09/14/2015 11:59AM

Fornatale: Hellmers scores over huge field in free contest


A familiar name topped a field of 2006 players in Sunday's free NHCQualify.com contest: Christian Hellmers, best known for his consecutive second-place finishes in the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge, his win in the 2014 Horse Player World Series, and his inclusion in the cast of the "Horseplayers" TV show.

Hellmers started off strong. He came out of the gate backing consecutive winners, Interpol ($22.60 to win) in Woodbine's sixth and Sun and Moon ($11 to win) in Belmont's sixth. He came into the contest knowing exactly who he wanted to play. "I stuck to my guns today and didn't change my mind until the last race," he said. "I love winning the last race and being in control of my own destiny."

His audible at the end led to the inclusion of Mondaliste ($9.60 to win) in Woodbine's 10th. He could have gotten away with a place collection in that spot and still qualified, but had he missed getting any points in the anchor leg, he would have been on the outside looking in.

The victory, though worth less in terms of money than Hellmers's other noatble scores, still ranks as among his most impressive, simply because of the field size. "The more sharp minds, the more rewarding the victory," Hellmers explained. "I have to say it was a good day."

Joining Hellmers in Vegas will be three other players: David Gordon, Jeff Einardt, and Joe Maneen Jr. Einardt managed collections in six of the 12 races -- seemingly a low number for a contest with over 2,000 players -- but he made his collections count as he had the two longest prices in Interpol and Bad Student ($23.40) in Churchill's 10th.

Gordon and Maneen apparently put all their picks in early and benefited from the late scratches of their initial selections. Gordon cashed with four post-time favorites he scratched into and Maneen collected on three of them. Both players had several other winners as well, but there may be a lesson in there: Even short-priced horses can make a huge difference in contest play, no matter what the field size.

Also on Sunday, on DRFQualify.com, Lieutenant Junior Grade Edward Enborg won a seat to the $4,000 buy-in Santa Anita Autumn Championship. The contest will be held at the Great Race Place on Oct. 17-18.

Larmey doubles up

Chris Larmey had a day to remember on Saturday. He completed an impressive personal double, winning contests outright on both BCQualify.com and DRFQualify.com. On BCQ, Larmey and 19 other players advance to the Round Two Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge event on Sept. 26, and for his DRFQ win, he receives his second seat to the $3,000 buy-in Gulfstream Park Raise Your Game contest on Sept. 19. Multi-time NHC qualifier Rich Nilsen finished second on DRFQ, and he also wins a Gulfstream seat.

Three of the scheduled contest races were to be held at Kentucky Downs, which canceled. "All of a sudden you had only a nine race, all-mandatory contest," Larmey explained, "and that's a big difference from a 12-race contest because even one longshot in nine races is going to be a big advantage versus 12 races where more things can happen as the day progresses."

Larmey evaluated the sequence to see if he thought favorites or longshots were likely, thinking that might effect his strategy. In the end, he played it the way he usually does, "Even thought there were only nine races I thought it was pretty wide open," he said, "There were four 2-year-old races, which are always a little more chaotic, so I decided to play my normal aggressive style and it worked out really well."

Larmey connected with a mid-priced horse right away on both entries, Silver Lining John ($18.20 to win). The horse that really blew the contest open was Conquest Daddyo in the seventh contest event, Woodbine's Summer Stakes. Larmey pointed out that he was not merely "stabbing" with the pick. "I posted him as my pick on Public Handicapper on Thursday night," he said. "I loved that horse and had him on both entries."

Larmey thought Conquest Daddyo had run well in his debut and was bred to love a mile. But the key piece of the equation was the trainer. "Mark Casse wins these type of races all the time," he said. "Normally I might be lucky to get 3-1 or 4-1 on a horse like that but because Casse had another horse in the race that he said was maybe the fastest he'd ever trained, the price was 15-1. It was a gift from the racing gods."

On BCQ, he only needed to finish in the top 10 percent to advance, on DRFQ, he needed to finish in thetop two. So after Conquest Daddyo's win, Larmey changed up how he playing his two entries. "I thought I was certain to get in the top 10 percent on BCQualify so I decided to play longshots in that contest since that's the only way I could get hurt," he said. "On DRFQ I didn't need to be as aggressive."

One fun subplot in the BCQualify.com contest is that one of Larmey's competitors was his son Alex Larmey, who ran sixth and secured his second entry to the Round Two contest at the month's end. "When your kids are young and you play games with them, sometimes you let them win, whether it's chess or basketball," Larmey said, "and then at some point there comes a time when you realize you couldn't beat them if you wanted to. There will probably come a day when I realize that he's better at handicapping than me."

For full results from Saturday's BCQualify.com contest, go to http://www.bcqualify.com/leaderboard.aspx. You can sign up for the third and final Round One contest at https://www.bcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx.