07/10/2006 11:00PM

O'Neal eligible for $1 million bonus

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Thanks in part to Preacher Brown's victory in the seventh race at Churchill Downs on July 1, Bill O'Neal of Centerville, Ohio emerged as the winner of the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Qualifier at Hoosier Park.

"The horse at Churchill is really the one that put me in the lead," said O'Neal, a Vice President Stockbroker for Merrill Lynch. "I was able to hit six of the last seven races which helped me finish the contest strong."

O'Neal has achieved previous glory in handicapping tournaments. He qualfied for the DRF/NTRA National Championships in 2002 at his home track of River Downs.

In addition to his first prize of $10,000, O'Neal receives an all-expense paid trip to the Las Vegas for the National Handicapping Championship.

By winning a qualifier at a track run by Churchill Downs Inc., O'Neal becomes eligible to grab a bonus offered by Twin Spires Club. If O'Neal wins the National Championship at Bally's Las Vegas next January, he will receive an additional $1 million.

Joining O'Neal as Hoosier's representatives to the NHC are Wayne Kwan and Tom Kappel. Kwan traveled from Vancouver, British Columbia for the contest, and earned $5,000 after connecting with nine of 20 races. An experienced tournament player, Kwan will compete at the National Handicapping Championship for the first time.

"I've been trying to qualify for the past three years. I probably have the record for the most top 10 finishes and never made it to Vegas."

Kappel received $2,250 for his third place finish. A senior project engineer for medical ultrasound products, Kappel often plays the races at Fairmount Park.

"I played in this tournament last year," said Kappel. "I've been trying to get to Vegas for the past three years. This is the first time I've qualified. Preacher Brown in the seventh at Churchill really helped, but I was pretty consistent all day, finishing in the top two 13 of 20 races."

A total of 190 players participated in the contest.