01/21/2016 1:50PM

Fornatale: Bauer goes into NHC on a high


A lot of good stories emerged on the 2015 National Handicapping Championship Tour, but none better than the one that belongs to Randy Bauer of Henderson, Neb. Bauer, one of 39 players to qualify for this year’s NHC solely by finishing in the top 150 of the tour, has been living on a roller coaster.

A year ago in October, his wife, Alli, had a daughter, Brooklyn. Two months later, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. “We were on top of the world and it was pretty rough to wake up to that,” Bauer said.

Bauer, a health club consultant by trade, qualified for last year’s NHC, but his appearance was in serious jeopardy because he needed surgery.  When the surgery went well he decided to head out to Vegas anyway.

The surgery was just the beginning. This year, Bauer underwent four cycles of chemotherapy which left him feeling weak and drained. He continued to pursue his passion of playing in tournaments. While he didn’t qualify directly, he had a number of close calls.

“I’ve been struggling with qualifying,” he said. “I would go to play in events online and half the time I couldn’t make it through because I was so exhausted and unfocused.”

Bauer’s friend Mark Maguire broke out a little gallows humor, telling him, “Remind me to play you in an $800 head-to-head.”

Bauer adjusted his style, putting more picks in ahead of time and continued to gather tour points. Bauer credits Alli for supporting him through a difficult time. “It’s been a really emotional year for us,” he said. “She’s been just incredible, at my side through everything.”

Heading into the final weekend, Bauer was in with a good shot to qualify on Tour points. He decided to play live at Hawthorne. “I was right there on the outside at 156th and my plan was to just sit on my bankroll all day and see where I stood towards the end.”

At the same time he was playing two entries on NHCQualify.com, creeping one up the leaderboard to 12th with the other far back. He just needed one top 10 percent finish.

“Coming to the last race at Santa Anita, between them I had to find a way in,” he said.

On NHCQ, Bauer was already firmly ensconced in the top 10 percent – he needed to finish in the top 46. Any favorite that won would be good news for him so on his good ticket he played one of the five longshots who could knock him out. On the lesserof his two NHCQ tickets, he played another longshot he liked, Flamboyant, trained by Paddy Gallagher. At Hawthorne, he dutched the other three longshots so he’d finish in the top 10 percent if any of them won.

He had the race surrounded, and when Flamboyant won at big odds, Bauer was headed back to the NHC for a sixth straight year and the second time in a row via the tour.

Flamboyant’s win was a little bittersweet. Adding to Bauer’s stress this year is his father’s health. His father, the man who got him into racing in the first place, is suffering from dementia. “I don’t know why, but as his health has deteriorated, he always asks me about a certain trainer,” Bauer said. “He’d say, ‘You know, the Irishman,’ and I’d say ‘Paddy Gallagher,' and he’d say, ‘That’s the one.’ ”

After he qualified, Bauer sat down and thought about everything he’s been through in the past 14 months. “For Paddy Gallagher to be the one that got me there, it was very emotional,” he said.

The really good news for Bauer is that his treatments are over and he’s feeling pretty good. He’ll head to Vegas in a much better place mentally and physically than a year ago. “Everything’s on the up and up and going well,” he said. “It’s great to start the year on a positive note.”

Weekend qualifiers

This Saturday there are two contests in the DRF universe, one on DRFQualify.com and one on BCQualify.com.

The DRFQualify event has a $250 buy-in and up to two players will win their $4,500 entries to the Ultimate Betting Challenge, a live-bankroll contest held at Gulfstream and Santa Anita on March 19-20. There will also be a DRFQ event on Sunday with the same structure.

Entries are also now open for Saturday’s final round one contest on BCQualify.com. Buy-in is $95. The top 10 percent of finishers will advance to round two, which will be held Sunday. Up to seven full $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge will be awarded out of Sunday’s event.

Here are the races that will make up the Saturday contests:
3:20    Tampa Bay 7
3:30    Santa Anita 1
3:50    Tampa Bay 8
4:05    Gulfstream 8
4:20    Tampa Bay 9
4:30    Santa Anita 3
4:35    Gulfstream 9
5:05    Gulfstream 10
5:20    Tampa Bay 11
5:30    Santa Anita 5
5:35    Gulfstream 11
6:00    Santa Anita 6

Understandably, the sequence is heavily slanted toward Gulfstream and Santa Anita – the Ultimate Betting Challenge tracks. Field size looks excellent, and the balance of races is good as well with seven turf races, three stakes, and one maiden. The spacing also looks player-friendly but it’s always a good idea to put in default picks at the start of the contest in case post-times drift and/or other distractions come up. DRF Classic past-performances are available on the contest sites.

To win your seat to the Ultimate Betting Challenge, go to https://www.drfqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx.

To start your journey to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, head to https://www.bcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx.