10/08/2002 12:00AM

Rookie handicapper outplays ex-champ


NEW YORK - Two handicappers, one a rookie and the other a former champ, have joined the field for the fourth National Handicapping Championship after taking top honors at the Prairie Meadows qualifier.

Dustin Dooley, who did not place his first bet on a horse race until last July 4, and Steven Walker, the inaugural Daily Racing Form/NTRA Handicapper of the Year, finished one-two in the $2,050 Prairie Meadows contest on Sept. 28 and each qualified for the national finals in January in Las Vegas.

Walker, who won the first National Handicapping Championship in January 2000, earned his fourth straight trip to the national finals and is the only person to qualify four times. He had to settle for second place at Prairie Meadows behind Dooley, who scored a runaway victory over a field of 41 players at the one-day event.

Dooley, a musician and art and philosophy graduate from Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, got hooked on racing less than three months before the contest when he attended the track for the first time with his family during the Iowa Festival of Thoroughbred Racing.

Dooley and Walker will join the winners of Prairie Meadows's June contest, Steven Shaw from St. Paul, Minn., and Tom Dougherty from Urbandale, Iowa, to make up the Prairie Meadows team at the finals.

Del Mar Challenge

Stanley Goldman of San Diego topped a field of 6,700 to win the on-track portion of the Del Mar Handicapping Challenge, a three-round contest held between July 24 and Sept. 11 at Del Mar's live meet. Goldman earned $10,000 and qualified for the national finals.

Contestants had to advance through two preliminary rounds to reach the Del Mar finals on Sept. 11, when the original field of 6,700 players was narrowed to the top 21. In the final round, players made eight $2 win and place bets. Goldman bankrolled a one-day total of $70.60 to earn the win, finishing $4.60 ahead of Lynn Cannella of San Diego.

Cannella and third-place finisher Anthony Cuadra of San Diego also qualified for the national finals.

Del Mar's fourth and final qualifying spot in the national finals went to the winner of its meet-long online handicapping contest, Candace Gallo of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., who outplayed a field of 4,100 entrants.

She is the wife of two-time national qualifier Ross Gallo and the sister-in-law of two-time qualifier J. Randy Gallo of Jupiter, Fla. A fourth member of this handicapping family, J. Randy Gallo's son, Randy, also is a former national qualifier.