01/22/2009 1:00AM

Several find savior in 56-1 bomber

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LAS VEGAS - It was better late than never for the five horseplayers that earned the final spots in this weekend's Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at the Red Rock Resort.

Dean Shulman of Las Vegas; Dane Moore of Pinole, Calif.; John Kallas of Edmonton, Alberta; Karen Richards of Pembroke Pines, Fla.; and David Eckels of East Hampton, Conn. were the last ones to punch their tickets for the 10th annual NHC. Looking at their hometowns, it's clear that hopefuls came from all over the continent to try and make the prestigious field of 301.

The entry fee for the Last Chance Qualifier was $500, with 70 percent (or $350 of each entry) going to the NHC purse and the top finishers playing for the other 30 percent. But the main goal of the 113 contestants was to earn the NHC berth and a shot at the $500,000 first-place prize in the competition that was to begin Friday morning with East Coast racing and conclude with the West Coast races on late Saturday afternoon.

Just like in the NHC finals, the contestants in the Last Chance Qualifier made 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers with eight races being mandatory as determined by tournament organizers and the other seven being player's choice from the designated contest tracks. With many tracks not racing Wednesday after having cards Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the contest was limited to Gulfstream, Laurel, Turfway, and Beulah.

The competition came down to the final mandatory race of the day, the ninth at Gulfstream, a $40,000 claiming race. Whos Crying Now was the longest shot on the board at 56-1, so he was clearly a popular tournament play for those well behind the leaders, and when the son of Concerto rallied from sixth place in the final quarter-mile to win by 1 1/2 lengths, he lit up the tote board with payoffs of $115.40 to win and $38 to place. Contest payoffs are capped at $42 to win and $22 to place, but it still turned the standings upside down.

Shulman ended up with the top score of $131.20, followed by Moore at $127.80, Kallas at $121.40, Richards at $117, and Eckels at $114.80.

Kallas, who was the leader for a good part of the afternoon, was the only one of the five who didn't have Whos Crying Now.

* Those five have to be considered live longshots in the NHC field with their recent success. When it comes to experience, the nod would have to go to the five former NHC champions in the field: Steven Walker (NHC I), Judy Wagner (NHC II), Steve Wolfson Jr. (NHC IV), Ron Rippey (NHC VII) and Richard Goodall (NHC IX), because they have been through the fire.

* Rippey, longtime handicapper for the Newark Star-Ledger, is the poster child for public handicappers trying to take on the tournament circuit with his championship in January 2006. Trying to follow in Rippey's footsteps, John Conte, former New York Post handicapper who has his "The Grass is Greener" tip sheet, is in his third NHC in the last eight years.

* To give incentive to those who are out of it after Friday's action, the prizes for the top scores on Saturday increase to $5,000 for first, $3,000 for second, $2,000 for third, $1,500 for fourth, and $1,000 for fifth.

* Tournament updates and end-of-day recaps will be posted Friday and Saturday at drf.com.

* For those who want to get in on the action and are looking to play in the NHC next January, the Red Rock will host the first qualifying tournament on Sunday with two berths up for grabs. The Red Rock Shootout, with a 10 a.m. entry deadline, will have a $100 entry fee and the contestants will make eight mythical $2 win-and-place wagers with four races being mandatory and the others to be chosen from Aqueduct, Gulfstream, and Tampa Bay Downs. All entry fees will be returned as prize money.