07/24/2014 3:10PM

Fornatale: Conte offers insight into weekend tournaments


John Conte is one of the most recognizable figures in the contest world. The former National Handicapping Championship winner with a hairdo that’s the envy of much younger men, Conte qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge last weekend at BCQualify.com.

This weekend, he’s here to help players of all skill levels navigate the contests happening in the DRF Tournaments universe, both of which are running Saturday over the same sequence of 12 races. At NHCQualify.com, at least three and as many as five seats to the NHC in Las Vegas will be awarded. The buy-in is $165.

Newer players might want to head over to BCQualify.com to play in a lower-buy-in contest. For $40, players will compete for at least $8,000 in site credit at BCQualify.com, NHCQualify.com, or DRFBets.com.

Here is the sequence of races for both contests:
3:53 Saratoga 6 (12F turf claimer)
4:14 Monmouth 8 (1M 70Y allowance)
4:25 Saratoga 7 (6F allowance)
4:44 Monmouth 9 (1M turf handicap)
4:57 Saratoga 8 (G2 Amsterdam, 6.5F)
5:00 Del Mar 1 (6F starter allowance)
5:15 Monmouth 10 (6F stakes race)
5:30 Del Mar 2 (5F turf optional claimer)
6:01 Saratoga 10 (G2 Jim Dandy Stakes, 9F)
6:30 Del Mar 4 (7F stakes race)
6:33 Saratoga 11 (8.5F turf allowance)
7:00 Del Mar 5 (8.5F turf optional claimer)

It’s a good mix this week, using three of the main summer tracks, with five turf races and four stakes (including the two Grade 2s from Saratoga). And the spacing of the races should be particularly beneficial to newer players, giving them plenty of time between races to make final selections.

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Conte is known primarily for his prowess on the New York Racing Association circuit. In contest play, you can’t really give out hard and fast selections in advance, so instead, Conte offers a few runners to consider in each of the five Saratoga races that will be part of Saturday’s sequence.

Conte: “I’m looking at No. 2, ARC ABOVE. He’s trained by Rudy Rodriguez, who trains for me. He isn’t known as a turf trainer, but this one fits. He’s run well going long, and he’s dropping down. This jockey, Irad Ortiz, wins 24 percent for Rudy. He should get a good stalking trip. Another I’ll consider is No. 1, CAPITAN FUTURO. He hasn’t run since January 2013, which is kind of suspicious, but he shows win at the distance and is training well for his return. No. 4, KNIGHTS NATION, seems like one to catch in a race that lacks speed. He steadied vs. much better June 20 and switches trainers to Dallas Stewart, who is 33 percent after a trainer switch.”

Conte: “No. 3, CELEBRATED TALENT, goes out for Kiaran McLaughlin, who is 27 percent off the layoff. Has top speed, and you can excuse the previous two starts, where he steadied and bobbled. No. 5, RICH ‘N’ TUCK, goes out for Nick Zito, who got off to a good start at the meet. He gets the trip and is a closer vs. several speed horses. No. 8, JIMMY CONNORS, tries six furlongs. He’s another with top speed. He just missed at 6 1/2 panels and could hold on. Also, pay attention to No. 1, THE BIG BEAST. Anthony Dutrow and J.J. Castellano are a great trainer-jockey combination.”

Conte: “No. 2, ROCK FALL, must be respected for Pletcher. He’s won his last two by a total of 12 1/2 lengths and should be able to sit just off the speed. No. 4, COUP DE GRACE, switches barns. He’s been working bullets at Delaware. His sire, Tapit, is a very hot sire right now. No. 7, NOBLE MOON, also has great breeding. He’s been away since April. Speed expected. No. 8, CAPTAIN SERIOUS, is another speedster who moves up on wet tracks.”

Conte: “Clement is another one of my trainers, and I like the guy a lot. He always has his horses ready. No. 4, TONALIST, of course, won the Belmont Stakes. He’s simply the best horse in the race and my bet of the day. If I were in a contest, I’d love to be in a position to play him. If I needed a bit more of a price, I might look at No. 1, COUSIN STEPHEN. He’s got speed from the rail, which could give him an edge with the first turn coming up quickly at 1 1/8 miles.”

Conte: “If you’re looking for a longshot to take a chance with, I think No. 2, BALLYBRIT, could get a jump on the field. As we used to say in slangese, ‘chance for big balloons.’ No. 10, POLIZIOTTO, is a more likely winner. This is his first start this year, but Chad Brown points to this meet, and he wins at 26 percent on the green. Another to mention is No. 7, BLUEGRASS FLASH, for Mr. Clement. And No. 6, ELROI, is a deep closer you might consider.”