02/08/2016 12:08PM

Fornatale: NHC qualifiers starting to line up


The online road to the 2017 National Handicapping Championship is underway. On Saturday, five players won their seats for next year’s NHC. They were Marc Racenstein ($160), James Riley ($130.40), Joe Maneen Jr. ($128.40), Robert Gianquitti ($125.80), and Howard Yancovitch ($122.20).

Racenstein, fresh off an appearance in this year’s NHC, hit the ground running with three winners in a row to start the contest, including Duffle Bag ($29.60) in Gulfstream’s ninth and Fourth Watch ($28.40) in Santa Anita’s third. After catching Mor Spirit ($3.40) in the Bob Lewis, he later added another three-bagger that included Marquee Miss ($26.20) in Oaklawn’s eighth. He consolidated his gains with a top finish on BCQualify.com as well.

Riley, Maneen, and Gianquitti all had one or more of Duffle Bag, Fourth Watch, or Marquee Moon. Riley had six winners and three place horses, Maneen had six winners and two places horses, and Gianquitti was evenly split between four winners and four place horses. Maneen also took advantage of the opportunity to multi-table, playing the same card and also winning an Ultimate Betting Challenge seat on DRFQualify.com.

Yancovitch had a fascinating day. He missed out on the three big prices but collected something in 10 of the 12 races overall, with four winners and six place horses in total. His longest-priced winner was Kenjistorm in the anchor leg, the sixth at Santa Anita, and his place prices ran the gamut from a low of Nickname ($2.80) in Oaklawn’s eighth, to a high of Happy’s Causeway ($19.40) in Gulfstream’s 11th.

For the record, only two of the five (Racenstein and Maneen) played Songbird. You have to feel bad for William Clark, who also played the heavy Kentucky Oaks favorite. If she had paid another 20 cents between win and place, he would have qualified ahead of Yancovitch.

Saturday’s contest was also the first one in two year-long series. For the first time in 2016, there will be a $10,000 bonus for the player who accrues the most NHC Tour points – which are earned by finishing in the top 10 percent of contests – on NHCQualify.com speifically. The winner of the NHCQ points contest will also be eligible for a $1 million bonus should that player go on to win the NHC.

In addition, also new for 2016, any first-time NHC Tour member will be eligible for a $10,000 bonus awarded to the “NHC Cyber Rookie of the Year.” The NHC Cyber Rookie of the Year will be the first-time Tour member who accumulates the highest number of NHC Tour points via NHCqualify.com.

The online road to the 2017 NHC began just one week after Paul Matties, 46, of Ballston Spa, N.Y., topped a field of 629 entries to win the $800,000 first-place prize and an Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year at last weekend’s 17th annual NHC. The 2016 NHC and NHC Tour offered record overall cash and prizes totaling $2,778,760.

Four win UBC spots

In other contest action this weekend, DRFQualify.com sent four players to the Ultimate Betting Challenge this weekend. The UBC is a $4,500 live-bankroll contest held at Gulfstream and Santa Anita on March 19-20.

On Saturday, Steve Nemetz ($145.20) and Joe Maneen Jr. ($128.40) won in, and on Sunday, runaway winner Grier Bibby ($168.20) and Terry Jerge ($117.20) punched their tickets. Bibby was quiet early and late but had a crazy five-bagger mid-contest, racking up winners paying $18, $31.20, $32.40, $7.80, and $21.60.

On BCQualify.com over the weekend, 86 players finished in the top 10 percent, thus winning into the Feb. 14 BCQ contest, where up to four berths to the $10,000 buy-in Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge will be awarded. Those 86 players paid just $21 to win entries worth $190.

NHCQ winner Marc Racenstein won Saturday’s event with a score of $160 while Mark Aylward continued his hot streak by besting all comers on Sunday with $154.20. The cutline for the top 10 percent on Saturday was $75.40; on Sunday it was $72.