04/30/2015 2:13PM

Fornatale: Four NHC Spots on the line in free Derby Day contest


In addition to the Public Handicapper Challenge, there is another free way to win entry Saturday into the National Handicapping Championship. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association is running an event on NHCQualify.com.

The format is simple: It’s a 10-race, all-mandatory, $2 win-place contest, meaning contestants must make one mythical $2 win-place bet in each of 10 races chosen for them. The highest scores win. Four spots to the NHC will be awarded, plus $400 travel allowances. At this year’s NHC, players divvied up $2.3 million in purses. That number is expected to be the same or higher next year.

Contestants must be NHC Tour members to play, but the entry fee is only $50 and covers the whole year. You can’t qualify for the NHC anywhere without it, so you might as well get the fee out of the way and take the shot at an NHC freeroll.

Please note that while this is a free contest, you still must click on the “Purchase Entry” tab on the NHCQualify.com home page in order to participate. Simply registering on the site will not get you an entry.

Because of the inherent chaos of Derby Day, the best plan is to get all your picks entered before the first race. In fact, many players will treat the free contest as if it were being run under NHCQualify.com’s All-In rules, where all picks have to be in before the first race and can’t be changed. A blended approach can also work, where you put all your picks in, ignore the first half of the contest, then start checking in and making adjustments as necessary.

Field size for Saturday could swell to 2,000 players or more. There are different schools of thought on how to approach a contest with such a large field. Dean Keppler, who qualified in the last NTRA free contest, said, “When you’re playing against that many other people, the key is to find prices.”

Paul Shurman takes the opposite approach in the free contests. “You really need to have close to a perfect day,” he said. “I don’t care about the prices in that format, I just try to pick all the winners.”

:: Click here to purchase a copy of “The Winning Contest Player” by Peter Thomas Fornatale

Here are the races in the contest (all times Eastern):

2:59 Churchill 8 (G2 Distaff Turf Mile)

3:36 Belmont 7

3:43 Churchill 9 (G2 Churchill Downs)

4:00 Gulfstream 7

4:30 Santa Anita 5

4:44 Churchill 10 (G1 Turf Classic)

5:00 Belmont 9

5:30 Santa Anita 7

6:00 Santa Anita 8

6:34 Churchill 11 (G1 Kentucky Derby)

It’s good to see the entire pick four from Churchill included here since that will be the focus of a lot of players’ action anyway. The spacing is fantastic, so if players decide to play the leaderboard and move around their picks during the contest, they’ll have plenty of time to so. Past performances are available at NHCQualify.com. To sign up, go to www.nhcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx.