04/25/2014 4:18PM

Fornatale: A look at Saturday's NHCQ races

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Saturday’s NHCQualify.com contest kicks off with the 8th race from Tampa Bay Downs, a $16,000 claimer on the turf. This race is what a lot of contest players live for: a full field on the turf. Personally, I’m not sure I can make heads or tails of it but I can tell you this: I wouldn’t be in a hurry to play the favorite in a spot like this.

The second race in the sequence, Race 7 from Aqueduct, a statebred first-level allowance, is a good illustration about the difference between contest play and everyday play. In everyday play, a horse like #11 Captain Serious warrants serious consideration and is the race’s most likely winner. He’s fast and talented and this race appears to set up for his running style. That said, in a contest, he’s probably one to avoid. As a second-time starter with no clear speed figure edge going up against 11 rivals, there should be plenty of intriguing options at much better prices. And if Captain Serious wins at 8/5, so be it.

In Race 8 at Aqueduct, a $75,000 optional claimer, #8 Zivo looks tough and obvious, but he’s another you could try to beat for contest purposes. He looks sure to be running late but perhaps a mid-priced horse or a longshot can get first run if the expected duel develops between Spa City Fever and Comandante.

We’re back on the turf for Tampa’s 10th race, a first-level allowance sprint for fillies and mares. The favorite, #1 Fascinante, looks strong, but is opposable. She is eligible for a little regression off the big win last time and some other speedy-types in here could make life difficult. Perhaps a rival other than the obvious second-choice #5 Great Red Beauty can get the job done here in the mid-price range.

Many contest players do their best work in maiden races through a combination of deep pedigree analysis, paddock information, or just recognizing the patterns of the workouts printed right in the Daily Racing Form. These players will have a chance to show their stuff in Aqueduct’s 9th. My general inclination in a spot like this is to look to the mid-priced runners (between 5/1 and 15/1). A careful paddock/on-track look is warranted here.

California here we come for Santa Anita’s 4th race, a statebred stake for fillies and mares going a mile on the grass. Unfortunately, it’s just a field of seven and the three favorites look pretty tough. Usually, grass races are a good place to reach for a price but I might just try to get some points here, or play whichever of the obvious contenders seems like an overlay (in my definition for contest purposes, any horse under 6/1 ML is an obvious contender).

Santa Anita’s 5th race is another statebred stake, this time on the dirt going a mile for older horses. My exact comment from the previous race applies here as well.

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While we’re looking at statebred stakes, Hawthorne’s 8th race is a sprint for 3-year-old filles. This division is generally an excellent place to look for prices as sophomores of either sex can grow and change so much between starts that the form doesn’t always have to translate into performance. It’s certainly possible that #9 Richie’s Sweetheart has this field over a barrel – especially if she’s grown up since the big figures she ran as a two-year old. But maybe others have caught up since and if they have and one of her rivals runs with her early, then she can be beaten. At what I’m guessing the prices will be, I’ll go with the latter scenario.

We’re back in Arcadia for Santa Anita’s 6th race, a maiden statebred mile on the grass for three-year-olds. This is a full field of ten with opposable favorites, a contest player’s dream scenario. There are a few interesting ways to go here, with several runners who should improve markedly off their debuts.

Hawthorne’ 9th race is a statebred stake for elders going 1 1/16th miles on the dirt. This looks an excellent contest race. It’s a field of ten and the favorite is 4/1 on the line (a good sign). It also appears there is plenty of pace in here, and sometimes pace meltdowns can lead to prices if that scenario materializes. On the other hand, no matter whom you like here, you are likely to get an acceptable price, depending of course on where you are in the standings at this point.

Santa Anita’s 7th race is a six-furlong sprint stake for statebred fillies and mares. The morning line favorite looks very beatable and a couple of the other shorter runners might end up dueling. This might be an interesting place to be contrarian and take more of a price, perhaps #2 Could Be Trouble, who should be running late after getting unfavorable setups in her last couple of races.

The contest wraps up with a statebred allowance, Hawthorne’s 10th, a 6 ½ furlong dirt sprint. There should be pace enough to keep the favorite #5 I’m Old School honest early, meaning this could set up nicely for a price. Players will want to consider spending a lot of time on this race and looking at it from all angles. In a contest, the last race is also the most important because it’s the only time you’ll know exactly what you need to make your goal. It's a good idea to know who your top contest picks are, but also to know who you'll want to play if you just need a winner (these aren't always the same).

Godspeed to all players and horses competing on Saturday.