01/25/2005 12:00AM

Horseplayer World Series offers richest purse ever

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There is good news and bad news regarding the Horseplayer World Series on Thursday through Saturday at The Orleans.

The bad news is that it might not reach its advertised goal of a $1 million purse with a $500,000 first prize.

The good news is that it still will be the richest purse with the biggest top prize in handicapping tournament history.

The record purse currently is the $518,000 paid out at The Orleans's National Handicapping Challenge on Oct. 12-14, 2000, when there were a record 936 entries at $500 apiece and The Orleans kicked in an additional $50,000. The first-place prize was a then-record $163,800, won by Tim Haley of Taylor Mill, Ky., a record that was broken last weekend at the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at Bally's when Jamie Michelson Jr. of West Bloomfield, Mich., won $200,000.

However, this weekend's World Series will shatter that record.

The World Series has an entry fee of $1,000, which can be earned either by placing high enough in one of the many qualifying tournaments at tracks and OTB's throughout North America as well as on the Internet, or by making a supplemental payment.

As of noon Tuesday, tournament coordinator Debbie Flaig said she had 664 confirmed entries, of which 307 earned their berths and 357 were paying their way. Without an early-bird incentive, it's hard to know how many people are holding onto their $1,000 until the last second - so it's not easy to project if the field will grow to just 700 or approach 800 or even more.

But even assuming the conservative estimate of 700, that would still be a record $700,000 purse with the winner receiving 50 percent, or a record $350,000. Prizes will be paid to the top 30 finishers, with second place worth 10 percent of the purse (or roughly $70,000 based on my conservative estimate), third place receiving 8 percent ($56,000), fourth getting 6 percent ($42,000), and fifth getting 4 percent ($28,000). Sixth through 10th will be awarded 2 percent each, 11th through 20th earn a half-percent each, and 21st through 30th make a quarter-percent each.

Despite the uncertainty in the final prize structure, the format is set in stone. Each contestant will make 11 mythical $40 wagers ($20 to win and $20 to place) each day. Contest points will awarded using the parimutuel track payoffs, with full points awarded for the first $2 and the remaining $18 capped at 19-1 to win and 9-1 to place (or $40 to win and $20 to place). Players may use more than one horse in a given race, but each counts as a separate play out of the 11 for the day.

The contest tracks are scheduled to be Aqueduct, Laurel, Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn, Golden Gate, and Santa Anita on all three days, with Turf Paradise added on Friday and Saturday.

Entries will be accepted on Thursday until there are 11 races remaining to be played that afternoon, at which time the final field size and prize structure will be announced.

The World Series doesn't have daily prizes, but there is a contest within the contest on Saturday with the "Last Chance Get Even Pool," in which the top scorer on the final day will win $10,000, or 1 percent of the total purse. Prizes will be paid through 15th place.

Complete rules are available at coastrace.com.

Final notes on NHC

Michelson missed out on $2,000 in daily prize money Friday by a mere $1.80.

"I was kicking myself because I made a mistake," said Michelson, while sifting through his handwritten notes. "Parker Run was on my horses-to-watch list, and I was excited that he was running Friday. I wrote down 'No. 1' on my sheets but I guess when I went to play the race, my scribbling looked like a '4' and that's who I played. After the race, I saw Parker Run had finished second and paid $4.20 to place, which would have been enough for third-place money ($2,000)."

* NHC second-place finisher Michael Conway of Glencoe, Ill., was in third place after Friday's action and among the leaders all day Saturday, so the ESPN cameras were trailing him non-stop. At 2:15 p.m Pacific, Tim Turrell of NTRA Productions approached tournament organizers and said that Conway had informed him that he was leaving for church at 4:45 p.m. The last race of the contest, and a mandatory contest race at that, was slated for the ninth race at Santa Anita with a 4:35 p.m. post time. There was concern that a delay in the start of that race would mean that the potential champ might not be around. As it turned out, the race went off at 4:39 p.m., Michelson was declared the winner, and Conway was able to congratulate him and still make it to the church on time.

* While Michelson's $200,000 puts him atop the NHC's career earnings list, Conway is No. 7, behind only the six champions. He earned $82,000 total: $75,000 for second, $2,000 for the third-highest score on Friday, plus another $5,000 for leading the Twin Spires Club team to a winning average of $147.20 per player.

Bill McAninch of Chicago and Jason Tudor of Fairdale, Ky., were also part of that team and earned $5,000 apiece.

* Saturday's highest score of $117 was compiled by Chester "Psycho" Victor Jr. of San Pablo, Calif. He was perhaps the loudest player in the Bally's race book that day, screaming to a fellow player, "I'm coming out of the clouds, dude," after hitting four straight races. He was later heard saying, for all to hear, "I was so excited that I missed a mandatory race."

At the awards ceremony, master of ceremonies Eric Wing quipped: "It's hard to imagine he could lose focus and miss a mandatory."