01/26/2004 12:00AM

Iowa horseplayer takes the crown


Forget Sin City. Rename it Sioux City.

After all, Kent Meyer of Sioux City, Iowa, went to the Bettor Racing OTB in Sioux Falls, S.D., each of the past two years to qualify for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship. He felt right at home returning to Bally's Las Vegas race book for the second straight year last Friday and Saturday, and he walked away with $100,000 and the title of Handicapper of the Year.

Meyer, 38, built a contest bankroll of $238.40 from 15 mythical $2 win-and-place bets each day, edging out David Krosunger, a 43-year-old print shop manager from Wallington, Pa., who finished with a score of $232.60 (one $6 place price away from winning it all) and collected $40,000 for finishing second.

Meyer said that with the exception of the eight mandatory races each day that were chosen by tournament officials, he limited his plays to Aqueduct, Gulfstream, and Santa Anita.

"I usually look at a race and see if I think I can beat the favorite," Meyer said in describing his handicapping style. "If I can't, then I move on. You're always looking for prices in tournaments."

Meyer said everything fell into place for him.

"My horses weren't finishing second," he said. "When my horses were up there, they were all winning, and that's probably why I won the tournament."

Meyer's contest biography describes his occupation as "owner/manager of apartments and houses" - which he said is "a fancy way of saying landlord."

Because he resides in the Corn Belt, it's only fitting that Meyer has an aw-shucks attitude. But don't let that fool you. He can handicap the horses with the best of 'em, as evidenced by the fact that the Bettor Racing OTB, being off the beaten path, attracts an all-star cast of horseplayers trying to earn an NHC berth against a small field. This year's qualifier attracted just 50 players, who paid for 89 entries.

The only other tournament in which Meyer has ever played was at Turf Paradise, but that was only after he had qualified this past year - he went along with a friend who still wanted to qualify. All told, Meyer has finished no worse than fourth in three of the five tournaments he has played in.

This past weekend, Meyer was accompanied by his wife, Cammy, and his stepson Brandon, 15.

"Last year when we came here, we told Brandon that he could come with us the next time we went to Vegas," Meyer said. "So we had to bring him."

They were all scheduled to fly back home at 6:15 p.m. Saturday, but at that time the new champion was being interviewed by the media and posing with DRF and NTRA officials and a big novelty check. The victory persuaded them to postpone their flight home until Sunday, but not even the chance to be honored at the Eclipse Awards on Monday night could stop Meyer from keeping another promise. While he brought Brandon to Las Vegas, he left his two other kids - Paige, 9, and Ross, 4 - back at home.

"I told them I would spend Monday and Tuesday with them, and I don't want to let them down," he said.

Meyer said he benefited greatly from playing in the NHC last year, when he finished 32nd out of 213 contestants.

"In the book by Noel Michaels ["Handicapping Contest Handbook," DRF Press], it said not to have any distractions," Meyer said. "Well, last year, I got married the day before."

That drew a laugh from the crowd at the awards dinner Saturday night.

"It's nerve-wracking to hear the hooting and hollering around the room," Meyer continued. "You feel like to have to hit a 20-1 shot to keep up. It got to me last year, but I didn't pay much attention to it this year. I was much more focused."

Another thing he learned was that you have to have an early score. He got that in the second race at Aqueduct on Friday when Jersey Gia returned $35 to win and $16.80 to place. Krosunger also had the same filly, and the two men's names were never below third on the leader board the whole tournament.

In fact, Krosunger led after the first day with a score of $151.20, with Meyer in second at $132.40. Meyer stalked the leader and then moved into first when he tabbed Farnum Alley ($35.20 to win, $10 to place) in Saturday's fifth race at Gulfstream. The last scoring update was posted at 2:30 p.m. Pacific, so contestants were in the dark as to who was in the lead thereafter.

Krosunger had a chance to win in the contest's final race, the second at Sam Houston, with 20-1 longshot Chief Jake, who moved within two lengths of the lead at the eighth pole before breaking down.

"It's a great tournament, and I had a great time," Krosunger said. "I didn't make any mistakes. It just wasn't my day. Congratulations to the winner."