11/17/2006 1:00AM

Ten advance to title event


Frank Priola of Davenport, Fla., captured first place in Thistledown's handicapping tournament on Nov. 11, and in the process secured one of the contest's three berths in the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship at Bally's Las Vegas on Jan. 26 and 27. He also earned first prize of $3,187.

Gina Turner, who finished second in the tournament, and third-place finisher Jamie Michelson Jr. also earned spots in the NHC. Like Priola, this will be Turner's first time competing in the NHC, but that is certainly not the case for Michelson, who won the NHC in 2005, and who has competed in the NHC two other times.

Priola, the chief financial officer at the Orange County (Calif.) Jail, accumulated a mythical bankroll of $117.20 in a contest format that called for $2 win and place bets on seven races at Thistledown, and a contestant's choice of five other such wagers from races at Aqueduct, Calder Race Course, and Laurel Park. Priola's total easily topped Turner and Michelson's respective totals of $94.80 and $88.40.

Priola, whose big move in the contest came with a 30-1shot at Laurel, said he employed jockey and trainer statistics as a guideline for placing his contest wagers.

"At the end of January, I hope to be feeling as good as I was at the end of Thistledown's tournament," he said.


At the urging of a friend, Tony Castellano of Wayne, N.J., competed in the 2006 Meadowlands Thoroughbred Online Survival Challenge. It was good advice. Castellano, a first-time participant in an online handicapping contest, won the Survival Challenge to earn the contest's only berth to the DRF/NTRA National Handicap-ping Championship.

"My friend convinced me to participate," Castellano said. "He went out on the first night, and I kept on winning. I never expected to survive."

The Survival Challenge ran the duration of the Meadowlands's Thoroughbred meeting, from Sept. 29 through Nov. 11, and required contestants to make mythical $2 across-the-board wagers on three designated Meadowlands races each night. Castellano accumulated a bankroll of $698.40, which gave him a $25.20 cushion over the runner-up.

Laurel Park

Larry Mungiole of Philadelphia won the fall edition of the Maryland Jockey Club Champions Tournament handicapping contest Nov. 11 at Laurel Park to earn a spot in the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship.

In a tournament in which contestants began with a $200 account bankroll and were required to make minimum wagers of $20 on a pool of races from Laurel, Aqueduct, Calder Race Course, Churchill Downs, and Delaware Park, Mungiole finished comfortably in front with a final accumulated bankroll of $2,236.10. In addition to earning his berth in the NHC, Mungiole also earned first prize of $7,350.

Mungiole, a horseplayer for 30 years, credited his victory to having competed in handicapping tournaments for five years. Runner-up Frances Filoso and third-place finisher Frank Sorensen, a captain in the New York City Police Department, are also experienced handicapping tournament contestants, and they earned the other two berths in the NHC that were up for grabs.

This will be the second straight year Sorensen will represent the Maryland Jockey Club in the NHC. Filoso finished with an accumulated bankroll of $1,968.80, while Sorensen's final bankroll was $1,820.


With a powerful second day in which he nearly tripled his first day score, Russell Weber of Amityville, N.Y., won the Aqueduct Handicapping Challenge, which ran Nov. 11 and 12, to earn a berth in the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship and a first place prize of $35,000.

Weber was 18th in the field of 203 players after the first day with a score of 346, but in his big day on Sunday he finished with a total of 1,310 points, just 12 points ahead of Tony Linares. Chuck Martin finished third with 1,238 points. By virtue of their second- and third-place finishes, Linares and Martin also earned spots in the NHC.

The format in the Aqueduct Handicapping Challenge required contestants to make nine mythical $20 win, place, or show wagers, plus one $40 wager each day of the tournament.

"I came into the second day with a strategy to keep hitting 8-1 or 10-1 shots," Weber said. "But the thing that got me over the top was back-to-back winners at Aqueduct. High Again was only 7-2, but I was behind and trying to edge closer to make my key bet on Keep Your Day Job in the seventh."

Indeed, after High Again returned $9.80 to win after the sixth race, Weber used his $40 wager on Keep Your Day Job, who paid $24.40 in the seventh race.