08/09/2005 11:00PM

Handicapper rides 25-1 shot to victory

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When Dean Goulet made the hour drive to back to Nashua, N.H., from Suffolk Downs on Saturday evening, he still was unsure if he had done well enough to win the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship qualifier.

Sure, he had nailed 25-1 Love My Mountain in the seventh at Calder and cashed in five other races in the 15-race tournament, but without seeing the final scoreboard he couldn't be sure it was enough to top the 212-player field. "But I had a good feeling," Goulet said.

When Goulet got home and pulled up the Suffolk Downs website, he found out he did finish on top, clear of the runner-up by an $86 margin. In addition to the $4,240 first prize, Goulet, 32, qualified for the seventh NHC at Bally's Las Vegas on Jan. 27-28, 2006.

Goulet, who works for a large payroll processing company, compiled a mythical bankroll of $1,158, based on $20 win-and-place wagers on 15 pre-selected races from Suffolk Downs, Calder, Del Mar, Monmouth, and Saratoga. It was good enough to beat runner-up Daniel Murphy, of Cambridge, Mass., who finished with $1,072. Murphy also earned a berth into NHC VII and took home $1,696 in prize money.

Goulet, who says he plays the races five days a week and comes to Suffolk Downs almost every Saturday, was one of only four players in the contest to select Love My Mountain. The Suffolk Downs contest did not have an odds cap in place, so he received the full return on Love My Mountain, who paid $53.40 and $23.20.

"The horse had one race off a layoff, and he showed good speed," Goulet said. "He had been in only one turf race but he had trouble at the start. It was ugly at the gate, but after that he actually ran a big race."

The Suffolk Downs contest cost $100 to enter and drew players from 13 states and Canada.

Suffolk Downs will host another DRF/NTRA qualifying event on Oct. 22, offering one more spot in the championship.

Sunland

Chris Van Culn of Taos, N.M., survived an eight-minute objection against his longshot pick Tucked Away in the Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar en route to winning the Sunland Park Qualifying Handicapping Tournament Sunday.

Val Culn, 42, rose into contention on day one by selecting $44 winner My Dancen Diva in Del Mar's fourth race. After the stewards left up Tucked Away ($40.40 to win), Van Culn nailed Mightly Will ($5.60) in the ninth at Del Mar to seal the win in the field of more than 90 players. Van Culn earned the $5,000 first prize and qualified for the NHC.

Billy Grimes of Odessa, Tex., finished second, earning $2,500. Rosa Villareal of El Paso, Tex. was third, pocketing $1,000. Both Grimes and Villareal also qualified for NHC VII.

Players were required to make $60 worth of $2 win-and-place wagers on races from Arlington, Louisiana Downs, Ruidoso Downs, and Saratoga in the two-day contest.

Keeneland

John Wilhelm of Clarendon Hills, Ill., topped 492 entries (384 players) and took home the $14,000 first prize in the Keeneland Handicapping Challenge on July 30.

Wilhelm, 43, a financial consultant, built a bankroll of $119.60 based on $2 win-and-place wagers on six mandatory races and six optional races from Keeneland's simulcast menu.

Wilhem qualifies for the NHC along with runner-up Mike DaRif of Louisville, Ky., who finished with $111.80, and John DeVincenzo of Boca Raton, Fla., who finished third with $109.70.

Keeneland will host a second Handicapping Challenge on Dec. 3. The top three finishers from that event will also advance to NHC VII.

Monmouth Park next

Monmouth Park hosts its Handicapping Challenge on Aug. 21 with two NHC qualifying slots up from grabs. Prize money is estimated at $30,000 based on 300 entries.

The entry fee is $100, plus entrants must put up a $200 bankroll to play the tournament, which uses a live-money format.

Players must bet at least $20 to win or place on one horse in 10 races from Monmouth and Saratoga, For more information, call (732) 571-6595.