09/21/2005 12:00AM

Illinois player gains finals by a whisker

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James Dennis of Mundelein, Ill. won last Sunday's $20,000 Arlington Park Handicapping Contest in a blanket finish, prevailing by a mere $1.40 in the 12-race tournament. The top four players in the field of 200 entries were separated by just $3.

Dennis won the $11,000 first prize and will be in Las Vegas next Jan. 27-28 for the $500,000 Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at Bally's. Since he qualified for the national championship through a contest at a track owned by Churchill Downs, Inc., Dennis will be playing for a $1 million bonus offered by Churchill.

Dennis compiled a mythical bankroll of $320, based on 12 $10 bets. Six bets were mandatory races from Arlington, and the other six could be chosen from Belmont, Calder, and Turfway. Dennis nailed five $10 win bets at odds of 5-2, 7-2, 5-1, 7-1, and 8-1, including Original Spin ($12) in the Arlington-Washington Lassie.

Kenneth Magner of Freehold, N.J., finished second with $318.60 and took home $5,000 in prize money. He qualifies for his first NHC after narrow misses in last year's Turfway and Del Mar online qualifying tournaments.

William Haliziw and T.J. Taylor finished in a tie for third with $317. Since Taylor already qualified for the NHC earlier this year at Hoosier, Haliziw was awarded the final berth. Haliziw, from Chicago, qualifies for his second straight NHC. He played last year as a member of Team Hawthorne.

Stuart "Beef" Rubin dies

Stuart Rubin, a high-profile horseplayer known simply as "Beef" by racetrack regulars along the East Coast, died last Friday. He was 51.

Rubin, who lived in the Bronx, N.Y., suffered a heart attack at his regular hangout, the Fiddlers Elbow OTB, just before the first race at Belmont.

Rubin, who had worked for the New York Board of Education, was a regular in press boxes at New York tracks and at Monmouth and the Meadowlands in New Jersey. He won the prestigious Sports Haven Handicapping Challenge in New Haven, Conn., in 2002, earning a berth in the NHC. He specialized in handicapping sprint races.

"Nobody loved the game more than Beef," said longtime friend Paul Cornman, who shared a Saratoga summer rental with Rubin. "When Beef won, if you were with 100 yards of him, you knew he won. And if Beef won and you were a friend of Beef's in need, he was always there for you. He was a happy man. And nothing made him happier than winning at the races and then bragging about it."

Fairplex: Matties a winner

Kevin "Duke" Matties qualified for his second straight NHC with a victory over 138 players last weekend in the second of Fairplex Park's three qualifying tournaments. Matties finished with a $1,671 bankroll, based on $20 win, place and show wagers on Fairplex's last eight races each day. He earned $11,120 in prize money. Bryan Carney, owner of the One Hundred To One Cocktail Lounge just outside Santa Anita, finished second with $1,477. He also qualified for the NHC and earned $5,560.

Fairplex will host its final contest this weekend. Two more NHC berths will be at stake.