12/14/2005 12:00AM

Unknown emerges at Turf Paradise

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Many of the best handicapping tournament players in the country journeyed to Turf Paradise last weekend for its $105,000 Regional Qualifying Handicapping Tournament, lured by the 12 Las Vegas contest berths at stake and its place as one of the last stops on the 2005 calendar.

But it was relative unknown Chris Skotz, a computer programmer from Campbell, Calif., who topped the sold-out field of 250 players from 25 states and won the $32,620 first prize in the two-day tournament. A parade of longshots on Sunday completely changed a leaderboard that had featured familiar names after shorter-priced horses ruled day one at the Phoenix track.

Skotz built a mythical bankroll of $143.20, based on $2 win-and-place wagers on all 18 Turf Paradise races over the weekend. Skotz, along with the rest of the top six finishers, earned berths into the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship on Jan. 27-28, 2006, at Bally's Las Vegas. Players finishing seventh through 12th earned spots in the Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans on Jan. 19-21. Only $23.80 separated the first- through 12th-place finishers in the high-quality field.

Skotz beat out Ronald Geary from Louisville, Ky., who finished with $137.20 and earned $13,980 in prize money, plus his second straight trip to the NHC. Joe Hinson, widely considered the king of the handicapping circuit, finished third with $136.20. Hinson, who has won nine major tournament titles, qualified for his third consecutive NHC. The rest of the NHC qualifiers were Bill Straus ($132.80); Steve Hendricks, qualifying for his fourth trip to the finals ($130.60); and Cheryl Britt ($129.80). Britt beat Adam Leoni in a tiebreaker for the final NHC spot, so Leoni will be going to the Horseplayer World Series.

The other players qualifying for the Horseplayer World Series were Roland Arroyo ($126.40), Howard Hong ($125.20), Jim Schwartz ($120), Todd Engelson ($119.40), and Ben Lester ($118.20). Dane Moore actually finished eighth, but had already qualified for the Horseplayer World Series, giving Lester the final spot.

In all, 21 players in the field had previously qualified for one or both of the Las Vegas tournaments -- eight to the NHC and 13 to the Horseplayer World Series.

Delaware Park

With an "all-in" wager on the last race of the tournament, Paul Matties Jr., from Ballston Spa, N.Y., beat 302 players in Delaware Park's Handicapping Challenge on Saturday, earning a trip to the NHC.

Matties risked his entire real-money bankroll on Temporary Saint ($5.80) in the 12th race at Turfway Park. In all, he turned his starting $200 bankroll into $2,602.50. He got to keep those winnings, plus the $15,000 first prize. He will join his brother, Kevin Matties, who qualified at Fairplex Park, in Las Vegas.

Paul Matties beat out Janet Mason, of Newark, Del., whose $200 win bet on Up an Octave ($17) in the Kris S. Stakes at Calder briefly shot her to the lead with $1,848. Mason earned $5,000 and qualified for the NHC.

John Zielinski Sr., of Ellicott, Md., ($1,655.90) and George Wright, of Newark., Del., ($1,460), finished third and fourth and earned berths into the Horseplayer World Series.

Tampa Bay Downs

Charles Goldstone, of Clearwater, Fla., romped in Tampa Bay Downs's Last Chance tournament on Sunday. He earned the one-day tournament's lone NHC berth.

Goldstone, a regular at Tampa Bay Downs, turned his $1,000 mythical bankroll into $4,720, based on bets on the live card. Goldstone easily beat out runner-up Rob Arcilla, who finished with $3,060. Goldstone's wife, Ann, won the same tournament in 2002 and played in the 2003 NHC.

The contest cost $25 to enter and attracted 101 players.