07/12/2004 12:00AM

'The Maven' comes out on top

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ELMONT, N.Y. - The $60,000 Belmont Summer Handicapping Challenge boiled down to a two way race between a pair of Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship veterans as Dave Gutfreund of Chicago edged John Macklin of Brooklyn in a seesaw battle for the tournament's $25,000 top prize. Gutfreund and Macklin both earned trips to next January's NHC VI in Las Vegas. Gutfreund will be making his fourth NHC appearance, Macklin his third.

Gutfreund, known in handicapping circles as "The Maven," is a longtime tournament player and handicapping analyst who co-hosts Horsin' Around TV, a weekly horse racing magazine show airing on Fox Sports Net Chicago. He cashed five win bets and one place bet out of 20 tournament plays en route to a contest-winning bankroll of $1,244, based on nine $20 and one $40 win, place, or show wagers on each day of the two-day event.

Scores were high on the first day of the contest, with Gutfreund and Macklin atop the leader board thanks to wins on Discover the Glory ($30.40) and Christine's Outlaw ($29.60) in races 7 and 8 at Belmont. Gutfreund, who hit Christine's Outlaw with his $40 bet, then added wins on Gold Reserve ($12.20) at Belmont and Ensenada ($9) at Monmouth to finish day one with the lead with $1,108. Macklin was close behind with $1,048.

In contrast to Saturday, Sunday's scores were very low thanks to a flurry of winning favorites at both contest tracks. Macklin took the lead midway through day two, but Gutfreund rallied to victory thanks to a $20 win bet on Quest of Fate ($7.60) in race 7 at Monmouth, plus a strategic $20 place bet on Ryan Is Flying ($6) in the Belmont finale.

Macklin finished $34 behind Gutfreund and settled for second place with $1,210, holding off third-place finisher Richard Gaetano, who had $1,155. Macklin earned $8,000 in prize money. Gaetano won $5,000 plus a qualifying spot in NHC VI.

The contest cost $300 to enter and sold out all 200 slots. All entry fees were returned as prize money to the top 20 finishers. NYRA will host a similar contest at Aqueduct on Nov. 13-14 with another $60,000 and three NHC berths at stake. The Aqueduct contest is one of 59 remaining DRF/NTRA qualifying contests scheduled for the rest of the year at racetracks, OTB's, and web sites throughout North America.