10/19/2015 1:52PM

Fornatale: Not all dead-heats created equally

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This weekend on NHCQualify.com, there was a three-way dead heat for first – the handicapping contest equivalent of the 1944 Carter Handicap, whose photo-finish picture hangs on the wall of every pub in Saratoga. In many weeks, all three players would have won their way into the National Handicapping Championship, but this week, only two seats were awarded from the contest.

Tanya Taylor, Bernard Reilly. and David Snyder are having great years. Entering the weekend, each had qualified once for the NHC. Reilly sat 17th on the Tour leaderboard, Snyder was 27th, and Taylor was 58th, all with improvable scores (the top six scores are counted when figuring one’s NHC Tour points total).

The three players all picked two longshot winners on Saturday – Sarah Sis ($36 to win) at Keeneland and cap horse Papa Turf ($97, but limited to $42) in the anchor leg at Santa Anita. They all whiffed on their other 10 plays without getting so much as a place collection. The tiebreaker was most thirds in the contest, meaning Taylor got the victory, Reilly got second, and Snyder was left out in the cold. On Sunday, Snyder would endure another tough one – he was a narrow second on DRFQualify.com to Scott Barshack, who won a $4,000 seat to November’s Del Mar live-bankroll contest. Snyder received $325 for his trouble.

The good news for Snyder is that his high finish should help him immensely with his goal of cracking the top 20 on the Tour and qualifying for the “tournament within a tournament” at the NHC. The Tour has many benefits – over $250,000 will be distributed through it this year.

In a new rule for 2015, the 20 individuals who have accumulated the most Tour points in 2015 will compete for an additional $25,000 bonus and a berth in the 2017 NHC. Taylor and Reilly obviously improved their positions significantly as well. The race for the Top 20 will be one of the biggest stories in the contest world after the conclusion of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, an event which in and of itself could have major NHC Tour ramifications.

Speaking of bad beats, you’ve got to feel for DRF Bets contestant Bill Downes. Last weekend, Downes took a horrible beat when he finished tied for second, with a score theoretically good enough for a spot to the National Handicapping Championship. But not so fast – there was a tiebreaker in place. In the event two or more players finished with identical scores, the player who signed up for the contest earliest would win the grand prize, thus Downes was denied. Tom McNamara and Jon “Early Bird” Vanniel will advance to Las Vegas instead.

The DRF Bets contests consisted of only eight wagers, all win, a format a lot more conducive to creating ties than most. Look for a tweak to that format – as well as possibly a less random tiebreaker – in future DRF Bets events.