02/23/2015 10:25AM

Fornatale: Cettina scores big with Ekati's Phaeton


Sports fans are well aware of the supposed Sports Illustrated cover jinx, but in the handicapping-contest world, there’s a new urban legend: the DRF Players’ Podcast anti-jinx.

Two weeks ago, Jonathon Kinchen appeared on the podcast. He went on to earn his second National Handicapping Championship qualification the following Saturday. And last week, Roger Cettina was a guest on the podcast. Last Saturday, Cettina was one of five players to earn an NHC berth on NHCQualify.com.

Cettina was simultaneously playing in a live event at Monmouth Park. The key to his success in both events was Ekati’s Phaeton in the Grade 2 Davona Dale at Gulfstream, which was the first contest event on NHCQualify.com.

“The early dirt races at Gulfstream showed an obvious track bias that favored speed,” he said. “She was competitive on figures and was making her third start at 3. The kicker was that last time she ran, in the Forward Gal, my notes in Formulator indicated a dirt course that favored outside closers, but she was dueling on the lead and beaten only 3 3/4 by Birdatthewire and a neck by Lassofthemohicans, who was 5-1 in here.”

With all that information, Ekati’s Phaeton was an obvious play for Cettina at 26-1 – she paid the cap of $42 on the win end for contest purposes and returned $21.80 to place, just 20 cents under the place cap. Cettina went on to back two more winners, Warren’s Gussie ($13 to win) in Santa Anita’s fourth race and Chocolate Ride ($28.20) in the ninth race Fair Grounds, the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap.

His day almost was a lot better. Had there been a disqualification in the last race at Gulfstream, where Danish Dynaformer appeared to come out and interfere with race favorite Dreaming of Gold, Cettina would have finished first at Monmouth instead of second, a $7,000 swing.

“The stewards at Gulfstream are really inconsistent. You never know what they are going to do,” he said. “But it was a great day, no complaints from me.”

Also qualifying for Las Vegas on Saturday were Ronald Odom and John Marino. Kinchen’s hot streak continued – he finished sixth in the contest. That’s not as disappointing a result as it might seem in a contest where five spots to the NHC were awarded. Since he’s already double qualified, he was playing for NHC Tour points only, and between the points he’ll receive for his sixth-place finish and the points he gained in another online NHC qualifier Sunday, he likely will be the new leader on the NHC Tour, just ahead of Cettina.

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Kinchen also finished third in the DRFQualify.com feeder Saturday, the final chance to win into the $100,000 Raise Your Game contest at Gulfstream this coming Saturday. He won an entry into the $100,000 Santa Anita contest on March 14-15 the previous weekend.

“I was planning on taking some of the NHC winnings and participating in some live events,” he said. “Winning those entries is huge because it allows me to keep my live-tourney bankroll intact while still being able to participate in two of the biggest live-money events of the year.”

Kinchen is considering buying extra entries at Gulfstream and Santa Anita so he can play more aggressively. As hot as he’s been, it will be no surprise to see his name on the leaderboard next weekend at Gulfstream Park.

The overall winner among the 330 entries on NHCQualify.com was Stephen Thompson, who put up an incredible total of $175.80, 3.7 times the initial bankroll of $48 and $38.20 ahead of his closest pursuer, Matthew Rentze.

Thompson also won outright in the $80 buy-in qualifier for the Gulfstream contest. For Thompson, the results seemed particularly well deserved after a brutal beat two weeks ago on NHCQualify.com. In the last contest race Feb. 7, the Grade 2 San Marcos, Thompson played big bomber Diamond Bachelor and only needed him to get second to secure an NHC spot. Diamond Bachelor crossed the wire second but was taken down.

“The racing gods made up for that on Saturday,” he said. “I got in the zone and had everything go right in every race. You have to enjoy that when it happens and remember that it can happen when it doesn’t.”

Thompson backed four winners in all, including Ekati’s Phaeton and Chocolate Ride, and he added another cap horse, Street Babe in the eighth race at Fair Grounds, the Grade 3 Mineshaft. Thompson, a funeral director known as “The Undertaker” in contest circles, will be making his seventh appearance at the NHC come January. Thompson will be the guest on this week’s DRF Players’ Podcast, so don’t be surprised if he qualifies again next weekend.

Saturday results


Rank Name Total
1 Stephen Thompson $175.80
2 Matthew Rentze $137.60
3 Roger Cettina $130.60
4 Ronald Odom $122.60
5 John Marino $120.40

All five win NHC entries and a $500 travel allowance.


Rank Name Total
1 Stephen Thompson $122.20
2 Cheryl McIntyre $117.40
3 Jonathon Kinchen $112.00
4 Robert Bertolucci $108.60
5 Andrea Avila $103.80

All five win seats to the $100,000 Raise Your Game Betting Challenge at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, plus a travel allowance.

Monmouth $200 Live-Bankroll contest

Rank Name Total (Prize Awarded)
1 Damian Cioni $2,007.10 ($11,500)
2 Roger Cettina $1,523.00 ($4,620)
3 David Conover $1,453.50 ($2,772)
4 Darren Yarwood $1,126.50 ($1,617)
5 Frank Salsano $953.00 ($808.50)
6 Larry Smitley $817.50 ($346.50)
7 Joe Tambasco $809.50 ($346.50)
8 Kyle Wagner $794.60 ($346.50)
9 Eric Anderson $718.00 ($346.50)
10 Jim Hom $648.50 ($346.50)
11 Jennifer Prince $582.00
12 Pay Lacey $456.00
13 Allan Gregory $436.00
14 Michael Pruzinsky $428.85
15 Thomas Maguire $406.40
16 Scott Carson $402.50
17 Jim Luke $396.00
18 Herb Iannuzzi $393.00
19 Gary Johnson $353.50
20 Bernard Reilly $359.00

All twenty receive a berth to the Simulcast Series Challenge Invitational where two National Handicapping Championship seats will be awarded.

Sunday results


Rank Name Total
1 Brett Weiner $96.00
2 David Snyder $87.80
3 George Chute $87.40
4 William Blake, Jr. $84.80

All four win seats to the $100,000 Santa Anita Betting Challenge on March 14-15, plus a travel allowance.