01/01/2015 10:56AM

Fornatale: Bialek goes to great lengths to reach NHC


Even Eric Bialek didn’t realize the lengths he was willing to go to in order to qualify for the National Handicapping Championship. When he spoke with Daily Racing Form last week, the plan was simply to play in last Saturday’s NHCQualify.com contest and hope for the best.

Bialek had two ways to win last weekend: He could have qualified by finishing among the top eight on NHCQualify.com, or a top 10 percent finish could have gotten him enough NHC Tour points to finish in the top 150 on the tour, securing an automatic NHC berth. Either way would have gotten him a trip to Las Vegas.

Unfortunately for Bialek, Saturday didn’t go as planned. He did poorly on NHCQualify.com and was looking at sitting out this year’s NHC, having slipped down to 151st in the tour standings. But there still was hope. The last tour event of the year was happening last Sunday in San Diego. Bialek lives in Chicago, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“In addition to horse racing, one of my other big hobbies is traveling,” said Bialek, 23.

As a result, Bialek has accrued a lot of frequent-flier miles over the last few years. After talking with his parents and friends, including NHC Tour player Jonathon Kinchen, Bialek made his decision. “The consensus was that I should go for it,” he said, “especially considering how close I was to qualifying all year.”

Bialek flew to San Diego and played two tickets at Surfside. Even heading into the last race, things weren’t looking too good for him. He’d backed four winners overall – solid enough – but he’d split them among his two tickets. Bialek knew he still had a chance, however. He didn’t have to win the tournament; he only needed to finish in the top 10 percent to get the tour points needed to get back into the top 150. He played a 24-1 shot, Verraco, on one of his tickets.

This was no stab. Bialek’s fair-value price on the colt was 6-1 based on speed figures and the fact that he was unexposed at a mile. Verraco came through for Bialek and the rest of his backers, prevailing by a head after a stretch duel and paying $49.20.

After the race went official, Bialek still wasn’t out of the woods – it was a matter of how many others ahead of him also had played Verraco. He waited impatiently to see his name while the updated scores scrolled on the monitor. In the end, he made the top 10 percent by $4.

“I’m surprised how it all worked out,” he said, “and I’m psyched to be going back to Las Vegas!”

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Weekend tournament action

There is a new website in the DRF family of tournament sites, DRFQualify.com. There will be qualifying action for the $3,000 buy-in Raise Your Game Handicapping Challenge at Gulfstream Park on DRFQualify on Saturday and Sunday. Entry fees are just $80, and up to four spots to the Gulfstream tournament will be awarded. The same races also will be used for the contests on BCQualify.com and NHCQualify.com.

The NHC Tour is over for 2014, but there’s still a chance to qualify for the 2015 NHC. Action returns to NHCQualify.com on Saturday, one of three last-chance events, the others being Jan. 10 and Jan. 17. The entry fees are $250 for this Saturday, $165 on Jan. 10, and $400 for Jan. 17.

Up to eight seats will be awarded Saturday. For more information on the last-chance events, check out http://www.nhcqualify.com/howtoplay.aspx. You can sign up now at https://www.nhcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx.

On Sunday, the two-stage qualifying format returns to BCQualify.com, where the top 10 percent of finishers will advance to Round 2 on Sunday, Jan. 18. The top finishers in Round 2 will win full seats, plus travel expenses, to the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge at Keeneland. The buy-in is $110, and entries are limited to two per player. Sign up at https://www.bcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx.