01/25/2007 12:00AM

Five players grab Last Chance berths

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LAS VEGAS - Wednesday's Last Chance tournament at the Bally's race book here sent the final five qualifiers to Friday and Saturday's Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship and determined the final prize money for the eighth annual event.

The field drew a total of 215 entries at $300 apiece, with $250 going to the NHC purse, which was finalized at $836,750. The remaining $50 went to the Last Chance prize pool. But the main incentive for the entrants was to earn a spot in the NHC and a shot at the record $400,000 first-place prize and title of Handicapper of the Year. The NHC wraps up Saturday for the 255 qualifiers, who were to make 15 mythical $2 across-the-board wagers on each day of the two-day tournament.

The five final qualifiers - the only ones not featured in the official insert that was included in Friday's Daily Racing Form - are Christopher Parkinson, 30, of Forest Hill, Md.; Chris Piper, 47, of Las Vegas; Michael Carlat, 49, of Las Vegas; Paul Matties Sr., 60, of Rensselaer, N.Y.; and Arthur Jacobs, 65, of Omaha, Neb.

The contestants made 15 mythical $2 across-the-board wagers on races from four contest tracks: Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Santa Anita and Turfway. Contest points were based on the parimutuel payouts, capped at 25-1 to win, 12-1 to place, and 6-1 to show.

Parkinson won the Last Chance tournament with a final score of 201.80 points and received $3,440 in addition to his NHC berth. It was a late birthday present, as he turned 30 last Saturday. Parkinson also just got engaged to Charla Henson, who qualified for the NHC by winning a tournament at Belmont Park.

Parkinson hit longshot Paul's Hope in Santa Anita's fifth race. Paul's Hope returned $42.40 to win, $14.20 to place, and $7.20 to show for 63.80 in contest points. That put him in contention in midafternoon, and he vaulted to the lead when Rashaund won Turfway's eighth race and paid $59, $19.60, and $12. With the cap of $52 on the win end, she was worth 83.60 contest points - still enough for the victory.

Piper, who recently retired after working 17 years for MGM Mirage and is now self-employed, earned $2,687.50 for his second-place finish. After his first four horses failed to hit the board, his next nine plays finished in the money, including Paul's Hope. Piper hopes his hot streak continues in the NHC as he represents his hometown.

"Hopefully what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," he said of the first-place prize money.

Carlat also lives here, and he might have the best story of all. He saw the Last Chance as more like a second chance.

"I haven't been playing in tournaments trying to qualify because in September 2004 I suffered a massive heart attack," he said. "I wasn't supposed to live, last rites and all of that."

But he made a remarkable recovery, and on July 6, 2006, he had a stem-cell transplant and open-heart surgery and was taped for a show on medical miracles that is expected to air on the National Geographic or Discovery channels in late August or early September.

"I just had my six-month check-up and the doctors gave me a clean bill of health," he said, "and now I plan to play in a lot more handicapping tournaments."

Carlat, whose wife, Yamile, is a part-owner of 2004 Lane's End Stakes winner Sinister G, also had Paul's Hope and Rashaund, and finished with a score of 189.90 to pick up the $1,935 third-place prize.

Matties, who finished fourth, just 40 cents behind Carlat, with a score of 189.50, earned $1,505, but more importantly joins his two sons - Paul Jr. and Kevin, aka "Duke" - in the NHC finals.

Jacobs finished with a score of 178.70, 4.10 ahead of tournament veteran Mike Labriola, to earn the final NHC berth and pick up an additional $1,182.50. Former NHC champ Judy Wagner (2001) also just missed making the cut in eighth place with a score of 172.60.

In addition to their prize money and NHC entries, the five received hotel accommodations at Bally's on Thursday through Saturday nights, just like the other qualifiers.

NHC prize distribution finalized

With $53,750 added from the Last Chance tournament, that brings the final NHC purse to a record $836,750.

The only changes from the previously announced prizes are the daily prizes, which are now $10,000 for the top score each day, $7,500 for second, $4,000 for third, and $1,875 for fourth. Previously, it was $5,000 for first, $3,000 for second, and $2,000 for third; there was no fourth-place prize.

The team prize remains at $15,000. Defending champion Ron Rippey is not eligible for the team prize, nor are the 36 players who earned their berths online at nhcqualify.com, but the remaining 216 contestants will be split into 72 three-player teams based on where they qualified. The top combined score will split the team prize.

The prizes for the overall top 20 individual finishers also remain the same, with $400,000 for first place, $150,000 for second, $75,000 for third, $40,000 for fourth, $25,000 for fifth, $8,000 apiece for sixth through 10th, and $4,500 apiece for 11th through 20th.

The NHC format calls for each contestant to make 30 plays over the course of the two-day tournament. They make 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers each day, and eight of those plays per day are on mandatory races that everyone must use. The remaining seven daily plays can be from the contest tracks, which will include Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn, Golden Gate, Santa Anita, and Tampa Bay Downs.

Standings will be updated throughout each day at with end-of-the-day reports filed each night. The awards banquet takes place at 8 p.m Saturday in the Bally's Grand Ballroom.