01/29/2007 1:00AM

Handicapper rides longshots to the top


LAS VEGAS - Stanley Bavlish is living the dream. Not only his own dream, but that of many horseplayers, especially the 100,000-plus who tried to make it to the eighth annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship.

Bavlish, a 54-year-old resident of Virginia Beach, Va., who owns three Subway restaurants in nearby Portsmouth, finished atop a field of 254 handicappers who had earned their berths in qualifying tournaments at racetracks, OTB's, casinos, and websites throughout the country, and collected the $400,000 first-place prize at the Bally's race book last Saturday.

"I've always dreamed of a day like this, and now it's come true," he said. "To win a tournament like this, your horses have to come in. I'm just lucky my horses came in today."

Bavlish compiled a winning score of $189.20 - the lowest winning total in the eight-year history of the NHC - from making 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers each day of the two-day tournament, with eight being mandatory races that everyone has to play and the other seven being optional. Prices were capped at $42 to win and $22 to place.

Ken Massa, 48, of Yorba Linda, Calif., finished second with $182.40.

Bavlish was quick to give credit to a friend of his named Jim Goff, whom he plays with at Colonial Downs. Bavlish said one of his goals this year will be to help Goff get qualified for next year's NHC, since Bavlish receives an automatic berth as defending champion. But then the subject turned to Bavlish's biggest winner, McCann's Mojave, who paid $69.80 to win and $30.60 to place in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream.

"That one was all mine," he said.

The Sunshine Millions Classic proved to be the pivotal race in the contest. It was the sixth of Saturday's mandatory races. And even though it was capped at the maximum $64, that was enough to put Bavlish into contention. Massa, the runner-up, also had McCann's Mojave.

After Friday's Day 1, Bavlish was tied for 89th place with just $47.60 and Massa was tied for 133rd with $35.20. Even an hour after McCann's Mojave's victory, when the final public posting of the standings was made at 3:45 p.m. Pacific, Bavlish was in 12th place and Massa was tied for 51st, so they still had work to do.

Massa, who created the HTR computer program used by many of the top tournament players, added Navy Lass, who paid $23.40 to win and $9.60 to place in Golden Gate's seventh, and Debie Ginsburg, who paid $25.40 to win and $10.60 to place in Santa Anita's eighth race. Bavlish also had Debie Ginsburg.

"I was pretty sure that put me over the top," Bavlish said.

Without further scoring updates, neither knew exactly where he stood and had to sweat out the last two races of the contest, especially when Swiss Blend won Santa Anita's 10th and paid $22.60 to win and $9 to place. The final standings were so bunched up that if anyone else in the top 13 had used Swiss Blend, they would have won the top prize.

In addition to the $400,000, Bavlish also earned $1,875 for having Saturday's fourth-highest score of $141.60 and another $5,000 for leading Delaware Park No. 2 to the team title. With the exception of defending champion Ron Rippey and those who earned their berths in online contests at nhcqualify.com, the other 216 contestants were split into 72 teams based on where they qualified and played for a $15,000 prize. Bavlish's teammates were Helaine Barash, 59, of Staten Island, N.Y., and David Malatesta, 59, of Wilmington, Del., who also received $5,000 apiece.

Bavlish's total haul of $406,875 makes him easily the biggest earner in NHC history, with Rippey in second at $250,000. Rippey made a run at the title this year but, going with an all-or-nothing attitude, he finished 32nd.

Massa finished with a score of $182.40 - the $6.80 difference is the second-closest winning margin in NHC history - and took home the $150,000 second-place prize. Massa picked up an additional $4,000 for having Saturday's third-highest score of $147.20. His $154,000 in winnings puts him fourth on the all-time NHC earnings list, as the first five champions won $100,000 plus bonus money.

Susie Grensing, 35, of Lexington, Ky., second heading into Saturday, dropped as low as 16th and re-rallied to finish third with a score of $177.60. She collected $75,000, plus another $7,500 for her Friday score of $101.20.

Myles Richards, 48, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., finished fourth with $175.60 in contest points to collect $40,000. He was one of seven players eligible for a $1 million bonus based on winning a qualifying tournament at a Churchill Downs-owned track. At the 11 a.m. update on Saturday, he had a $24 lead, but wasn't able to hold on with the run of longshots in the afternoon.

Russell Weber, 53, of Amityville, N.Y., finished fifth with a score of $172.60 to collect $25,000. Prizes were paid to the top 20 finishers.

Gina Turner, 44, of Galloway, Ohio, won more for her Saturday score of $153.20 and the daily prize of $10,000 than she did for finishing seventh overall and getting $8,000. Bill Gossage, 49, of Ozark, Ark., had the second-highest Saturday score to collect $7,500 to go with his $4,500 for finishing 13th overall.

Tchavdar Milanov, 48, of Concord, Calif., was the Day 1 leader with a score of $103 and won $10,000. Bill Handleman, 58, of Neptune, N.J., scored $99.60 to collect $4,000 in addition to winning $8,000 for finishing eighth overall, and Dennis Decauwer, 57, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., was fourth Friday with a score of $99.40 to collect $1,875.