09/09/2015 11:32AM

'The Bear' reaches NHC for fourth straight year

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Time was running out for Chris Fallica. Unlike most players, who have until mid-January to secure seats in the National Handicapping Championship, Fallica needed to make a move fast. Best known as "The Bear" from ESPN's “College GameDay” show, business picks up for him in a major way at this time of year as college football hits full swing.

"It was definitely something where I thought to myself, 'I better take care of this now,' " Fallica said.

Even at that, it wasn't easy schedule-wise. He arrived at the ESPN set in Blacksburg, Va., at 4 a.m. Sunday and got to work. "I grabbed some food, looked at the PPs, and tried to put something together," he said.

He missed the start of Sunday’s contest because of a production meeting, but when that ended, he saw that he had connected with Dekko, a cap horse at Del Mar, and he knew he was in the hunt. Going into Saratoga's 11th, where he had originally selected a mid-priced horse, he knew he had to change things up and go with a longer shot. He was eyeing Jimmy Ferraro's Outtacypresshills. "Two of my favorite things are barn switches and horses who run evenly sprinting on the turf who are stretching out," he said.

When Outtacypresshills won and nothing crazy happened in the last race at Del Mar, Fallica was headed back to the NHC for the fourth straight year. Fallica, 43, has been a racing fan since he was a kid. He used to go with his dad to Suffolk Meadows (a Quarter Horse track on Long Island) and Belmont Park. He eventually went to the University of Miami, where he worked in the sports information office during the football team's 58-game winning streak, and spent his free weekend days at the area’s three tracks: Gulfstream, Hialeah, and Calder.

"I've been around racing all my life," he said, "and I fell into the contest stuff when I moved up to Connecticut."

He played in the contests at the Sports Haven and Bradley Teletheater and had a very close call early on. He was at the top of the leaderboard and got swamped late when a longshot came in. "I learned then and there not to ever put one down too early in the win column," he said. "You can read a race perfectly, and sometimes things just don't go your way. You also never know when it's going to be your day."

Fallica also is an accomplished college football handicapper. He predicted that Ohio State would beat heavily favored Oregon by double digits in the NCAA title game last season. He sees similarities and differences between handicapping horses and football.

"With college football, I use a lot more feel," he said. "The numbers can tell you something, but you know about injuries, you know about the schedule a team has played, or maybe they have a rivalry game coming up; there's a lot of intangible-type stuff with college football. With horses, what you see in the Form is what matters most. I'm more of a form player than a feel player."

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The concept of the "public team" does carry over from one endeavor to the other. In college football, public teams are teams with large national fan bases and big alumni groups who are typically bet hard regardless of value. "Take a team like Notre Dame," Fallica said. "They are going to be double-digit favorites nearly every week, but they're 5-12 against the number the last 17 times they've been a double-digit favorite. They have so many fans that the number goes up and up past the point of diminishing returns."

Fallica sees this with certain types of horses as well. "There are horses who are going to be maybe 4-1 or 6-1, and a lot of people in the contest are going to gravitate to them, and I'll stay off those horses," he said. "The prices on the public horses just aren't going to be there."

How does a horse get to be a public horse?

"I look for a lot of obvious troubled-trip lines,” he said. “Maybe it's a horse who took up at the start and came flying late. I will bet against that horse every time. I'd much prefer to see the opposite: a horse that gets bet a little first time and just runs around the track. Then the second start he drifts up and is 10-1 and runs a lot better.

"Another thing is a horse who runs great at 15-1 and then next time the horse is going to be 4-1, and everyone is on him," he said. "Or I'll look online at which horses are getting touted, and a lot of times they'll be overbet."

In two of the past three years, he's made big runs to get into position at the NHC. In 2013, he got as high as 20th before flattening out. "Last year, again, I was in a position to make a run at the final table on Saturday, and I just went cold," he said. "I didn't have a winner the rest of the day."

Fallica has learned a lot from his experiences out in Vegas. "In the past, I think I played defense a little too early, and it cost me," he said. "Don't be afraid of playing longer-priced horses. Don't look for a shorter price just to add to your total. You're better off taking a chance with a longer-priced horse if that's who you like."

Fallica may be rounding into form for this year's NHC. If he can build on the success he had last year, you'll hear the bear roar at NHC 2016.