01/23/2007 1:00AM

Maryland man determined to add Eclipse Award to collection


LAS VEGAS – Gwyn Houston, a player in this weekend's eighth annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, lists his hobby as numismatist, or coin collector.

But even though the NHC, held in the Bally's race book on Friday and Saturday, has a first-place prize of $400,000 - a lot of coin - Houston has his sights set on adding something else to his collection.

"I have what my wife, Janice, accurately calls an obsession to win the NTRA," said Houston, a 55-year-old resident of Fallston, Md. "But it's really not about winning the money, what I really want is the Eclipse Award."

In addition to the prize money, the NHC winner also is named Handicapper of the Year and receives a special Eclipse Award, just like the other human and equine champions.

Houston has been on this quest since 1999, when the first qualifying tournaments were played leading up to NHC I in January 2000. This is the fourth time he has qualified. His best finish was in 2001 when he finished third. Two other members of his family also qualified for the tournament: His mother, Joan Houston, 84, of Bel Air, Md., and his son-in-law, Ted Parkinson, 27, of Fallston, Md.

Gwyn Houston was one of the first to qualify for this weekend's finals when he won the Autotote Sports Haven tournament Feb. 11-12 in New Haven, Conn.

Houston said he has been going to the track for the past three decades and remembers going with his mom to Pimlico in the 1970's when he was going to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. He would take his SR-10 calculator.

"That's one of those calculators you can get anywhere now, but back in the 70's it cost around $150," he said.

One day he noticed a big discrepancy in the show pool. He bet $2 to show on every horse in the race and $6 across-the-board on his top selection. The favorite ran out of the money. He used his SR-10 and told his mom that the horse would pay $124.80 to show.

The tote board lit up and showed the winner paying $24.80 to show. "And then a man came out of the back of the tote board with a piece of chalk and wrote a big 1 in front of it," he said.

Houston said he loves tournaments and usually limits his parimutuel wagers to pick fours and superfectas. He changed from bettor to tournament player when he was partners with the winner of the 1997 World Series of Handicapping at Penn National.

"I have no interest in winning as much as I bet," he said. "I'd rather bet a toothpick to win a lumberyard."

Besides his tournament wins, he says his most memorable score was hitting a $25,000 twin trifecta on his 25th anniversary with Janice, 55, who was an NHC qualifier last year.

"Even though our second date was to the 1971 Preakness when Cannonero II won and we got engaged at Charles Town, she still acts surprised to this day when I say I'm going to the track," Houston said. "You'd think she would have seen the clues along the way."

Houston isn't the only one at this weekend's NHC with multiple family members competing. The Gallo family has had a family member in all eight finals, with six different Gallos making appearances. This year is no different as Ross Gallo, 46, and his daughter Rachel, 22, are in the field of 255 along with Randy Gallo, 26, who is Ross's nephew and the son of tournament veteran J. Randy Gallo.

The Kaufmans of Hacienda Heights, Calif., also have three qualifiers with husband Craig, 52, making his third appearance, wife Cheryl, 54, making her first and daughter Lisa, 23, making her second straight.

Other husband-wife combos include veteran tournament players Richard Goodall and Sally Wang, Mack and Diane McClyment, and David and Kathy Hulkewicz.

The father-and-son tandem of Steve Wolfson Sr. and Jr. are making their fourth appearances apiece. Wolfson Jr. won the $100,000 first-place prize in January 2003.