10/09/2002 12:00AM

Championship will be held at Bally's


LAS VEGAS - Bally's Las Vegas resort-casino will play host to the $212,000 Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship on Jan. 17-18, the NTRA announced Wednesday.

The National Handicapping Championship is the culmination of a year-long process in which players have to earn their way to the finals by finishing among the leaders in sanctioned events.

Forty-four NTRA member sites - including tracks, OTBs, casinos and related websites - will send 204 qualifiers to Bally's. They will be joined by the defending champion, Herman Miller of Oakland, Calif., to shoot for the $100,000 first prize and a trip to the Eclipse Awards in Beverly Hills to receive the award as 2002 Handicapper of the Year.

Bally's takes over as host after the MGM Grand, the site of the first three finals, did not renew its contract.

"In just three years, this event has become the unquestioned leader in its field," said John Avello, Bally's director of race and sports books.

Many of the qualifying contests have no entry fees, which gives every racing fan a chance to test his or her skills and take a shot at big money.

"Horseplayers fuel our industry, and that's why we're so pleased to work with the NTRA and Bally's to recognize some of our game's very best customers," said Steven Crist, publisher of Daily Racing Form. "With so much prize money and the Handicapper of the Year title at stake, the National Handicapping Champ-ionship features a uniquely intense and electric atmosphere."

In the finals, each player selects 15 horses a day from races across the country, including eight mandatory races. The room reaches a fever pitch during those races because everyone has a rooting interest.

Individual standings pay down to 10th place. Contestants are also grouped into foursomes and compete for $32,000 in team prizes. First team prize is $20,000.

A $10,000 media charity event is also offered. Team Penthouse, which won last year's media tourney while being coached by DRF national handicapper Mike Watchmaker, will be back to defend its title.

Plenty of qualifying tournaments remain for this year's championship. A list is available at www.drf.-com/nhc/nhc.html. Finalists receive round-trip airfare for two to Las Vegas, hotel accommodations, and meals throughout the tournament.