07/14/2014 11:22AM

Fornatale: High scores at weekend contest

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New names and high scores were the order of the day in Saturday’s contest at NHCQualify.com. Four players earned berths to the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas, to be held in January at Treasure Island.

The overall winner was James Nace, from Egg Harbor Township, N.J., who almost quadrupled his initial bankroll of $48, putting up a score of $189.40. To put that into perspective, the typical winning score in this format – 12 mandatory races where players must make 12 $2 win-place bets – is more like $120, or 2 1/2 times the initial bankroll.

Also earning trips to Vegas were Pat Oshea, of Mandeville, La. ($176.40); John Trabulsi, of Easton, Pa. ($157.50); and Eric Lange of Harrisburg, Pa. ($155.90). Lange was $12 clear of the fifth-place finisher, Vancouver’s Steve Nemetz – a tough beat for Nemetz, to be sure, but not quite as painful as some of the near misses we’ve seen in recent weeks.

As you might expect with such high scores, there were a couple of cap (or very near cap) horses in the sequence. All four qualifiers had both of them.

The first came in Gulfstream’s ninth race, the eighth contest event, a 2-year-old sprint stakes race. Sing Praises had a great angle for a cap horse – he was a speed horse who had broken poorly at first asking. One could see from the way he was bet in that first race that he was supposed to be okay – he was 2-1 in there and ran well enough to be second despite that awkward beginning.

On Saturday, with a clean break, he won at almost 21-1. This is a good angle to look for with 2-year-olds at the upcoming Saratoga and Del Mar meets.

Another big bomb dropped in the contest’s anchor leg, Gulfstream’s 11th race. This was a cheap claiming event, but once again, finding the speed was the key.

There was other speed in the race, and it certainly didn’t seem likely before the race that Distinctive Pic would be good enough to wire the field. But his PPs showed that he always at least tries to make the front – a huge asset, especially in cheap dirt races where a lot of the field has no interest in passing other horses. He also was getting a weight break. At almost 20-1, he certainly was a smart contest play, and on Saturday, he did the business. Distinctive Pic wired the field.

For a look at the leaderboard, including a chance to see whom every player in the contest picked in each race, check out the full standings here.

Action on NHCQualify.com returns Saturday with a card that hopefully will include plenty of action from the opening Saturdays at Saratoga and Del Mar. On Sunday, there is a one-day qualifier at BCQualify.com. Make your weekend contest plans today.