01/08/2015 12:02PM

Fornatale: Five contests mark busy weekend for players


It’s a busy weekend of action in the Daily Racing Form family of tournaments with two contests Saturday (NHCQualify.com and DRFQualify.com) and three Sunday (DRF Bets, BCQualify.com, and DRFQualify.com). On Saturday at NHCQualify.com, players have one of the last opportunities to qualify for the National Handicapping Championship online. Last weekend, Jose Suarez, who previously had been unlucky in NHC qualifying contests this season, turned things around and won his way to Las Vegas. Many will be trying to emulate him or secure their second seats at the nation’s premier handicapping contest, where they’ll try to win shares of more than $2 million in prizes.

Entries for Saturday’s NHCQualify contest cost $165 each and are limited to two per player. Four to six seats will be awarded, depending on participation. If you can’t play Saturday, there is another NHC qualifier Sunday on DRFBets.com, and the last-chance online event will be held Jan. 17 on NHCQualify.com.

Also on Saturday, players will have another chance to win the $3,000 buy-in to the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Raise Your Game Handicapping Challenge, a live bankroll event to be held Feb. 28 at Gulfstream Park. Two to four seats will be given to the players with the highest scores. The buy-in is $80, and entries are limited to two per customer.

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Here are the races that will be part of both Saturday contests:

3:05 Gulfstream 6
3:27 Tampa Bay 7
3:34 Gulfstream 7
3:56 Tampa Bay 8
4:03 Gulfstream 8
4:25 Tampa Bay 9
4:32 Gulfstream 9
5:00 Santa Anita 4
5:01 Gulfstream 10
5:30 Gulfstream 11
5:30 Santa Anita 5
6:00 Santa Anita 6

The sequence is heavy on Florida racing as Aqueduct and Oaklawn are under threat of cancelation due to cold weather. The spacing looks good, but be sure to get default picks in at the start of the contest so you don’t get shut out. Santa Anita’s fourth and Gulfstream’s 10th are scheduled to go off a minute apart, and Gulfstream and Tampa races may end up going off on top of one another.

The sequence is highlighted by four Grade 3 stakes races, three at Gulfstream and one at Santa Anita. In the third contest event, the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream, Lea makes his return to the races for Bill Mott in this one-mile dirt race for older horses. The field also includes the graded stakes winner Valid and the class-dropper Prayer for Relief.

The fifth contest race is Gulfstream’s eighth, the Grade 3 Marshua’s River, a turf race going 1 1/16 miles for older females. Chad Brown sends out the French-bred Summer Moon for the first time in North America. She comes to this with solid French form and an overall record of 7-3-2-0, including a close second in the Prix Coronation at Saint-Cloud. Amy Tarrant’s Ready Signal is another to watch in this spot. She’s found graded company too tough in her previous attempts, but this is an easier group, and she’s had a useful prep.

The contest sequence turns for home with the Fort Lauderdale, a 1 1/16-mile turf event. Grade 1 winner Lochte takes on an interesting group of older males, including the multiple stakes winner Za Approval, the Group 2 winner Mshawish, and the graded stakes-placed Howe Great.

The anchor leg, the one-mile Grade 3 Sham at Santa Anita, features the most famous maiden in America, Calculator, coming off two Grade 1 seconds to American Pharaoh. He will tackle a field of Derby hopefuls, including the graded stakes-placed Rock Shandy and the high-figure maiden winner Rockinatten, who goes out for Doug O’Neill for the first time.