12/31/2015 8:33AM

Fornatale: Crunch time for NHC Tour contenders


There will be a lot of anxious leaderboard watching this weekend.

It’s the final weekend of the National Handicapping Championship Tour, a yearlong series of contests. The tour winner receives $75,000 and a chance for a $2 million bonus should he go on to win the NHC itself Jan. 28-30 at Treasure Island in Las Vegas.

Jonathon Kinchen reclaimed the tour lead when he won Hawthorne’s contest on Arlington Million Day in August. He is in excellent position to hold on, but there are four contests this weekend. NHCQualify.com is holding the only online tour event. Additionally, Monmouth, Hawthorne, and Del Mar’s Surfside facility are holding in-person contests.

The biggest threat to Kinchen is Tommy Massis, whose late-season run includes a win in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. He plans to head to Surfside this weekend to play in its three events, one each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Presumably, he’ll play in the NHCQualify.com event as well. If he can finish near the top in two of those four contests, he could dethrone Kinchen and claim the $75,000 for himself.

Kinchen will be heading to Del Mar as well. “My hope is to play Friday and Saturday and either do well or have Tommy not do well,” he said. “Hopefully, I won’t even play on Sunday, I’ll just be sitting around drinking mimosas and rooting for my friends.”

There is precedent for a player to sweep the weekend series at Surfside. Two years ago during his tour-winning season, Brent Sumja got two wins and a second over a weekend at Surfside. Sumja scored a tour-points bonanza two weeks ago on NHCQualify.com, topping a field of 519 players and moving into the top 30. He’ll be at Surfside this weekend as well.

In addition to the battle for the top spot, players are still competing to get into the top 20 on the tour, allowing them to play for an additional $25,000 at the NHC, and to get into the top 150, giving them an automatic berth in the NHC if they’re not already qualified.

Saturday’s NHCQualify.com contest has a $165 buy-in, and up to six NHC seats will be awarded, with five guaranteed. There also is a qualifying event Saturday for the Gulfstream-Santa Anita live-bankroll contest on DRFQualify.com. The buy-in is $110, and up to two players will win $4,500 seats.

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Here are the races for Saturday’s online contests (all times Eastern):
3:50 Aqueduct 8 (G3 Jerome)
4:05 Gulfstream 9
4:20 Aqueduct 9
4:30 Santa Anita 3 (G2 Santa Ynez)
4:54 Fair Grounds 6
5:05 Gulfstream 11
5:30 Santa Anita 5
5:52 Fair Grounds 8
6:00 Santa Anita 6 (G3 Midnight Lute)
6:21 Fair Grounds 9
6:30 Santa Anita 7
7:00 Santa Anita 8 (G2 San Gabriel)

It’s a good mix of races: four turf races, three maidens, and five stakes. As always, DRF classic past performances are available on the contest sites. To play on NHCQualify.com, go to https://www.nhcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx. To play on DRFQualify.com, go to https://www.drfqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx.