06/15/2015 12:00PM

Fornatale: McLeod makes improbable comeback


The most successful contest players know an important lesson that many novices don't fully understand: You should never give up. Horse racing can be -- and often is -- a chaotic enterprise. If a cap horse hits early many players think the contest is over and allow their attention to drift to other matters of importance. This is a mistake. If you fall behind, don't quit, play out the string, stay focused, see what happens. Sometimes the results will surprise you.

Consider the case of Zachery McLeod, who played in the sold-out NHCQualify.com yesterday. Ten races into the contest, he'd played really well. He'd tabbed three winners, including Alpha Bettor ($29.80) in Woodbine's eighth race, the third contest event.

The problem was he was absolutely buried. Veteran player Steven Nemetz was lapping the field with a score of $155.30. Nemetz's total after 10 races -- 3.24 times the initial bankroll of $48 -- would be good enough to win outright almost any week.

McLeod was mid-pack but seemingly out of it -- at $59.40, he was nearly $100, more than a cap horse, off the pace. But he kept firing, and he came up huge. In Santa Anita's seventh race, he played Head South, who won and yielded $47.20 combined win and place. That put him in the top ten but he still had two problems. He had to find the winner, of course, but he also had to hope that none of the eight players ahead of him picked the same horse he did.

In a normal week on NHCQualify.com, it wouldn't have mattered so much. Typically, there's no difference between first and second, or even in finishing among the top four or five -- the prizes are the same. But this week the NHCQ contest was unusually top heavy because the winner was eligible for not only a seat to the National Handicapping Championship but to the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge as well.

In the end, McLeod chose to play cap-horse Amaranth in the anchor leg. When the gates opened, it became apparent that he was drawing live for the win -- no one above him had picked the filly. When she prevailed in a front-running score, McLeod amassed another $64 and had done the near impossible - -he had run down Nemetz in the last jump. Nemetz didn't walk empty-handed either. He still recieved a seat to the NHC, the fourth time he'll be competing in Las Vegas.

DQ boosts BCQualify winner

Saturday's BCQualify.com contest also featured seats to both the NHC and BCBC and was also a sell-out. The overall winner was Joseph Johnson who bookended the tournament with nice scores. In the first leg, he played King Kreesa in Belmont's Poker, who led wire-to-wire and paid $36.80 to win. In the anchor leg, he needed a price and he found one in Fueled By Bourbon ($27.40). Johnson had to sweat a controversial inquiry before being put up over first-across-the-line Somethings Unusual. When the smoke cleared, Johnson was headed to both the BCBC and the NHC.

Second-place finisher Janice Houston took essentially the same path to victory, backing both King Kreesa and Fueled By Bourbon. Both Johnson and Houston backed two other winners and two other place horses as well, Houston's were just worth a bit less. She still earns a $10,000 BCBC seat.

Bajorek wins another Gulf seat

It's been a strong few weeks for contest player David Bajorek. At the end of last month, he won both a Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge on BCQualify.com and a seat to the Sept. 19 Gulfstream Park contest on the same day on DRFQualify.com. On Sunday, he grabbed another Gulfstream seat.

Bajorek appears to be a versatile player who adapts to the situation in front of him. Back on May 31, he backed many of the same mid-priced horses in each contest and had three winners in the body of the event. He changed up his play at the contest's end. On BCQualify, he only needed to finish in the top eight of 67. He was in good position going into the last and played 7-1 Secretsatmidnight, knowing he had the protection of the heavy chalk, Anxious Times, who won and paid $3.80. Bajorek ended up second.

On DRFQualify.com, the situation was different. He needed to finish in the top two to advance. There, he was willing to take Anxious Times in the last leg to secure qualification.

This weekend, with a more wide-open slate of races, he backed three winners, all big prices: Jolly Dancer ($32.40) in Woodbine's seventh, Aotearoa ($21.80) in Santa Anita's fifth, and Amaranth. Bajorek's fine play has stamped him as a player to keep an eye on.



1.  Joseph Johnson    $140.90
2.  Janice Houston $129.30

Johnson wins a $10,000 BCBC seat, an NHC seat, and travel package. Houston wins a BCBC seat plus $500 in travel.


1.  Greg Gass   $94.70

Gass wins a $5,000 seat to the Gold Cup Betting Challenge at Santa Anita June 27 and 28.



1.  Zachery McLeod        $170.60
2.  Steven Nemetz  $155.30

McLeod wins a $10,000 BCBC seat and an NHC seat, plus travel allowances for each. Nemetz wins an NHC seat plus hotel and $500 in travel.


1. David Bajorek   $141.20
2. John Garofano Jr.    $116.00

Both recieve $3,000 buy-ins to the September 19 Gulfstream contest plus a $500 travel allowance.


Prairie Meadows No-Entry Fee Live-Bankroll Contest

1.  Luke Peltz   $1,389
2.  Leigh Van Winkle     $1,327

Both win seats to the National Handicapping Championship plus a travel package.