12/29/2014 12:38PM

Fornatale: Eight qualify for NHC in final online event

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Eight players qualified for the National Handicapping Championship in the final online NHC tour event of the season at NHCQualify.com on Saturday. The field was led by Jonathan Kinchen of Euless, Tex., who finished with $109.60.

Kinchen typically prepares maniacally when he’s playing in a contest – when he qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge earlier this year he handicapped for three days -- but this Saturday was different. “I was visiting my brother in California and was actually supposed to go to Surfside to play their tournament on Satuday,” he explained, “but I was feeling lazy so I stayed in L.A. I opened the PPs maybe an hour before the NHCQ contest started.”

He had a few nice-priced winners including Dream Saturday ($14 to win) in Aqueduct’s eighth race, Buymeabond ($27.20) in Santa Anita’s fourth, and Distinctiv Passion ($15.60) in Santa Anita’s fifth. From there, it was a matter of holding his spot, so he played defensively, picking horses not so much that he liked, but ones that could hurt him if they had won.

“I know it didn’t make any difference if I won or finished eighth because the prize is the same,” Kinchen said, “But still I really wanted to see my name on the top of that leaderboard.”

This will be Kinchen’s second entry to the NHC and his preparations have already begun. “I’ve started keeping a track profile for Santa Anita,” he explained. “I’m recording a lot of data with the goal of understanding whether certain races were good or bad so I can evaluate horses coming out of them.”

“I’m a little bit overwhelmed,” Kinchen admitted. “I’ve never played in a marathon like this before.”

Still, Kinchen remains optimistic he can do well if he prepares properly. “I want to grind this thing out,” he said. “It’s an awesome opportunity and I want to make the most of it. I’ll be bummed for a very long time if I go out there and lay an egg.”

Among the other qualifiers were Noel Michaels ($97.80) of New York, N.Y., a five-time NHC qualifier who wrote the pioneering book about handicapping contests, The Handicapping Contest Handbook. Michaels also had Dream Saturday and Buymeabond and cribbed together points late with Bolo in Santa Anita’s sixth and place points on Sayes So ($3.60 to place) in Santa Anita’s seventh.

Mark McGuire of Newbury Park, Calif. was featured in Daily Racing Form just last week as one of the players looking to qualify for the NHC via the back door – that is, by finishing in the top 150 on the tour. That won’t be necessary now as McGuire strolled in the front door – his $97.20 was good for a sixth place finish and a seat.

Former NHC Champ Jamie Michelson Jr. of West Bloomfield, Mich. was the eighth and final qualifier with $92.60. He’ll be facing the task of becoming the first ever two-time winner of the country’s richest handicapping contest.

The other qualifiers were Robert Boles ($104.80) of Burleson, Tex., Don Beardsworth ($104.40), once second in the NHC, of Peoria, Ariz., Michael Pirrung ($102) of Irvine, Calif., and Barbara Bowley ($95.20) of Glendale, Calif.

Meanwhile, over on BCQualify.com nine players qualified for Gulfstream Park’s $3,000 Raise Your Game Handicapping Challenge, to be held live on track on Feb. 28.

On Saturday, the four players who won seats were: Mark Callahan of Orlando, Fla.; Henry Wessel of Roselle, Ill., William Moran of Maple Shade, N.J., and David Snead of Auburn, Wash.

On Sunday, they were joined by: Gordon Larson of San Antonio, Tex., John Farrar of Wilmantic, Conn., Daniel Kaplan of Las Vegas, Nev., Jose Suarez of Hollywood, Fla., and Jim Goodman of Frankfort, Ky.

Keep reading drf.com for more news about upcoming opportunities to qualify for the Raise Your Game, the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, and the National Handicapping Championship.