10/23/2007 12:00AM

Calgary man qualifies with late rally

EmailVANCOUVER, British Columbia – Richard Lee came from well back to nose out Michael Puskas in the Hastings qualifying tournament for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship.

Lee, 42, earned first prize of $12,960 and a trip to the national championship. Puskas, along with third-place finisher Albert Wong, will join Lee on the trip.

Lee, who lives in Calgary, Alberta, won four of the last five races in the contest, including a bet on Sur Chi Chi, a $48.60 winner at Santa Anita. Under the rules of the contest, which was held Oct. 14, he was capped at $22 for the win.

“I was surprised that nobody else had him," said Lee. "When you're behind that late in the contest you have to find a horse that will get you back in the hunt. There's no need to bet on a 6-1 shot. He was one of about three horses I considered for the race, and luckily he turned out to be the winner."

Lee's final total of $145.70 narrowly edged Puskas at $142.95. Wong's total was $136.00.

Lee, who finished second in the Northlands Park qualifying contest in 2006, thinks he gained valuable experience at the national championship last year.

"I won the first race and then was blanked the rest of the way," he said. "I think I finished about 206th. I learned a lot, though, and I am looking forward to going back."

Prior to moving to Calgary in 2000, Lee lived in Vancouver and raced horses at Hastings. He owned a piece of King Jeremy, who was the horse of the year in British Columbia in 2000.

"My biggest thrill in racing was when King Jeremy finished second in the B.C. Derby," he said. "Winning the contest is right up there, too."

Puskas, 67, will be making his first trip to the national championship. He lives in Burnaby, B.C, a suburb of Vancouver. His most memorable experience in racing was seeing Spectacular Bid run at Santa Anita.

Wong, 49, resides in Calgary, and he represented Stampede Park in the 2005 national championship. He ranks a $27,000 payout for hitting eight of nine in a pick nine at Stampede Park as his most exciting experience at the track.