02/21/2002 12:00AM

Turf-Vivor handicapping contest debuts

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Serious handicappers from many destinations will be at Gulfstream this weekend when the Turf-Vivor contest, worth a total of $128,000 in prize money, is held for the first time.

The three-day contest begins Friday. First prize is $100,000, with the balance being distributed to the second- and third-place overall finishers and to the top earners during the Friday and Saturday preliminary rounds. Entries, which closed Feb. 15, were $750.

The top four overall finishers will automatically qualify for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship next winter in Las Vegas.

Gulfstream has never hosted a handicapping contest of such magnitude. Scott Savin, president and general manager, said he is "really excited about this contest. We have people coming from Europe, Mexico, and all over the U.S."

The contest format differs from most others. During the preliminaries, contestants will make $2 across-the-board wagers on one horse in each of five selected races. The 16 players who finish with the highest totals will then advance to the final round Sunday. Those 16 players will be seeded according to total winnings and then face off in head-to-head competition, with each round consisting of two races (in case of ties, the higher seed will advance).

The head-to-head competition will reduce the field until a champion is determined. "It's designed like the NCAA basketball championships," said Savin.

The Turf-Vivor name is a takeoff on the popular television reality series, "Survivor."

Contest rules will cap longshot payoffs. The cap for a win payoff is $42; for place and show, $22.