11/23/2005 12:00AM

Defense attorney turns winning handicapper

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Mitch Schuman, a criminal defense attorney from New York, has finally qualified for the 2006 Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship.

Three weeks after finishing first in one of the toughest tournament fields all year at the Ultimate Handicappers Invitational at Canterbury Park - a non-NHC qualifying event - Schuman, won the Autotote Live Money contest on Saturday, earning his second trip in three years to the NHC finals. NHC VII will be held at Bally's Las Vegas on Jan. 27-28, 2006.

"I'm relieved," said Schuman, who earned $3,950 in prize money for the Autotote victory. "It came down to the wire, but it was fun."

Schuman, 48, said it was the 20th tournament he played this year, 14 of which were NHC qualifiers. He had trips to other qualifying tournaments booked for next month, in case he hadn't yet qualified. Now he will be trying to cancel them.

In the Ultimate Handicappers Invitational on Breeders' Cup Day, he defeated 34 players - 23 of whom are current or past NHC qualifiers. Despite winning the $21,000 first prize, Schuman, at the time, said: "'I'm desperate to qualify."

Schuman came from well behind to win in the Autotote tournament over 78 other players. His starting $200 real-money bankroll had dwindled to $56. He decided to dive "all-in" with a win bet in Laurel Park's seventh race on Smart N Classy, who paid $31.40 to put him briefly in the lead. After dropping to third, Schuman bet $20 to win and $150 to place on Sundrop ($17.20, $6.20), the winner of Churchill's Cardinal Handicap. Still in third place going into the last race of the tournament, Schuman risked his entire bankroll with a place bet on 4-5 favorite Arch Assault in the 10th at Churchill. The horse won easily, paying $3.20 to place. Schuman's final bankroll of $2,153.80 put him well in front after the leaders opted to sit on their totals and pass the race.

The one-day Autotote contest required players who put up the $100 entry fee to bet a minimum of $20 on each of at least 10 races from Aqueduct, Calder, Churchill, Laurel and Philadelphia Park. Contestants could play in person at the Sports Haven in New Haven, Conn., or over the phone. Schuman, who had two entries, played over the phone and was able to track a live scoreboard online.

Schuman has been playing tournaments only since early 2003 but has already established quite a record on the national circuit. Schuman finished 105th in the 2004 NHC after qualifying by winning the prestigious Bettor Racing OTB Classic in 2003.

Grandmother wins at Meadowlands

Stacey McQueen, a semi-retired grandmother from Oakland, Calif., won the grand prize on the final night of the meet-long Meadowlands' Online Survival Challenge, which concluded Nov. 12.

McQueen earned a berth into the DRF/NTRA Championship and earned $2,500 in prize money. She compiled a virtual bankroll of $555.80, based on $2 across-the-board wagers on three designated Meadowlands races each day of the 25-date meet. Her selection of Sixteen Acres in the final race on Nov. 12 paid $47.40 to win and $64.40 across the board, shooting her to the top of the leaderboard. She won by a mere $1.60 margin.

Contest moved to Louisiana Downs

The Fair Grounds NHC Qualifying Tournament, always a popular last-minute stop for players desperate to get into the finals, has been moved to Louisiana Downs. It will be held on Saturday, Dec. 10.

Despite the venue change, the tournament will remain part of a Churchill Downs $1 million bonus. The winner is eligible for the bonus if he goes on to win the NHC.

A total of three NHC berths are at stake in the contest, which costs $250 to enter with a maximum of three entries per person. Based on 160 entries, total purse money will be $20,000, with $10,000 going to the winner.

For more information, go to www.ladowns.com or contact Rafe Jordan at mrjordan@harrahs.com or 318-752-6897.