03/17/2016 12:36PM

Fornatale: All eyes on Ultimate Betting Challenge


The Stronach Group’s Ultimate Betting Challenge, a coast-to-coast, live-bankroll handicapping contest at Gulfstream and Santa Anita Park, takes place this Saturday and Sunday. The contest is positioned to grow into a third “major” on the handicapping contest scene, along with the National Handicapping Championship and Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

The field won’t be finalized until late Saturday afternoon but the prize pool will be over $200,000 and could swell up to $300,000 depending on the total number of entries. Up to 10 NHC seats and five BCBC seats will be part of the pool.

“Handicapping contests have an enormous impact and are an integral part of the horse racing industry today,” said Gulfstream’s contest director Nancy Berry. “They are a win-win for everyone, and Gulfstream would like to grow our contests to include other Stronach tracks and create the most competitive and profitable options for our players.”

At the top of the list of Gulfstream’s preferred partners is Santa Anita. Over the past few years, the Great Race Place has established itself as an industry leader when it comes to contests, particularly live-bankroll events.

“Horseplayers love to solve problems, and they want to see how they stack up against other players in the country,” said Santa Anita contest director Nate Newby. “When you put a bunch of smart players in the same contest, they’re all trying to show that they’re the best at what they do, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Berry agrees that the regular players themselves are what make these events special. “I value their input and I want to make sure that our contests are enticing to as many of these players as possible,” she said, also noting that contest play has proven to be an effective way to attract newer players as well.

The rules this weekend are simple. Buy-in costs $4,500. Of that total, $1,500 is devoted to the prize pool, which will be paid back at 100 percent in the form of seats to the National Handicapping Championship and the the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. Players re required to wager a minimum of $150 per race on at least 10 races per day, with a minimum of four  races each from Gulfstream and Santa Anita each day. Contest wagers include win, place, show, exacta, and trifecta.

Online qualifiers are one important reason why the UBC field is expected to be so large. Over 50 players won their $4,500 entry fees, plus a $500 travel allowance, on DRFQualify.com.

"We value our partnership with the Stronach Group in support of their live contest events,” said Ken Kirchner, manager of tournament operations for Daily Racing Form. “We are happy to have made a substantial contribution towards the overall prize pool and the success of the UBC."

Three players won two UBC entries via DRFQ: Bill Shurman, John Nichols, and Jonathon Kinchen. The names expected on hand include a who’s who in the contest world, with past Santa Anita contest winners such as Steven Wells, Gary Johnson, Duke Matties, and Damian Roncevich expected at Santa Anita. Bill Shurman’s brother Paul will be on hand at Gulfstream.

Players interested in participating should contact Nancy Berry (954-457-6284, nancy.berry@gulfstreampark.com) or Nate Newby (626-574-6391, nate.newby@santaanita.com) as soon as possible. For full coverage of the UBC, make sure you’re @DRFTournaments on Twitter and look for updates on DRF.com.

To see the full rules and a projected breakdown of the prize pool, navigate to http://www.santaanita.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/2016-TSG-UBC-Rules-FINAL.pdf


On Saturday, NHCQualify.com is hosting an event where players can win in directly to the National Handicapping Championship. Entry fee is $162 and up to four players will win NHC seats.

Here are the races that will be part of the contest:

4:30 Santa Anita 3

4:35 Gulfstream 9

5:00 Santa Anita 4

5:05 Gulfstream 10

5:21 Oaklawn 7

5:30 Santa Anita 5

5:35 Gulfstream 11

5:57 Oaklawn 8

6:05 Gulfstream 12

6:30 Santa Anita 7

7:00 Santa Anita 8

7:06 Oaklawn 10

In addition to the Stronach Group races, the sequence is highlighted by three graded stakes from Oaklawn: the Rebel, the Razorback, and the Azeri. The Gulfstream and Santa Anita races should allow for easy participation for players already competing in the UBC: Sign up is open at https://www.nhcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx