10/26/2005 12:00AM

Maine nurse earns berth in NHC with Suffolk win


In the final race of the Suffolk Downs handicapping tournament, Heather MacPherson snared the lone Daily Racing Form/NTRA qualifying spot when longshot Spite the Devil splashed to victory in the Empire Classic at Belmont last Saturday.

Playing alongside her fiance, Ray Garnett, who taught her how to handicap - but picking different horses - MacPherson nailed four winners and four second-place finishers from 15 pre-selected races. MacPherson, a registered nurse from South Paris, Maine, finished the contest with a mythical bankroll of $1,033, based on $20 win-and-place wagers on each selection. She finished $46 clear of runner-up Ed Zielinski of Salem, Mass.

In addition to Spite the Devil ($20.40, $11.80), MacPherson's other winners were: Incombent ($10, $4.60) in Keeneland's fifth race, Friendly Island ($8.60, $6.30) in Belmont's eighth, and Brooker ($11.20, $5.60) in Santa Anita's fifth race.

The Suffolk Downs tournament drew 184 entrants from nine states and Canada, who put up the $40 entry fee. MacPherson, 37, joins Dean Goulet and Daniel Murphy, qualifiers the Aug. 6 contest, completing the Suffolk Downs contingent that will play in the seventh DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at Bally's Las Vegas on Jan. 27-28, 2006.

Philly Park Recap

Matt Mungiole topped a field of 150 in Philadelphia Park's NHC qualifier last Sunday, earning the $4,000 grand prize and a trip to the DRF/NTRA finals.

Mungiole, from Philadelphia, turned his $200 initial real-money bankroll into $1,541.50. He rallied into contention with a $25 win-and-place bet on maiden winner Court Folly ($43.40, $11.20). He took the lead for good in the penultimate race of tournament, nailing a $100 win bet on Initforthecandy ($17.40) in Keeneland's ninth race.

It will be the first trip to the NHC finals for Mungiole, a 34-year-old sales manager for a logistics company, who said he has been involved in handicapping all his life. His cousin Robert Donato trained John Henry early in his career when he won his first graded stakes in the Round Table at Arlington in 1978.

John Pappalardo of Staten Island, N.Y. finished second in the Philadelphia Park contest with a $1,335 bankroll, earning his second trip to the national finals and a $3,000 prize. He finished 221st in the 2004 finals after qualifying at Arlington Park.

Peter Duca, from Medford, N.J., finished third at Philadelphia Park with $1,300.10 to earn the final NHC qualifying spot and $2,000. All players in the contest got to keep their parimutuel winnings.

The sold-out Philadelphia Park contest last Sunday was the first DRF/NTRA qualifier held at that track since 2000. The track was allowed to hold a qualifying tournament this year after announcing it will rejoin the NTRA in January 2006.