01/30/2004 12:00AM

First qualifying tourney on tap

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Two weeks after the conclusion of the fifth Daily Racing Form/ National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas on Jan. 23-24, the whole thing will begin anew with the first qualifying contest of 2004, the Sports Haven Handicapping Challenge, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 7-8, in New Haven, Conn.

Now in its eighth year, the Sports Haven Challenge has become the richest handicapping tournament in the East. This year's event will offer prize money of $140,000 based on a maximum of 350 players at $400 per entry. The contest regularly draws a field of contestants from as many as 20 states throughout the Northeast and beyond.

First place in the two-day contest will be worth $50,000, and the top two finishers will qualify for the national final. A total of $120,000 will go to the top 25 finishers. Another $5,000 will go to the top three finishers on Saturday. The remaining $15,000 in prize money will go to Sunday's top three finishers, with $10,000 for first, $3,000 for second, and $2,000 for third.

The format includes 10 mythical $200 win, place, or show bets on each day's races from Aqueduct, Gulfstream, and Santa Anita. More information can be found on Autotote's website at www.ctotb.com.