12/21/2015 11:23AM

Fornatale: Eight players win NHC seats


NHCQualify.com ran a mega-qualifier for the National Handicapping Championship on Saturday, with eight players winning seats to the NHC and 52 earning NHC Tour points. An impressive 519 players signed on to play. The NHC, the world’s richest handicapping contest, takes place Jan. 28-30 at Treasure Island in Las Vegas.

The eight NHC qualifiers from Saturday were Brent Sumja, Paul Parker, Roger L’Abbe, William Holobowski, Timothy Herboth, Justin Larsen, Mark Rudy, and Mark Holmes. Brett Wiener and Sean Nolan – both already double-qualified – earned valuable tour points by finishing in the top 10.

Sumja, who won the 2013 NHC Tour, picked seven winners and tallied $109.80. He earned his second NHC seat.

“It was my kind of tourney because no ridiculous bombs fell,” said Sumja. “Through eight contest races, I had six wins and two places, so I was probably supposed to be up there.”

Heading into the final race, he’d collected points in 10 of 11 events. “By the last race, all I had to do was pick the longest shot on the board as longshot protection to guarantee my second seat,” he said. “I thought about trying to block others to go for the outright win but figured I might get it anyhow and was lucky enough to do so.”

Sumja is now thinking about making a late move to get into the top 20 on the tour, which would make him eligible for an additional $25,000 at the NHC. “I have barely played on the tour this year as I’ve been concentrating more on cash play and cash tourneys,” he said, “but this was a nice one to take down.”

Given the success Sumja has had at the Surfside contests in San Diego – in his tour-winning year, he earned two wins and a second in a single weekend there – he has a good chance to crack the top 20. In any event, his opening odds of 125-1 to win the NHC, as posted at Treasure Island, seem like solid value.

Another familiar name to contest players finished just behind Sumja on Saturday, his good friend Wiener. The two men met on the tour a few years back. “We talk and text all the time,” Wiener said. “We both donate to aftercare charities throughout the year. He is very committed to that mission, being a former trainer.”

Wiener finished with $102.90 after catching Ibaka ($15 to win) in the anchor leg. He is in excellent position to finish in the top 20. “I’m guessing I’m now around 15th and will end up around 18th,” he said. “Finishing one-two in a field of 519 gives both of us great confidence heading to the NHC. To have a repeat of that result at the big one would be just fine with me!”

Also on Saturday, Wiener finished one-two with another top tour player, though this time Wiener got top honors. He earned a $4,500 seat to the Gulfstream-Santa Anita contest in March on DRFQualify.com, finishing just ahead of 2008 NHC champ Rich Goodall with a total of $102.90.
“In my opinion, Richard is the best contest player out there,” said Wiener. “We were taking the same horses every race, which is common for us, and even though I was picking winners, I couldn't catch him.”

That changed in the last race, where Goodall had to protect against the second and third players, and that left an opening for Wiener. “I was very, very lucky to pick the winner, especially with the trip he got,” Wiener said, referring to Ibaka’s trouble early and late.

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On Sunday on DRFQualify.com, John Fisher won his seat to the Gulfstream-Santa Anita contest. He hit the cap horse Dannhauser at Tampa Bay Downs in the first leg and added three winners to finish with $104.20.

Also on Sunday on BCQualify.com, two players won their $10,000 buy-ins to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. The overall winner was Mark McGuire with $123.90. McGuire hit the first three winners, including Dannhauser, and more or less cruised in from there.

Frank Mustari was the other BCBC qualifier. He had an impressive day, getting both of his entries into the top 10 by doubling up on Dannhauser, a gutsy thing to do with a cap horse in the first leg of a contest. He finished with $120.90 on his good ticket.

For full results and to sign up for future contests, check out NHCQualify.com, BCQualify.com, and DRFQualify.com.