Kyle King, a 30-year-old math teacher at a suburban Chicago high school, won Hawthorne’s live-money tournament on the Aug. 12 Arlington Million card to qualify for the first time to the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Presented by Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens™ and Treasure Island Las Vegas.

King’s wife, Elizabeth, had their first child, Evelyn, on New Year’s Eve. On his player bio, King wrote: “‘New dad wins NHC’ would make good headlines’” and answering the question of what he’d do with the $800,000 grand prize, “I guess I’ll be buying diapers if I win.” The NHC, with a record field of 702 entries, runs Friday through Sunday at Treasure Island Las Vegas. King, a University of Illinois math major who grew up in Lombard, Ill., is sharing his experience at the NHC with veteran turf journalist Jennie Rees.

King finished Day One of the NHC in 255th place with a mythical bankroll of $57.40. Competitors, using a mythical $2 win and $2 place bet on a horse, had to play eight mandatory races and 10 optionals from eight designated racetracks across the country.

What was the first day like for you? 

“It was certainly overwhelming at first. I thought I was super-prepared going in. And after the Florida races started and they started going all over the country, it was like left and right (looking at video boards), my brain was in circles a little bit. Eventually I picked a couple of winners and hung in there a little bit. My goal was to hit three or four of the smaller (mutuels) and hit one of the bombs. I did half of it. I did hit four of the smaller ones and just missed the bomb. So that means Saturday I need to hit two of the bombs.”

Will you approach it differently then for Day Two Saturday? 

“No, I’m not going to change my strategy. Because I was right there — one big horse away. So I just need to get a little lucky tomorrow and hit two. But I’m not going to do anything radically different and change my strategy.

“Will you change your coding (on his computer program he uses to bet and spent more than six years developing)?

“I’m not going to change my coding. I am going to be a little more prepared going in. Because with traveling Thursday (after getting off work) and everything, I didn’t have all the mandatory races done before today. So I have my homework set out for me today. Hopefully my head will be spinning a little slower tomorrow.”

Was it at all what you anticipated?

“I guess. But the only live tournaments I’d ever been in was the Hawthorne ones (Aug. 11 and 12, with him winning the 12th to qualify). Compared to this, that’s a lot more low-key. There are like 100 people in that tournament, but it’s more spread out on that location. So you don’t even know where they are. There’s no identifiers.

“This was pretty cool to be a part of — to compete against the best handicappers in the world and recognize last year’s champion and previous champs. That was pretty cool to at least try to compete against them. I hit the winner on four of eight mandatories, so that kept me alive. I wasn’t afraid to take the shorter horses in the mandatories, and kind of went after the bombs in the optionals. I struck out today, but hopefully I won’t strike out (Saturday) with the optionals.”

(Note: We called Kyle later in the evening after seeing the final Day One results).

Here are some of the people below you in the standings: Defending NHC champ Ray Arsenault, well-known professional handicapper Christian Hellmers, NHC Hall of Famer and 2011 NHC Tour winner Paul Shurman and 2012 NHC winner Michael Beychok. Does that put 255th in perspective?

“I have a grin on my face with you telling me that stuff. Yeah, that’s kind of cool. So today was the first day where I haven’t seen my little baby. I was talking to my wife and she was being all funny — she knows nothing about these contests. But she somehow managed to find the NTRA website, and she was following right along at home. She was texting me pictures of the leader board as she saw them. That was kind of cute.”

If I were to tell you that Ray Arsenault was 312th after the first day last year and won the whole thing…

“There’s still a chance. I’ll need to hit at least two bombs. But I’m holed up in my hotel room now doing my homework. So I know it’s possible. All those guys will be trying to do the same.”

If someone told you that after one day you’d be 255th and feel good about it, really …

“Yeah, that’s true. Some of the guys at my table, they were playing the tournament and they were also making cash bets on the side with their own money. I was like, I don’t know how. All my attention was focused on just making the 18 selections I needed to make. I thought to be able to do both, that seemed impressive from my perspective. But all them have done it before, I believe.”

Part 1 (’Math guy’ Kyle King discusses how he got interested in handicapping tournaments):