01/20/2005 1:00AM

Can Canadian man pull second sweep?

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Everyone who qualified for this weekend's Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at Bally's or next weekend's Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans has a great story.

But no one's story is as good as the one 61-year-old Tom Leslie of Richmond, British Columbia, can tell. He qualified for both big tournaments by winning qualifiers on back-to-back days.

Believe it or not.

A little background first. Leslie has had a lifetime love affair with horse racing. His father taught him to handicap and Leslie talks wistfully about the historic B.C. mile tracks of Brighouse and Lansdowne, which are now the sites of shopping malls. But even if the province lost some of its passion for horse racing, Leslie never did.

Like many horseplayers who turn to handicapping tournaments, Leslie knew what he was doing on his own circuit, but he wanted to test himself against top players. In 2003, he played in an NHC qualifier at Hastings.

"It was a two-day tournament and I was in the top 10 or 20 the first day, but didn't do anything the second day," he said.

Afterward, Leslie read in the "Handicapping Contest Handbook" by DRF's Noel Michaels that one of the best tournaments was at Turf Paradise.

"Some other people I talked to said the same thing, so I decided to check it out," Leslie said.

While Leslie's main residence is in B.C. with his wife, Maggie, the couple also has a condo in Phoenix, just a few miles from Turf Paradise. Unfortunately, when he tried to enter the December 2003 contest, the field of 200 was already full.

In the ensuing year, Leslie didn't play any tournaments. He made sure to enter in time for Turf Paradise's 2004 contest, but when he registered, he was told it was no longer a two-day qualifying event for the NHC. Instead, there were two separate tourneys, one on Dec. 11, to qualify for the NHC, and another on Dec. 12, to qualify for the World Series.

"I decided to try them both," Leslie said. "I didn't even dream about being in the money in either. I just wanted to have fun and see how well I could do."

In the NHC qualifier, players make 10 mythical $2 win and place bets on the Turf Paradise card. Leslie topped the field of 242 by turning his bankroll into $92.40 to win the $20,640 first prize. Leslie said he was happy to reach his goal of playing in the NHC and didn't even think of his chances in the World Series qualifier until he appeared on a radio show the following morning.

"The guy asked me, 'Are you going to win today, too?,' " Leslie recalled. "I thought it was a funny question, and I just said, 'I'm not playing to lose.' "

Under the same format, Leslie compiled $111 to win another $19,480 in a field of 229.

"More than $40,000 for two days at the races," he said. "Not too shabby."

Leslie said everyone was going crazy after his second victory, telling him what an amazing feat it was.

Leslie said he has no delusions of grandeur regarding the potential of a similar sweep of the NHC and World Series. He just wants to test himself again.

Leslie said he learned from his father that to be a successful horseplayer, you have to stay focused. He said that even though he mostly goes to the track for entertainment, he plays to win and believes hard work will be rewarded.

"You have to be good to be lucky, and you have to be lucky to be good," Leslie said.

Final two NHC seats filled

Wednesday, Bally's held a contest called "Win a Place in the Big Show," the final qualifier for the NHC. A total of 62 contestants paid $250 to enter and made 15 parimutuel wagers of $50 apiece. Eighty percent of the entry fees were added to the NHC purse, with the remaining 20 percent being awarded to the top finishers. In addition, players were able to keep the proceeds from their winning wagers.

Dane Moore of Pinole, Calif., built his starting bankroll of $750 into $2,518.20 to win the tournament and collect the $3,050 first prize. But it wasn't about the money for Moore, a tournament veteran who played in last year's NHC but had failed to qualify this year.

"I'm already in the Orleans [World Series], so when I heard about this final chance for the NTRA tournament, I knew I had to go for it," Moore, 47, said. "I figured I had as good of a shot as anyone. I just had to play my way."

Moore stuck to his game plan of betting $1 trifecta wheels with his top pick, three other selections in the second slot, and then "all," filling out the rest of his $50 ticket with win and place bets and smaller tri's.

Turf Paradise also played a big role in this story. Moore got off the schneid when his selection of 11-1 shot Hes a Slew Tu topped a $523 trifecta in the fifth race there. But that wouldn't have been enough to win the tournament. Then lightning struck again in the seventh race when Moore's selection of Ace the Experts keyed a $1,581.20 trifecta.

Hello, IRS form, and hello, NHC berth.

Barry Seedman of Las Vegas, a regular in the Bally's race book, finished second with $1,753.40, earning him an additional $1,525 and the final spot in the NHC. Seedman didn't seem content with just getting in the field.

"I'm going to win the thing," he boldly predicted.

NHC purse increased to $412,400

The added money from the last-chance tourney brings the NHC purse to $412,400. First prize is still $200,000, with second place being increased from $70,000 to $75,000, third place going from $25,000 up to $30,000, and fourth place being increased from $15,000 to $17,400.

One person who won't be playing for the big money this year is Steven Walker, who won the inaugural NHC in 2000 and was the only handicapper to appear in the first five editions. His bid for a sixth berth fell short Wednesday as he finished eighth with a bankroll of $1,232.10.