09/08/2002 11:00PM

Late entry lands a big score

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LAS VEGAS - Chris Goodall won the $91,500 Brawl in the Fall handicapping tournament over the weekend, and he owes it all to a late-night phone call from his dad and a little bit of luck.

Goodall earned first prize of $47,580 and a berth in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in January for winning the Brawl, a $1,500 buy-in event last Thursday through Saturday at the Reno Hilton.

On Tuesday evening, less than 24 hours before the draw and 36 hours before play was to begin, the husband-wife team of Richard Goodall and Sally Wang were having dinner with tournament director Steve Fierro.

Fierro told them that a few cancellations had dropped the field to 60, four short of the 64-player format. Goodall called his son Chris, who is a 35-year-old attorney in Metairie, La., and has been in several tournaments trying to qualify for the national championship.

"It was Tuesday night at 10:30 and the phone rang," Chris said. "It was my dad, and he asked what I was doing. I said 'nothing,' and he said to see if I could book a morning flight for Reno and come join him at the tournament."

Richard had his son and Fierro on separate cell phones.

"I told Chris not to click the button to buy the plane tickets until I confirmed with Steve that he hadn't somehow filled the field," Richard said.

Chris took a 6 a.m. flight Wednesday out of New Orleans and was in Reno, Nev., before noon, in plenty of time for the tournament draw that evening.

The Brawl's 64-player field is split into 16 groups of four players each on the first day. The winner of each group advances to the Sweet 16 on Friday with the Final Four squaring off on Saturday. The losers aren't eligible for the top prize, but they can work their way through the losers' bracket and still finish in the top four over all and earn a DRF/NTRA berth.

The younger Goodall drew into the first-round group against Wang, his mother-in-law. He won that group to advance to Friday's Sweet 16 and then advanced to the Final Four only when another opponent had a winner disqualified in the final race of the day (Cat on Guard in the eighth race at Del Mar).

"I was lucky to be there to begin with, and I was lucky to make it to the final round," Chris said.

Saturday's finals were contested on races 3 through 10 at Del Mar. Players put their picks in with two minutes to post.

Chris was kicking himself after the sixth race because he talked himself out of Domestic Dispute, who won and paid $19.60. That would have put him in first place, but instead tournament veteran Steve Meyer of Monterrey, Calif. - who won the Suncoast Invitational in January - was in the lead heading into the final two races.

Chris won the ninth race with 11-1 Hero's Welcome, but he had to survive a photo finish and a long inquiry. Hero's Welcome paid $24.80, $12.60 and $6.20 across the board, but Meyer had scratched into the second-place finisher, White Bronco, who paid $17.60 to place and $9.20. Meyer was still in the lead by $5.80 heading into the final race.

Chris had No. 2 Shezsofoxy at 11-1 in the finale and Meyer had No. 8 Chi Chi Nette at 7-1. Shezsofoxy took the lead at the eighth pole and Chi Chi Nette was gaining ground as the crowd at the Reno Hilton went wild.

"It was clear to all the fans watching that it was going to come down to the 2 and the 8 with the tournament on the line," Fierro said. "I couldn't have scripted it any better."

Shezsofoxy held on to win by a neck, paying $25.80 to win and giving Goodall the championship and completing a wild week that began with a phone call.

"It was especially exciting because my dad and Sally were there," Chris said. "My dad taught me everything I know about handicapping, and he was a big help strategy-wise because he's been in a lot of situations like this."

Richard Goodall was happy to witness his son's big score. But seeing him win the tournament was the furthest thing from Richard's mind when he made that fateful phone call. He just wanted to see his son, period.

"The real reason I called was that I haven't seen my son in four to five months, which is a lot for us," Richard said. "He's a good kid and he's been through a lot lately. He lost an eye in an automobile accident and then was diagnosed with cancer. He's recovered from both, but it's been a long battle."

Wang, after being eliminated from the winners' bracket by her stepson, rallied to capture second place and earn $19,215. Peter Canzoneri of Michigan won $9,150 for third and Keith Gee of Louisiana $4,575 for fourth. Those three will join Chris Goodall in Las Vegas for the DRF/NTRA finals. All four also win roundtrip airfare and hotel accommodations.

This time, Chris won't have to make any last-minute arrangements.