01/25/2006 1:00AM

Seventeen eligible for bonus, if they win


LAS VEGAS - A year ago, at the awards ceremony for the sixth annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, Emerald Downs announced it was offering a bonus program that would increase the next year's winner's prize to $500,000 for anyone qualifying at its one-day Ultimate Qualifying Tournament in July.

Shortly thereafter, Churchill Downs Inc. announced that it was going to award a $1 million bonus above and beyond the grand prize to anyone who won one of its qualifying tournaments and then went on to win the NHC. Sam Houston became the third company to offer a bonus - $1 million to the winner of its qualifier if he completes the double at the NHC.

So, with the seventh annual NHC being held this Friday and Saturday in the Bally's Las Vegas race book, 17 of the are going for far more money than the announced first prize of $225,000 from a total purse of more than $500,000. The winner also is recognized as the Handicapper of the Year and gets a trip to next January's Eclipse Awards as well as an automatic berth into next year's NHC, including airfare and hotel accommodations in Las Vegas.

Seven winners of the Churchill Downs Incorporated's Million Dollar Tour of contests and one from Sam Houston Race Park will be shooting for a payout of at least $1,225,000, with a $1 million bonus on top of the first prize. The Emerald Downs bonus guarantees $500,000 to any of the top nine finishers from its Ultimate Qualifying Tournament on July 31 who go on to win the NHC. Churchill actually hosted eight of its qualifying tournaments throughout the country, but the winner of one of them didn't meet the requirement of being a member of the Twin Spires Club or Golden State Rewards Network and is ineligible for the bonus.

If the winner is one of the Churchill contest winners, he will also receive a 26-inch by 14-inch glass sculpture built by artists Ken vonRoenn Jr. and Mark Payton.

A share of the entry fees from the last-chance tournaments held last Sunday and Wednesday at Bally's are kicked in to the total purse for NHC VII. So the total prize money will be more than $500,000 and first prize is likely to be more than $225,000.

That's enough to give the rest of the players plenty of incentive.

The champion will join past winners Steven Walker (2000), Judy Wagner (2001), Herman Miller (2002), Kent Meyer (2003), Steve Wolfson Jr. (2004), and Jamie Michelson Jr. (2005). Michelson and Meyer are in this year's field trying to become the first two-time champions.

But there's also plenty of prize money for the runners-up, with the top 20 finishers all cashing. Second prize will be at least $100,000, with $50,000 for second, $25,000 for third, $15,000 for fourth, $6,000 for sixth through 10th, and $2,500 for 11th through 20th.

There are also prizes of $5,000 for the top score each day, and $3,000 for the second-highest and $2,000 for third-highest.

In addition to striving for individual glory, each contestant (except for Michelson) will be part of a three-player team based on where they qualified, with the team that compiles the highest cumulative score earning $15,000, or $5,000 per player.

Each contestant makes 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers each day. Eight of the races each day are mandatory for every contestant, the other seven are the choice of the players, who can choose from six contest tracks: Aqueduct, Laurel, Gulfstream, Oaklawn, Bay Meadows, and Santa Anita. (Tampa Bay could be used as an alternate track).

For complete information and bios of all the contestants, see the pullout section in Friday's print editions of Daily Racing Form or go to drf.com/nhc.

Bonus babies

The Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is offering a minimum $225,000 first-place prize. The following players, however, are eligible for track-sponsored bonuses that would pay them much more in the event of a victory.

Jim Dennis56Mundelein, Ill.Churchill$1.225 million
Ross Gallo46Jupiter, Fla.Churchill1.225
Dominick Coppla87Tamarac, Fla.Churchill1.225
Richard Grose48St. Charles, Mo.Churchill1.225
Steve Duncan50Evansville, Ind.Churchill1.225
William Gonsoulin68Harahan, La.Churchill1.225
Eric Isaacson32Indianapolis, Ind.Churchill1.225
Robert Chandler65Texas City, TexasHouston1.225
Al Martineau67Maple Valley, Wash.Emerald500,000
Eric Schweiger55Kent, Wash.Emerald500,000
Marty Smith40Auburn, Wash.Emerald500,000
Robin Blair40Sedro Woolley, Wash.Emerald500,000
Peter Defotis80Tacoma, Wash.Emerald500,000
Don Sullivan58Houston, TexasEmerald500,000
Don Cook48Seattle, Wash.Emerald500,000
Donald Fischer43Bloomfield, N.J.Emerald500,000
Scott Sinclair27Coquitlam, B.C.Emerald500,000