06/27/2015 9:26PM

Fornatale: Arsenault tops Day 1 of Santa Anita contest


Day 1 of the Santa Anita Gold Cup Betting Challenge is complete. It makes sense that this series of tournaments has a number of regular players. After all, many of the best tournament players live in Southern California. But it's a testament to how great these contests are that there are a number of regular players who live in faraway places. For example, Day 1 leader Ray Arsenault sits in the lead with $11,094.

He was on the right side of two photos late in the day. In the Gold Cup, he needed Hard Aces, who just barely prevailed over Hoppertunity. In the nightcap, he had $200 to win and $100 to place on Contemplate.

"I was sure I'd lost the photo," Arsenault said. "But I was sitting with [veteran tournament player] Dennis Decauwer, and he said I won. Thankfully, he was right. I'm still in shock."

Arsenault also was in an enviable position at the end of Day 1 in the March Betting Challenge. He was sitting second and third with his two tickets. Things didn't work out well on Day 2.

"I still have nightmares about that day," he said. "If I'd just left my best ticket alone, I would have finished in a good spot, but I kept playing on both even after being first and second at one point on Day 2. At the end, I finished ninth, when they paid down to eighth. But this makes up for that."

Arsenault receives $5,000 for finishing the day on top. He also has a second ticket that's currently around $2,000. As for tomorrow, he has some idea of what he might do. "Maybe I'll let them come and get me on my good ticket, and I'll play off my second ticket."

Breathing down Arsenault's neck is a familiar name, Jonathon Kinchen, who has been on a roll this year. He has finished in qualifying position in five National Handicapping Championship qualifying tournaments and is in a great position to make a run at the NHC Tour title and the $75,000 bonus that goes with it.

But there is one hole in his résumé. Kinchen has yet to receive a qualifying score in an onsite tournament, something he'll need to do to win the tour. In Kinchen's position, some players might play conservatively in an attempt to make sure they get valuable tour points from his spot.

"That's not really in my nature," Kinchen said. "If I'm going to play, I'm going to play to win."

Kinchen also benefitted from Contemplate's win as he keyed the Donald Warren colt in the trifecta. "I liked the fact that the horse had been bet pretty hard both times, suggesting he had some talent," Kinchen said. "This was his first time on turf, and he was 22-1, so I thought he was just great value."

As for Sunday, Kinchen loves the spot he's in. "I love that there are no re-buys in a tournament like this," he said. "I can take 10 $1,000 shots, and if I hit one of them, I think I can end up in a great spot."

Here's how the contest works: Players buy in for $5,000, $3,500 of which acts as a live bankroll, with the other $1,500 feeding the prize pool. The contest consists of all of the races at Santa Anita over Saturday and Sunday. Permitted wagers include win, place, show, exacta, and trifecta. At the end of the contest, players keep any remaining portion of their bankrolls.

The contest drew 63 entries. There is a $60,000 cash prize pool divided as follows: $30,000 to first, $15,000 to second, $6,000 to third, and $4,000 to fourth. The top five finishers qualify for the 2016 NHC. The top two will receive full entries to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, and the third through fifth finishers get $2,500 toward the $10,000 entry fee for the BCBC. The contest provides excellent value to players as Santa Anita added approximately $16,000 in cash to the prize pool on top of the entry fees.

Here is a look at the standings heading into Day 2:
1. Ray Arsenault $11,094
2. Jonathon Kinchen 9,440
3. Aaron Vercruysse 7,035
4. Matthew Bauingo 7,030
5. Kenneth McMahan 6,695.40
6. Paul Link 6,077
7. Louis Constan 5,946
8. Ron Bowden 5,630
9. John Hoffman 5,530
10. David Snyder 4,845.50
11. Thomas Arndt 4,740
12. Randy Scholz 4,651.30
13. Jose Arias 4,555
14. Donald Allen 4,403
15. Phil Bongiovanni 4,282.80
16. Gary Margolis 4,012.50
17. Robert Crowe 3,994
18. Mark Feld 3,812.50
19. Hesham Ragab 3,668
20. Blake Jessee 3,600.70