05/06/2016 12:42PM

Fornatale: Foster rallies big for NHC spot

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Michael Foster, a 44-year-old  nuclear power plant operator from Ypsilanti, Mich., will be heading to the National Handicapping Championship for the first time after winning outright on NHCQualify.com.

Foster got his first important win in 2014, netting $6,000 in a credit builder on NHCQ. He's been a racing fan since Canterbury Downs opened back in 1985. "My grandfather took me the first weekend and have loved it since," he said.

Foster's serious racing fandom went on hiatus for a few years when he spent a decade in the Navy, stationed in Hawaii and South Carolina (places without racing and in the age of dial-up Internet), though he played when he could. He moved to Michigan in 2002, but then had small kids so play remained sporadic until he found out about contests.

He was a once-in-a-while player when NHCQualify first launched. "I really thought a win-place contest would suit me at the time, but really I had no idea what I was doing," he explained, "so that stopped until the combination of reading The Winning Contest Player and the 'Horseplayers' TV show."

In his time playing contests, a frustrating pattern had emerged for Foster. Typically he's played well enough, but one or two mistakes would end up costing him. After Saturday's second event, it looked like history was repeating itself. "I switched off the winner to the favorite but it wasn't a big price so it didn't really hurt me that much," he said.

Short prices kept coming in, and heading to the second race at Los Alamitos, the start of the contest's last third, he was right around 30th, but only about $20 behind the leader.  "I didn't like either of the favorites in there and thought the four horse, Stole My 'Art, might have a chance," he said. "She was third off the layoff and coming out of a couple of wide trips, also dropping just a bit; well worth a shot at the morning line of 15-1 and she ended up being even better value at 29-1."

She got the job done and Foster was in a great spot going into the last couple of races, where he collected some place points to secure the overall number one spot. Afterward, he took to Twitter, thrilled at the chance to compete for his share of $2.5 million -- larger than the purse of the Kentucky Derby -- and an Eclipse Award at the NHC. He simply wrote: "Vegas, Baby!"