03/23/2006 12:00AM

More online qualifiers for handicapping finals

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Horse players hoping to qualify for the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas on Jan. 26-27 now have several more opportunities with the creation of a series of monthly online handicapping tournaments by the NTRA. The tournaments will be offered at www.nhcqualify.com.

The new site will host a two-round contest every month through December. The first round of each contest will be held on the first three Saturdays of the month, and the top finishers of those contests face off on the fourth Saturday to play for the national championship berths. The fee to enter is $100. The first event begins Saturday, April 8.

Players will make mythical $2 win-and-place bets on 10 designated races and earn points based on each horse's mutuel payoffs, capped at $42 to win and $22 to place.

The number of available championship spots will be determined by the number of entries. Up to 25 national championship berths will be awarded by the end of the year with all entry fees, minus operational and administrative costs, going to the total purse. This past January, the National Handicapping Championship had a purse of $540,000.

"This will play a very key role of realizing the goal of a $1 million purse in the next two years," said McKay Smith, the NTRA's director of product development. "In the World Series of Poker, 65 percent of the people who qualify are online, and that has driven the growth of poker, and we feel horseplayers deserve the same."