12/11/2015 11:44AM

Fornatale: The day - and friend - who started it all


There are people in your life you might meet only a few times, but they still manage to have a big impact. For me, Tom Stanski was one of those people. He passed away this week, much too young.

My life as a racing fan had barely begun in 1996. My “office” was in a cubicle row on the 14th floor of a building in Rockefeller Center. Next to me sat Frank Scatoni. We were editorial assistants who loved all things related to sports, and that spring we decided to follow the Triple Crown races. As such, we were duty bound to attend our hometown Triple Crown race, the Belmont Stakes.

It was on the train out to Belmont from Penn Station where I met Tom Stanski, the brother one of Frank’s closest friends. I gravitated to Tom immediately. I had never even purchased my own Daily Racing Form at that point. Here was this guy, around my age, who not only understood how to read the Form, he had marked up his copy with these amazing hieroglyphics! Surely all we needed to do to win was follow his lead.

The best part of the story is that the plan worked. We cashed a nice exacta early on and we were having a great time all around. This was the old days of the Belmont Stakes where it wasn’t really crowded and you were even able to – gasp! – bring in your own booze.

But my favorite part of the day was talking to Tom about racing, learning what those marks in his paper meant, and hearing his opinions of the riders. He was a huge Julie Krone fan – I made my first-ever simulcast wager (not a winning one) on a horse of hers at Monmouth – and he believed Mike Smith was mired in a problematic slump (though he did win one shortly after the remark).

I wanted to know Tom’s opinion on a rider named Rene Douglas. Douglas’s mount in the big one, Editor’s Note, had made a late charge in the Preakness, and Frank and I assumed – neophytes that we were – that this fact alone made him a major contender going farther in the Belmont. Tom had the dossier on Douglas: “He is a journeyman rider from Panama,” Tom told us, “He’s pretty good.”
Best of all, Tom agreed with our pick – at nearly 6-1. He was more of a jockey/trends-type player usually, but he’d handicapped this race. “There’s enough speed in there for him,” he said, “and Lukas has won this race the last two years.” As far as I was concerned, the man was a walking encyclopedia of racetrack knowledge.

Tom designed an exacta partwheel to play. I had no idea what he was talking about so I handed him my money and followed him up to the window. I don’t remember much about watching the race for the first time, but looking back nearly 20 years later I have to say we were very fortunate to get Editor’s Note up over the great Skip Away, who moved early into that hot pace that Tom was anticipating. Tom used Skip Away, too, and we caught the exacta which paid $107.50. All that really mattered was that we’d won, and we jumped up and down on the Belmont apron like three idiots who’d just had their first beer.


I think I cleared about $150 all-in-all on the afternoon, but it might as well have been $150 million for how that day changed my life. Racing is part of me now, my passion, my job, my life. And I have Tom Stanksi to thank for showing me that it was a game that could be not only enjoyed, but occasionally understood.

Two contests on tap

There are two contests in the Daily Racing Form universe on Sunday. The first, on BCQualify.com, is a feeder for the Dec. 20 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier. Buy-in is just $21 – perfect for new contest players – and one $190 entry to the qualifier will be awarded for every 10 players who sign up.

Also on Sunday, DRFQualify.com is running its second qualifier for the Gulfstream-Santa Anita combined Coast-to-Coast Challenge, to be held March 19-20, 2016. Entries cost $125 and up to two $4,500 entries to the live-bankroll event will be on offer.
Here are the races that will make up both contests:

2:58    Laurel 6
3:05    Gulfstream 6
3:20    Aqueduct 7
3:27    Laurel 7
3:35    Gulfstream 7
3;55    Laurel 8
4:05    Gulfstream 8
4:20    Aqueduct 9
4:35    Gulfstream 9
4:54    Fair Grounds 6
5:05    Gulfstream 10
5:23    Fair Grounds 7

It’s a nice set of races with four tracks, five turf races, and full fields. They are mostly allowance and claiming races, with two maidens mixed in as well. To start your trip to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, go here. To win your way to the Gulfstream-Santa Anita contest, click here.