09/07/2005 12:00AM

Twin Spires contest requires a tiebreaker

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It took an extra-race tiebreaker for James Levine of Louisville, Ky., to win the Twin Spires Club's first Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship qualifying tournament last Saturday.

The free tournament was open to all members of the Twin Spires Club, Churchill Downs Inc.'s player-reward program, at 16 locations, including Arlington, Calder, Ellis Park, Hoosier Park, and all Trackside OTB's. Fair Grounds and all Finish Line OTB's in Louisiana did not participate as scheduled because of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Playing from Trackside Churchill Downs, Levine earned the $750 first prize for having the most points at that location and the overall tournament's lone berth into the seventh annual NHC, which will be held Jan. 27-28 at Bally's Las Vegas.

Levine nailed three winners from the five Ellis Park races used in the tournament, including 7-1 shot Actual in the eighth race. His other two picks finished second. It left him in a tie for the lead with 21 points based on 5 points for a win, 3 for a place, and 1 for a show. In the 10th race at Ellis, which was used as the tiebreaker, Levine's selection finished second and carried him to victory.

The Twin Spires Club is hosting two more similar contests across its 16 locations over the next two Saturdays. A single NHC berth is at stake in each contest. This Saturday's contest will use Calder races. The Sept. 17 contest will use Arlington races.

Prairie Meadows

Saturday's DRF/NTRA qualifying tournament at Prairie Meadows may prove, at least on a percentage basis, to be the easiest spot in the country to earn a bid into January's finals in Las Vegas.

The contest closed on Sept. 1 with 39 entrants, and the top three finishers will win an entry and an expense-paid trip to the finals. The tournament costs $400 to enter and is a live-money event, with all of the entry fees being returned to the players in the form of a wagering voucher. Players will keep whatever is on their voucher at the end of the day.

Among those entered in the tournament are Steve Wolfson Sr., who finished fourth in the 2002 DRF/NTRA finals behind his son, Steve Jr., who won the $100,000 top prize. Dave Gutfreund, one of only a handful of people to have qualified for the DRF/NTRA finals four times, is also entered.

Woodbine

Allan Schaffer of Toronto put together consecutive big days and crushed a field of 225 entries in the Woodbine Thoroughbred Handicapping Challenge on Aug. 27-28. Schaffer earned the first prize of $23,512.50 (Canadian) and qualified for the NHC.

Schaffer finished day one in second place with a mythical bankroll of $80.80. He tacked on another $57.10 in day two, pushing his total to $137.90 based on 10 $2 win bets on Fort Erie, Saratoga, and Woodbine races each day of the two-day tournament. It was easily good enough to beat Dan Kenny of Lexington, Ky., who finished with $99.10.

Kenny earned $11,495 and also qualified for the NHC. Edward Dixon from Detroit finished third with $94.10, earning $5,747.50 and an NHC berth.

The Woodbine tournament cost $250 to enter and paid back all entry fees as prize money for a total purse of $56,250. The contest drew a large contingent of American players who traveled north of the border seeking the three qualifying berths in the DRF/NTRA Championship.

- additional reporting by Dave Basler