01/11/2016 1:05PM

Fornatale: Kaiser back for another NHC

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John Kaiser of Krotz Springs, La., will be heading back to the National Handicapping Championship for the fourth time after besting a field of 274 players on NHCQualify.com on Saturday. The NHC is the world’s richest handicapping tournament, to be held Jan. 28-30 at Treasure Island in Las Vegas.

Kaiser was one of seven players to qualify for the $2.5 million even in Saturday’s contest The other six were Jason Lane, Albert Tiernan, Alex Larmey, Dylan McIntosh, Michael McIntyre, and Gary Wright.

Lane actually landed two entries in qualifying position, in second and fifth, with two very different tickets. NHC rules indicate that you can only win one seat in a given event, so Wright was able to slide in instead. It’s no skin off Lane’s nose, as he had already won his first seat with a fourth in the Dec. 26 NHCQ contest. He is running hot heading to the NHC.

But the day belonged to Kaiser. He’s been involved in racing as an owner and/or bettor for 25 years. “I fell in love with the NHC after my first trip,” he said. “I play a few tournaments each year with the hope of returning.”

Kaiser is usually a one-entry-per-contest type, but decided to play two on Saturday since opportunities to qualify for 2016 are dwindling. “I liked a few of my picks so my plan was to play those on both tickets and take shots in the other races to build a bankroll,” he said.

Kaiser started cold and was looking at a zero a quarter of the way through the contest. Then he played Bossmon in Aqueduct’s ninth race. “I liked him a lot and was glad to see him drift up from his 3-1 morning line,” he said. “When he won" -- paying $13.40 -- "it was nice to know that at least I wouldn't get blanked. 

Right after that he got a nice place collection at Santa Anita and his confidence started to build. “I knew I had a couple good horses that I liked at the Fair Grounds, so I felt good about the situation,” he said.

As the contest got down to the sharp end, Kaiser heated up. He loved Hayq's Fable ($12.60) in the Fair Grounds’s sixth.  “After he won it was time to take a shot in the maiden race at Santa Anita,” he explained. “I thought the favorites were beatable and a first-time starter would have a chance.”

Kaiser settled on Denman’s Call. “I liked the work pattern and the Gutierrez-O'Neill connection has been good to me in the past,” he said.

After Denman’s Call paid $46.20 (limited to $42 for contest purposes), Kaiser knew he was in with a shot, but also figured he’d need at least one more winner.

“Fair Grounds’s seventh was a race I had confidence in,” he said. “I thought Just Stormin fit well and would be the right price. He made me sweat, but got there in the last jump.”

Like many successful players, Kaiser plays to a score rather than chasing the leaderboard. After Just Stormin’s win, he consulted the board for the first time all day and saw that the additional $17.80 win-and-place mutuel had vaulted him to first.

“When I saw that I was in first with two races to go, I started to hope for favorite-favorite in the last two races,” he said. “It worked out that way and I was able to celebrate.”

The NHC field currently stands at approximately 616 entries in total – there are around 500 individuals who have qualified, a fifth of whom have two entries. There are still a few more last chances to qualify, so the field will continue to grow. Last year’s contest – the largest in history to that point – featured 606 entries.

For the full leaderboard with scores – as well as further links to who-played-what throughout the contest – check out http://www.nhcqualify.com/leaderboard.aspx?cid=306

Also this weekend, on BCQualify.com, 37 players won entries to the second round of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge contest on Jan. 24 by finishing in the top 10 percent of contests both Saturday and Sunday. Up to three entries are allowed in round 2. Seven players have already secured two entries: Sally Goodall, James Timinck, Mark Maguire, Steven Nemetz, David Snead, Ruth Snead, and John DeSantis.

On DRFQualify.com two players won their $4,500 seats to the Ultimate Betting Challenge at Gulfstream or Santa Anita on March 19-20. Thomas Labrodo topped the field on Saturday and on Sunday, Jim Patterson was best.