01/26/2012 1:17PM

National Handicapping Championship field is complete with final five

Greg Cava/Treasure Island Hotel & Casino
This year's tournament will take place Friday and Saturday at Treasure Island in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS – The field of 482 for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship Presented by Sovereign Stables was completed Wednesday as the final five contestants having earned their berths in the Last Chance Qualifier at Treasure Island Hotel & Casino.

There were 113 entries at $500 apiece in the Last Chance to try to make the $1.5 million NHC XIII finals, which offers a $1 million first-place prize and the title of 2011 Handicapper of the Year.

April Kramer-Scanio, 55, of Brooklyn, N.Y., won the tournament with a score of $139.40 from 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers on eight mandatory races and seven optional choices. The format mirrors the NHC finals, which take place Friday and Saturday. She also earned $8,475 for her first-place finish, 15 percent of the prize pool. Seventy percent of the pool goes to the NHC XIII purse.

[NHC 13: Live updates, leader board, and video reports from Las Vegas]

Benjamin Coppola, 72, of Manahawkin, N.J., put up a score of $136.80 to finish second and collect $5,650 while Kirk Morrison, 39, of Wichita, Kan., was third at $132.80 and earned $2,825. The fourth- and fifth-place finishers just earned NHC seats and they were Dillon Murphy, 55, of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and Frank McGoey, 47, of New Orleans.

Kramer-Scanio qualified for the finals for the sixth time and joins her husband Joe, 41, who had already earned his seat and is playing for the eighth time in the last nine years. They're not the only husband-wife combo. The NHC finals also have NHC IX champ Richard Goodall and his wife, Sandy; NHC II champ Judy Wagner and her husband, Bryan; Mike and Marsha Mayo; Craig and Cheryl Kaufman; Howard and Jacque Hong; Mac and Diane McClyment; Brett and Sarah Wiener; Kevin and Lee Geraghty; and Gary Machiz and Stacy McMullin.

While Scanio was here for the weekend with her husband whether she qualified or not, Coppola made the cross-country trip just to try to qualify (as well as playing in another tournament at the Orleans on Thursday just in case). He had four winners and three seconds from his contest plays on Wednesday. After earning his berth in NHC XIII, he said he wasn't sure if he would go to the Orleans after all.

“I need to be studying Friday's cards for the big money now,” Coppola said.

Morrison came from even farther away than his East Coast rivals to earn an NHC seat, as he flew overnight from New Zealand and competed Wednesday on virtually no sleep. Morrison is not the same Kirk Morrison that plays linebacker for the Buffalo Bills and formerly with the Oakland Raiders. But there are other NHC finalists with ties to sports outside horse racing. Dick Harris was a defensive back for the Chargers in the 1960s. Keith Swagerty played college basketball at the University of the Pacific against Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes and the coached at Seattle Pacific for 10 years. Nolan White played football at Texas Tech. Kevin Geraghty played basketball at both Marist and St. John's. John Fasola, Frank Mustari and Bill Holmes were minor-league baseball players (and Fasola's son was drafted by the Dodgers in 2010).

Murphy came out from Saratoga, where he has lived for 15 years. He is a horse owner and has worked for the Ragozin Sheets.

McGoey is the brother of Patrick McGoey of Metairie, La., who earned his NHC seat by winning the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge on a $7,000 live-money win bet on Drosselmeyer in the BC Classic. Other brother combos include 2011 NHC Tour champ Paul Shurman (who is eligible for a $2 million bonus if he also wins NHC XIII) and his younger brother Bill; Myles and Mark Richards; Dennis and Albert Tiernan; Duke and Paul Matties; and Michael and Louis Cavalaris.

First qualifier of the season

The NHC XIII champ will earn an automatic exemption into next year's finals, but others who want to try and qualify early can play Sunday in a one-day NHC qualifier at the Treasure Island. There is a $200 entry fee and the maximum field size will be 300.

Contestants will make eight mythical $2 win-and-place wagers with four being on mandatory races as chosen by contest organizers and the other four being player's choice.

All entry fees will be paid back as prize money to the top five finishers on a 50 percent-20 percent-15 percent-10 percent-5 percent scale, and players will earn NHC Tour points.

To be eligible for NHC XIV, contestants will need to pay the $50 NHC Tour membership fee prior to playing in the tournament.

Stricken player reaches goal

Sheldon Finkelstein, 62, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year, arrived at Treasure Island Wednesday. Finkelstein qualified at Del Mar in July and his story was told by Andrew Beyer. Finkelstein's goal was to make it the NHC finals.

He isn't the only one battling cancer in addition to trying to beat the rest of the NHC field. Roger Schumaker, 70, of Denver, Colo., has terminal cancer and has said he'll buy houses for his three sons if the wins. Tom Sollitto, 35 of Cheektowaga, N.Y., has overcome testicular cancer twice, first in 2001 and again in 2009.

Richard Goodall was battling prostate cancer when he won NHC IX, though he didn't talk openly about it until the following year.