07/07/2015 11:51AM

Fornatale: Brantley's aggressive play pays off


Finally, Amy Brantley is going back to the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge. She finished first overall on Saturday on BCQualify.com to win her $10,000 bankroll for the two-day event, the world's biggest live-bankroll handicapping contest.

Brantley has been an active tournament player for eight years and has qualified for the National Handicapping Championship five times. Her first NHC qualification came back in 2009 at Oaklawn. "Once you've been to a tournament, you're hooked," she said, "and I was hooked."

Her job as a Chief Compliance Officer for a medical company means she has to travel a lot, so it can be difficult for her to play in as many on-site contests as much as she'd like, but she's a regular online player.

Brantley qualified for the first-ever Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge at Santa Anita Park and it was a life-changing moment. "That was such a great experience that I've been trying to get back ever since," she said, "so I'm really excited about this win."

Everything about the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge appeals to her. "The Kentucky Derby is great," she said, "but to me you can't beat the Breeders' Cup for the best horse racing."

Between the quality of racing, the intensity of the competition within the tournament, and the great deal for the players, it's no surprise to Brantley how much the BCBC has grown since its first running. "It's just exploded with popularity and I can see why -- I'll never forget that experience," she said.

Brantley made a run that first year but made a fateful decision that ultimately doomed her chances. "That was the year Zenyatta won," she said, "and I played against her. I had a huge play in the trifecta and I left her out. I was sitting one-two-three coming down the stretch until she came closing and knocked me out."

The best contest players often have identifiable styles. Brantley is no exception. "I play aggressively, I go for broke," she said. "I usually play large trifectas in live-bankroll tournaments. I don't sit back and wait."

Her aggression takes a different form when it comes to the online format, but it's still there. "This is where strategy comes in," she said. "Even if it's a field with good-looking favorites, I'm  looking to play a horse who is going to make a difference. As a contest goes on, maybe I'll play a favorite depending on the leaderboard, but I'm looking to stay aggressive and play between 10-1 and 20-1 or higher instead of playing safe."

Force the Pass was one of Brantley's key horses on Saturday. Brantley collected $31 combined win-and-place on his upset win in the Belmont Derby, but she also had a couple of key place collections. "They gave me a much better outcome," she said. "I don't want a horse that's 8-5 or less if I like a 10-1 who can at least get second and pay me more money than the winner."

Daily Racing Form past-performances are the key to Brantley's handicapping. "I can have just the paper Form in front of me and be fine," she said. "I'm also getting my feet wet with Formulator. And I love that you can now use it on the iPad. There are certain trainers and race patterns I'm looking for. It's all about the information in the Form."

She also relies on the Daily Racing Form articles as well as the At the Races with Steve Byk radio show for an added layer of data. "There's a lot of good information out there about which races the trainers are truly targeting," Brantley explained. "There are certain trainers who only target certain meets, whether it's the Breeders' Cup or Keeneland or Saratoga or Del Mar. That makes a big difference because they're coming in live as opposed to others who are just doing the circuit."

Brantley currently sits in 31st place on the NHC Tour. Her goal is to inch into the top 20 and have a shot at the bonus money available for the contest-within-a-contest that will be held this year. "I'm trying to score tour points every month," she said, "I would have had more points on NHCQualify on Sunday, but I played for the win instead of playing the horse I liked."

Future travel plans may include a trip to Gulfstream Park for their Sept. 19 live-bankroll contest (DRFQualify.com is currently running qualifiers). "I'd really like to go," she said. "It's a live-bankroll format and should be a good chance to prepare and get ready for Breeders' Cup. It's a different way of playing and you have to practice."

If practice makes perfect, the rest of the field better look out. Brantley has the smarts and the playing style to make a major impact on this year's BCBC.