12/08/2006 12:00AM

Pappalardo qualifies for third time

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For John Pappalardo, the strategy of trying to make the finals by entering as many qualifying contests as possible worked to perfection on October 21, when he flew from his New York home to Cincinnati, then took a small commuter flight to Evansville, near Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky.

Pappalardo won the Ellis contest to qualify for the national finals for a third time, having previously appeared in 2004 and 2006.

"I caught the first race with a $17 horse, then got a little cold," Pappalardo said of the qualifier at Ellis Park. "Then I caught a $20 horse. I go to so many of these contests around the country, it’s hard for me to remember every detail.”

The Ellis contest used a basic $2-win and $2-place format for every contestant’s selection in every race of the October 21 program at Keeneland.

Pappalardo, 54, lives in Staten Island and is the Chief of Mechanics for the New York City Department of Sanitation. He is a regular at Aqueduct and Belmont Park, where he entered preliminary contests but did not qualify.

David Crone, a 23-year-old student from New Albany, Indiana, finished second at the Ellis Park qualifier and will be making his second straight national finals appearance, having qualified last year in Louisville through one of Churchill Downs’ Trackside contests. The third and final qualifier from Ellis Park was Todd Stark, 35, a loan officer for the federal government. Stark, from Maysville, Ky., will be competing in the handicapping finals for the first time.