08/03/2003 11:00PM

Longshot nets top prize, NHC berth

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The Summer Stakes IV handicapping tournament certainly had a stakes-caliber field at Bally's Las Vegas last Friday and Saturday.

In its first year as a Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship qualifier, the tourney drew 184 entries, more than twice the number of any of the three previous runnings. A glance around the ballroom showed no fewer than 20 major tournament winners (many of them buying multiple entries) as well as dozens of other regular tournament players who were hoping to earn one of the three available berths in the NHC.

Sitting up near the front of the ballroom, right in front of the big projection screens, was Brent Shigenaka of Alta Loma, Calif. He would have been considered a longshot against this star-studded field, even though he had a race over the track. His only previous tournament experience was in the same event last year, when, he said, he probably finished in the bottom 20.

But this year was a different story. He finished the two-day tournament with a bankroll of $339.20 (from 15 mythical $2 across-the-board bets each day) to win the $69,000 first-place prize.

Shigenaka, 38, said he usually bets at the OTB in Pomona, Calif., and also likes to go to Del Mar, plus a few trips a year to Las Vegas for events such as the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup.

He said he planned to play in the Summer Stakes as part of a three-generation family vacation (he was accompanied by his parents, as well as his wife and two kids) even before knowing it was a qualifier, but he certainly won't pass up the free trip back to Las Vegas for NHC on Jan. 23-24 at Bally's.

Even though only Shigenaka's name was on both of his entries and he put in all the plays, he said he was 50-50 partners with his father, Jim.

"That's right," the proud father said with a smile. "I'm the money man."

The younger Shigenaka, who recently opened a sales promotion business, got off to a slow start with the East Coast tracks on Friday and limited his plays (picking up a few nice place and show prices) until the West Coast racing that he's more familiar with rolled around.

"Our game plan was to look for horses that were at least 10-1," he said. "We knew you can't play favorites to win a tournament like this, you have to find value."

Shigenaka made his big move in the afternoon and early evening with a pair of 10-1 winners on the twilight card at Del Mar: Gods Ear in the fourth and Mistical Jazz in the eighth. When night fell, Shigenaka had amassed a bankroll of $248.30 and was atop the leaderboard, good for $9,200 in prize money.

"On the second day, we played a little more conservatively," Shigenaka said. "We were more open to playing as low as 4-1."

Anyone who watched Saturday's races probably noticed that very few longshots were coming in. Shigenaka didn't know if they could win the battle of attrition. They were just happy they were in the lead.

"Saturday was a real tough day," he said. "We felt better about our chances after winning the 10th race at Louisiana Downs [Humble Lightning at 6-1], but we only scored 90 points Saturday and there were 70 to 80 people in striking distance."

The Shigenakas went to have a few beers before the final standings were posted.

"We were doing a lot of second guessing about horses that we should have bet to pick up a few more points," Shigenaka said. "We had no idea if our score would hold up. We were hoping for at least top 10."

But with no longshots coming in, and chalk players not able to rack up enough points, nobody was able to catch the front-runners.

"When I first checked the standings, I said to my dad, 'We're not even in the top 10,'" he said, "but, then I noticed I had the wrong sheet. I was looking at the Saturday scores. When I looked at the overall standings, I saw the winner had 338 and I said, 'That's us,' and we went nuts."

Bobby Brendler of Rockville, Md., finished second with a bankroll of $315.70 and earned $23,000. Brendler was third after the first day (good for an additional $2,300), and also had another entry that finished 16th overall for another $920 in earnings.

But the person who took the longest to collect his winnings was Joe Hinson of Germantown, Tenn. Hinson's family is arguably the most successful in horse handicapping tournament history, yet he had yet to qualify for the NHC in many attempts over the past four years. That monkey is off his back. His third-place score of $307.20 (a mere 60 cents more than Jerry Barash of Staten Island, N.Y.) was good for $9,200. Hinson also collected $920 apiece for having entries in 9th and 10th place on Friday, and $2,300 for having the third-highest score on Saturday. In addition, his daughter Julie had the high score on Saturday, worth another $9,200.

Shigenaka, Brendler, and Hinson will be joined at the NHC on Team Bally's by Andrew Osborne of Rochester, N.Y. Osborne won the Bally's Moolah tourney in April.

Next up on the Nevada handicapping circuit, and sure to lure many of the NHC hopefuls that were at Bally's this past week, is the September Shootout at the Reno Hilton on Sept. 6-7. The tournament, with four berths on the line, will be the first to use the NHC format of 15 mythical $2 win and place bets, including eight mandatory races, each day. There is a $500 entry fee.