05/02/2016 1:39PM

Fornatale: Cap horse plays big role in latest NHC qualifier


Five players won berths to the National Handicapping Championship – the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping contest – via NHCQualify.com over the weekend. The first half of the doubleheader on Saturday sent Michael Foster, Ryan Mueller, and Bernard Reilly to Vegas, and Richard McCaulley and James Nace qualified on the back end on Sunday. This was the first NHC qualification of 2016 for all five.

For the first three-fourths of the contest on Saturday, Foster chipped away: He managed four collections, none larger than $11.80 on the strength of two winners and two place horses, but it was enough to put Foster in contention. He was one of approximately 25 players who connected with with 29-1 Stole My ‘Art (limited to $42 on the win end in the contest) in Los Alamitos’s second, putting him in great shape. He got two more place collections after that and finished on top of the field of 198 with a final bank of $106.10.

Mueller and Reilly’s cards were very similar with Stole My ‘Art, the lone capper in the sequence, also being their key horse. Mueller had also connected in the two previous races, with shorty Aparri ($2.60) in Los Al’s first and mid-priced A Lot ($11.80) in Belmont’s Elusive Quality. Overall he backed those three winners and had three additional place collections for a total of $105.70.

Reilly had $86.40 with two races to go, from two winners and two place horses. Conquest See Ya, going out for Mark Casse in Belmont’s nightcap, gave him the $13.20 win-place combined he needed to secure a spot at the NHC.

He was just a few dollars clear of Ken McMahan, but Reilly would have gotten a Vegas seat even had McMahan passed him in the last race. That’s because McMahan was playing for Tour points only because he’s already won the two maximum seats allowed at racing’s championship contest. McMahan, eighth on the NHC Tour heading into the weekend, will improve that position once the new Tour leaderboard is made official later this week and is drawing live for the $75,000 top prize and the $2 million bonus that goes with it should the Tour winner go on to win the NHC. The NHC Tour is a yearlong, interconnected series of contests where players gain points by finishing in the top 10 percent of finishers in NHC qualifying events.

McCaulley was a little late to the party on Sunday. He failed to enter a selection for the first race, but he quickly made up for that with a hot streak in the second quartile of the 12-race contest. He backed Lady Kreesa ($39.20) in Belmont’s fourth, Giddy Up in Laurel’s seventh, and came right back at Belmont with the capper Bug Juice ($42.20 to win but limited to $42 on top for contest purposes). He only managed $3.20 in place points from there but it didn’t matter. His total of $138.80 was enough to win the day.

For McCaulley, it’s his fourth qualifying score for the NHC Tour and it’s a significant hit in that regard: Overall winners get a 25 percent points boost. The larger the contest, the more points are awarded, so overall online wins are a big deal. And because it happened on NHCQ, it will also count in the Cyberstars contest, an additional yearlong contest that will award $10,000 and a shot at a $1 million bonus to the player who earns the most Tour points throughout the year on NHCQualify.com.

Nace’s path to the NHC was similar. He, too, got Lady Kreesa and Bug Juice to score over the off going at Belmont. Things were very tight at the end between Nace and unlucky Terry Jerge, the third-place finisher. Jerge was the third player to have both Lady K and Bug Juice and was in qualifying position heading into the anchor leg at Los Alamitos. But Nace caught place points in the anchor leg and overtook Jerge, courtesy of odds-on favorite Gold Journey. He just managed to prevail, $135.70 to $134.40. Jerge, who played 7-1 Really a Princess in the last, is left with the cold comfort of $725 in breakage credits.

Also this weekend, DRFQualify.com held two events. On Saturday, Michael Ray won his way to the Santa Anita Preakness Challenge. Ray receives his $4,500 entry and a $500 travel voucher. On Sunday, Jeff Pesot, Gary Johnson, and Kee Seeman all won their $2,000 entry fees and $500 in travel to the Monmouth Pick Your Prize event on June 4.

Also this weekend, 84 players put up $12 to win entry into the Derby Day Round One qualifier on BCQualify.com. Players can also buy in to the Round One event for $110. Players finishing in the top 10 percent advance to Round Two on May 28 where up to eight full $10,000 spots to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge will be awarded, plus accompanying travel bonuses.