03/03/2016 1:41PM

Fornatale: Mendez gets free spot in NHC via Twitter


If you’re not yet following @DRFTournaments on Twitter, what are you waiting for? If you’re not convinced, just ask Ruben Mendez, who won a free entry into last weekend’s contest on NHCQualify.com via Twitter and then won his way into the National Handicapping Championship.

Mendez, a 34-year credit analyst, learned how to read Daily Racing Form as a kid from his Grandpa Mario. Back then, his grandparents and parents took him to the Pomona Fair. He started playing more as Cigar hit the national spotlight circa 1995. He vividly recalls being at Del Mar in 1996 when Dare and Go upset Cigar in the Pacific Classic. “I never heard a monstrous crowd as silent as when Cigar got passed,” he said.

Del Mar became a family tradition with Mendez’s grandparents, mom, uncles, and brother spending nearly every summer at Del Mar in his grandparents RV at the fairgrounds. As he got older, the lessons from Grandpa Mario got more extensive, with Mendez learning how to calculate adjusted times and track variants, as well as the subtle differences in class at racetracks all across the country.

Mendez has a great bad beat story about one of his previous attempts to qualify for the NHC. Back in 2007 he was in Vegas for the Last Chance contest at Bally’s. “It was late in the day and I wasn’t too far out of the lead, maybe top 15 or so,” he explained, “and in one of the final races of the day I picked Conveyors Angel in the Tuzla Handicap at 48-1 and she crossed the wire first… but then she was DQ’d and they put up Singalong. So close, yet so far.”

These days his handicapping relies on a combination of class, pace, and trainer analysis. “I love DRF Formulator,” he said. “The modified view using incremental splits for ‘this horse’ is something I can’t study without. It just saves too much time.”

He relied on a banking analogy to describe how he uses the Beyer Speed Figures. “I love to use them as a gauge to predict how the average handicapper will view a race. My bank uses FICOs" -- credit scores -- "to assess risk and then try to improve upon it by layering it with additional risk factors and tailoring it with our experience and knowledge. They are a solid starting point and I respect them, but use them as one factor of many in my handicapping.”

There is one pet Beyer angle he uses whenever it comes up. “I call it the Dancing in Silks rule,” he said, referring to the winner of the 2009 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner at Santa Anita. “If a horse has the highest last race [Beyer Speed Figure] at the exact same track, distance, and surface, it’s an automatic A in my play.”

Mendez used the angle to score with Tepin in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile.

In addition to his day job, Mendez also “works” for Santa Anita as a Wagering Ambassador, helping fans with questions. But last Saturday he was working at his day job at the bank. “It was a hectic couple hours,” he said. “Going into the last race, we had finally cleared the phone lines with a minute or two prior to post and all I could think about was hoping the price on Too Fast to Pass would be enough for me to jump into fourth place and an NHC entry.”

At the horses were loading, his phone rang. “I had the business phone in one hand and my other is tapping my knee in excitement as I’m watching the race on my mobile and shouting inside of my head, ‘Go [jockey] Abel [Lezcano]!’ All I could do that final quarter of a mile was widen my eyes and bite on the inside of my right cheek trying to avoid cheering at all costs as they came towards the wire.”

Mendez is continuing the family tradition of passing racing along to a future generation. He often goes to the track with his 3-year old daughter. “She loves being at the track equally as much as I do but doesn’t respect nor appreciate laws of gravity nearly as much as I do, if at all.”


There are two contests in the Daily Racing Form family on Saturday. On NHCQualify.com, players can put up $190 to win one of up to four seats to the National Handicapping Championship. Prize packages include $1,000 in travel and a four-night stay at Treasure Island.

Over on DRFQualify.com, there is one of the four remaining opportunities to qualify online for the Ultimate Betting Challenge. The UBC is a live-bankroll contest held March 19-20 at Gulfstream and Santa Anita. It’s shaping up as a major tournament with an expected purse of over $200,000 and that number could continue to swell. Winners will receive their $4,500 buy-ins plus a $500 travel voucher. Buy-in for the qualifier is $250 and one winning package will be awarded for every 23 entries.

Here are the races that will be part of both contests:

3:38     Oaklawn 4
3:56     Gulfstream 9
4:00     Santa Anita 2
4:20     Aqueduct 8
4:27     Gulfstream 10
4:50     Aqueduct 9
5:09     Oaklawn 7
5:30     Santa Anita 5
5:38     Oaklawn 8
6:00     Santa Anita 6
6:02     Gulfstream 13
6:30     Santa Anita 7