07/13/2005 12:00AM

Novice looks like pro in Belmont win

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Playing his entry like a seasoned veteran, Randall Immitt, a 25-year-old school teacher from Parsippany, N.J., defeated one of the of the toughest tournament fields assembled this year in the $82,000 Belmont Handicapping Challenge on July 9 and 10.

Immitt, who teaches eighth-grade social studies in Waldwick, N.J., said the $35,000 winner's share of the purse matches his yearly salary. Immitt also becomes the youngest horseplayer this year to qualify for the $500,000 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship at Bally's Las Vegas on January 27-28, 2006.

"To me, it's more of a validation than it is about the money," said Immitt, who defeated 204 other handicappers from 14 states, many of them past NHC qualifiers. "It was great to show I can hold my own against great players from around the country. Since high school I've been a regular player."

Immitt, who grew up spending summers in Saratoga when his aunt owned a Bed and Breakfast, had previously played in just a handful of tournaments before that were run by the New York Racing Association and Connecticut OTB. He topped the Belmont tournament with a huge mythical bankroll of $1,534, based on nine $20 wagers and one $40 best bet each contest day on races at Belmont, Churchill Downs, and Monmouth.

The key to Immitt's victory was targeting and nailing longshots with his $40 bets each day. On Saturday, he hit Rhythm in Shoes ($37.40) in the seventh race at Churchill and ended the day in third place. On Sunday, Immitt used his $40 bet on the 0-for-21 maiden Dinah's Pearls ($33) in Belmont's fifth race. Dinah's Pearls's win, which Immitt watched from the rail, boosted him to the lead. Instead of continuing to fire at longshots, Immitt shrewdly cashed five consecutive $20 show wagers to seal the victory.

"I wanted to play conservative to hold everyone off," he said.

Immitt had to withstand a late challenge from tournament veteran William Jackson, who finished second with a $1,460 bankroll and earned $10,000. Jackson, the 2002 Belmont handicapping champion and a retired police officer from Ossining, N.Y., qualified for his fourth DRF/NTRA Championship, becoming just the 12th player to do so. Frank Garriton, a retired stock trader from Bayside, N.Y., finished third with $1,188, earning $8,000 and qualifying for his first NHC.

The Belmont challenge for the first time featured computerized scoring and instant scoreboard updates. All tournament wagers were made through United Tote's software. NYRA will hold a similar contest at Aqueduct on Nov. 12-13.

River Downs recap

Chris Long of Cincinnati, Ohio turned a $40 real-money bankroll into $130.60 based on $2 win, place, or show bets on 20 races and beat 121 other players to win the River Downs Handicapping Contest on July 9-10.

Long earned $17,000 in prize money and qualified for NHC VII. Louis Cohn of Chicago finished second, earning $4,760 and a spot in the championship. He edged out veteran tournament player Richard Goodall of Las Vegas, a retired attorney, who finished third and earned his third trip to national finals. Goodall finished 66th in NHC VI in January as part of Team Fairplex Park.

Calder contest moved to Sunday

Calder Race Course's Handicapping Summit has been rescheduled to this Sunday, July 17, after the Summit of Speed was postponed to last Sunday because of Hurricane Dennis. Entries for the tournament are still being accepted through noon Friday. The tournament offers three DRF/NTRA qualifying berths and an estimated $10,000 first prize. Players may purchase up to four entries each. To register, call (305) 474-5685.