretty good days here to get to the money (top 10%). So when you have a good day, you're just trying to get to the money. That's my mindset."

This was the fifth NHC appearance for Littlemore, who had a single entry, earned as one of the top 150 NHC Tour finishers (67th). His previous best NHC finish was 29th in his first attempt, 2014. The father of two has one daughter currently in Australia on a student exchange program.

"It's life-changing for me," Littlemore said. "I'm paying for their education now, and that's great. It's ironic. I've got a buddy I retired with from work. He won $1 million two weeks ago on the lottery in Canada. For me to do this two or three weeks after that is astonishing, really. It's nuts."

Littlemore is now eligible for the $3 million NHC-BCBC Rolling Double bonus should he go on to win the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge this November.

This was the first time multiple women made it to the Final Table. Only Lynn McGuire (2014), sister of contest veteran Mark McGuire, had made it in four previous years since the Final Table format was introduced.

The NHC was held for the seventh straight year in the Treasure Island ballroom and will return to Treasure Island for #NHC19 in February 2019.

In the NHC Future Wager offered by Treasure Island's race book, Littlemore was part of the favored Field, consisting of those who qualified after Dec. 10. The Field closed at 4-1, returning $10 on a $2 wager.

The #NHC2018 finals awarded cash to the top 70 finishers (the top 10% overall) from a total purse of $2,311,750. An additional $50,000 went to the top 20 in Sunday's consolation tournament. Including $400,000 paid out to top finishers in the year-long NHC Tour, NHC Tour travel awards, and other prizes, plus $42,000 worth of Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge and Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship entries, the aggregate value of payouts this weekend in NHC cash and prizes totaled a record $2,974,700.

This is the fifth consecutive year with a three-day format including the semifinals and Final Table. The Final Table participants were relocated to a single table on the stage of the Treasure Island ballroom that serves as NHC headquarters.

Full standings can be viewed online at NTRA.com, where the LUXAIR Jets Leaderboard features sortable and searchable standings of the entire field.