10/18/2005 11:00PM

Retiree wins Sam Houston contest

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Robert Chandler topped a field of 175 in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Champion-ship qualifier on Saturday at Sam Houston Race Park and becomes the latest horseplayer eligible for a $1 million bonus should he go on to win the NHC next January.

Chandler, 65, compiled a mythical bankroll of $198.40 based on $2 win-and-place wagers on 20 races throughout the day. He did not play any favorites during the contest, not even in the 10 mandatory races, and his key hit was Tiger Belle ($66, $14.20) in the sixth race at Calder. He later nailed For the House ($10.20, $4.20) in the sixth at Santa Anita to seal the victory.

Chandler earned the $6,000 grand prize and his third berth into the NHC. He qualified at Sam Houston for the inaugural national championship in 2000 and finished 131st. He finished 33rd in NHC V in 2004 as a member of Team Remington Park. Next Jan. 27-28 at Bally's Las Vegas he will be shooting for a much bigger payday - $1,225,000 - which includes the $1 million put up by Sam Houston.

"I'm sure I'll be studying even harder this time," he said.

Chandler, a retired oil refinery worker who has been handicapping for more than 30 years, lives in Texas City, Texas, a community that urged its residents to evacuate last month when Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf Coast. As the storm approached, he drove 19 hours to take shelter in Dallas. When he returned, he found his home was not seriously damaged, and he was able to continue concentrating on preparing for the tournament.

Matthew Martin of Katy, Texas, finished second in the Sam Houston tournament by hitting 8 of the 10 mandatory races and finished with a $182.70 bankroll, earning $3,000 and his first NHC berth. Steve Wolfson Sr. of Ormand Beach, Fla., finished third with $177.60. Wolfson earned $2,000 and his third trip to the NHC. He finished fourth in the 1993 national championship, which was won by his son, Steve Wolfson Jr.

Meadowlands contest

For fans of nighttime racing, The Meadowlands Racetrack is hosting a real-money handicapping tournament on Nov. 5 with two NHC spots at stake.

The Big M Handicapping Challenge costs $200 to enter, plus players must put up a $200 cash bankroll on the day of the tournament. First prize is estimated at $20,000, based on 200 entrants. Players keep all parimutuel winnings.

Players must bet at least five live Meadowlands races; the tournament uses simulcasts from Charles Town, Penn National and Mountaineer, too.

Register at www.thebigm.com or call Rachel Ryan at (201) 842-5015.

Post-Breeders' Cup tourney

For horseplayers who think they will still have the energy or bankroll right after the Breeders' Cup, Nassau OTB is hosting a handicapping contest at its Race Palace teletheater near Belmont Park in Plainview, N.Y. on the day after the Breeders' Cup, Oct. 30.

The contest will offer two berths into the Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans in Las Vegas on Jan. 19-21, 2006. It is not a DRF/NTRA qualifier.

The entry fee is $200, with a limit of two entries per person. Based on a full field of 125 entries, the purse would be $25,000, with $12,500 going to the winner. Players will make mythical $2 win-and-place wagers on 10 races from Belmont, Calder, Churchill Downs, and Santa Anita (races 1-5). Five of the bets must be on Belmont races.

To register, visit any Nassau OTB branch or go to www.nassauotb.com.