03/10/2016 2:53PM

Fornatale: Long goes from covering to being the story

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For more than two decades, Wendy Long was a sportswriter at the Vancouver Sun, covering amateur and Olympic sports. These days she does the competing herself -- in the realm of handicapping contests.

Last weekend Long, 58, finished best of all on NHCQualify.com, earning a seat at the National Handicapping Championship for the fourth year running. Her racing fandom stretches back a lot further. “I was born a horse-crazy girl,” explained Long, a member of the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame in the media category. “On Friday nights my family used to go to the races at Exhibition [now Hastings] Park.”

Like so many other racing fans, she met with early success. Long recalls cashing the first bet she ever made, at age 9, on a horse called Dark Note. Since around that time she’s also spent time in the saddle. She used to clean stalls in exchange for riding lessons in Vancouver's Southlands area. “I still ride but I am better at picking horses than riding them,” she quipped.

She’s a regular on online leaderboards though she has yet to win a big contest. But she has had plenty of success on big days. She’s been in the money twice at the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, finishing fifth in 2012 and 12th in 2013.

Her handicapping follows a simple rule: There are no rules. “It's a bit of a dog's breakfast,” she said. “I look at past performances, of course -- workouts, bloodlines, trainers, jockeys.”

Long doesn’t shy away from the “feel” side of the handicapping equation. “Sometimes a horse will grab me and I don't know why,” she explained, “I do think, in my case, intuition plays a part now and again.”

She was happy to be able to play one of her favorite horses, Songbird, in last Saturday’s event. “I have loved her, and bet her, from her debut,” she said, “and while $4.20 [total win and place] isn't much, it can make a difference in a contest.”

Things looked a little rocky for Long when longshot King's Knight won the penultimate contest race at Gulfstream. “I was sitting fourth and after that I plummeted to about 13th,” she said, “but I had Ohio and Gary Stevens in the last leg. I figured I needed at least 5-1 to have a chance and was astounded to get 11-1. I was also astounded that no one ahead of me had it!”

For Long and her husband, Steven Nemetz, handicapping contests are a family affair. She happily described their Saturday morning routine, which involves both handicapping and riding their horses, OT and Laddie, both former racers.

“We wake up, study the races, go ride, then on the way home we stop at Fraser Downs to see how our contest picks are doing,” she said. “Thank goodness my husband is as horse-crazy as I am. It’s marriage made in horse manure heaven!”

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This Saturday there are two separate ways you can win your way in to the National Handicapping Championship through the Daily Racing Form family of tournaments. On NHCQualify.com, buy-in is $162 and up to four berths to the NHC will be on the line. Winners also receive $500 in travel and a four-night stay at the host hotel, Treasure Island.

Also on Saturday, DRF Bets is hosting a “Coast Cubed” NHC contest where two seats to the big dance will be awarded. Players must pay a $75 registration fee and then are required to make 10 real-money $10 win bets from their DRF Bets account. Bets must be made across the full cards at Aqueduct, Tampa Bay, and Santa Anita. Even though the plays are optional, the win-only format can lead to ties. The first tiebreaker goes to the player who signs up first so don’t delay in purchasing your entry. For more information, check out http://www.drf.com/coast-cubed.

Saturday’s third contest, held on DRFQualify.com, is the second-to-last opportunity to win in to the Ultimate Betting Challenge – a live-bankroll contest held next weekend at Gulfstream and Santa Anita. Buy-in for the qualifier is $320. These contests feature a great ratio – one prize package will be awarded for every 18 entries. Packages include the full $4,500 buy-in for the UBC plus $500 in travel.

Contest races for the NHCQ and DRFQ will be available on the sites when they are announced, along with free DRF Classic past performances.

Here are the races that will be part of the NHCQ and DRFQ contests:

3:54    Tampa 8
4:00    Santa Anita 3
4:20    Aqueduct 7
4:30    Santa Anita 4
4:35    Gulfstream 9
4:50    Aqueduct 8
4:54    Tampa 10
5:05    Gulfstream 10
5:24    Tampa 11
5:30    Santa Anita 6
5:35    Gulfstream 11
5:54    Tampa 12

As always, free DRF classic past performances are available on the contest sites.