01/15/2016 11:55AM

Fornatale: Next best thing to playing the NHC

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Contest players from around the country will have an opportunity to join in the fun of the National Handicapping Championship later this month via NHCQualify.com. This will be the third year that NHCQ has hosted Play Along with the NHC contests. The contests will take place on Friday and Saturday – and Saturday’s event will award a seat to the 2017 event.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to bring the excitement of the NHC to contest players who won’t be in Las Vegas,” said Jordan Goldberg of Daily Racing Form, the parent company of NHCQualify.com. “We’re offering the first 2017 NHC seat available anywhere and the Play Along contests have proven to be popular with players.”

The contest on Friday will have a $50 buy-in and the purse is guaranteed at $10,000 in site credit, but that number could grow based on participation. Prizes will be awarded to at least the top 10 finishers, and the overall winner will receive $4,500 in site credit or a full buy-in to the Ultimate Betting Challenge, the live-bank contest held at Gulfstream and Santa Anita on March 19-20.

Saturday’s contest will feature the 2017 NHC seat as the top prize, and at least an additional $5,800 in cash. Buy-in will once again be just $50, making it one of the least expensive ways to win in to the big contest all year. Unlike Friday’s contest, Saturday’s contest will require players to be members of the 2016 NHC Tour, a $50 investment.

The contest will follow the typical format used online, where players must pick one horse on which to make a mythical $2 win-place wager. Each contest will contain 10 races, including the NHC mandatories for each day. Saturday’s seven mandatory races all occur at the NHC final table, making the Play Along contest a great excuse to follow along with all the action as 10 NHC players compete for the top prize of at least $750,000.

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There are two contests in the DRF universe on Sunday. BCQualify.com is hosting a Round 1 qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. Buy-in is $95 and the top 10 percent of finishers will advance to the Round 2 contest on Sunday, Jan. 24. From that Round 2 event, up to 10 players will win their full $10,000 entries to the BCBC.

Also on Sunday, DRFQualify.com is hosting a qualifier for the Ultimate Betting Challenge. Players can win their entire $4,500 buy-in – plus a travel allowance -- for an entry fee of $125 via DRFQ.

Here are the races that will part of Sunday’s contest:

4:05    Gulfstream 8
4:25    Fair Grounds 5
4:35    Gulfstream 9
4:46    Oaklawn 6
5:00    Santa Anita 4
5:23    Fair Grounds 7
5:30    Santa Anita 5
5:42    Oaklawn 8
5:52    Fair Grounds 8
6:00    Santa Anita 6
6:10    Oaklawn 9
6:30    Santa Anita 7

It’s a bread-and-butter Sunday sequence highlighted by a couple of listed stakes – the Pippin at Oaklawn and the Astra at Santa Anita. But as experienced tournament players know, contests are a great way to turn a sleepy Sunday of racing into one of the most exciting horseplaying days of the year.