12/11/2014 1:06PM

Fornatale: Only 3 shots to earn NHC Tour points online

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On Saturday, NHCQualify.com is offering another mega-qualifier to the National Handicapping Championship. Entries cost $250 and up to 10 NHC seats will be awarded. But Saturday’s contest is significant for another reason as well – it is one of only three remaining chances for players to earn Tour points online this season.

Brett Wiener has taken command once again of the top spot on the Tour – though he still may face a serious challenge. But the really tight race on the Tour is to finish in the Top 150. Any player who ends up in the Top 150 and hasn’t already qualified for the NHC will get an automatic berth.

How tight is the race? Right now the player in 150th place has 6,319 points.  There are 346 players with 4,000 or more points. That means at least 196 players could play their way into the top 150 with a couple of good performances between now and the end of the year.

Saturday’s contest will follow the typical online format: 12 races where players must choose one horse to place a mythical $2 win-place bet in each race. Here is a look at the races that will be part of the contest (all times Eastern):

3:58    Gulfstream 8

We kick off significantly later than we did last with a 7 1/2-furlong turf stakes in Florida. It’s an interesting collection of horses including graded stakes winner Excaper and Mshawish, who returns from the layoff for Todd Pletcher.

4:21    Fair Grounds 8

Our first of five races from Louisiana Champions Day. Statebred sprinting juvenile fillies go six panels on the dirt in the Lassie.

4:27    Gulfstream 9

Back to Florida for the Harlan’s Holiday, a 1 1/16-mile dirt stakes for 3-year olds and up. There are some tough old knockers in here including Csaba and Hampstead Heath, but most eyes will be on Pants On Fire, exiting his third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, and up-and-comer Liam’s Map – a 3-year-old for Todd Pletcher with a whole lot of potential.

4:50    Fair Grounds 9

Statebred three-and-ups go 1 1/16 miles in this stakes on the turf. This is a competitive field of 10 with String King looming the one to beat. He comes to the race with a gaudy 13-for-32 record overall for nearly $700,000 in earnings, and is coming off a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure.

4:57    Gulfstream 10

Three-and-up fillies and mares line up for the South Beach, going 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf. Another big, full field that should be right up the alley of the many contest players who love turf racing.

5:19    Fair Grounds 10

Fillies and mares three-and-up take center stage here. Thirteen runners will go 1 1/16 miles on the dirt in this race that has chaos potential.

5:30    Los Alamitos 5

Our first race from the West Coast brings in some bread-and-butter American racing: a restricted claimer with nine runners going five furlongs on the dirt.

5:50    Fair Grounds 11

Our fourth race from Louisiana Champions Day is the Juvenile, 2-year old males going six furlongs. Cat Sup has speed from the inside and Mr. L.S. Shoe has speed from the outside. Perhaps they duel and set things up for a longshot closer?

6:00    Los Alamitos    6

Back to California for a starter allowance with eight runners going seven furlongs on the Los Alamitos dirt.

6:20    Fair Grounds 12

The fifth and final Champions Day race in the contest is the $100,000 six-furlong Ladies Sprint. This is a form handicapper’s dream as many of these have raced against and taken turns beating each other.

6:30    Los Alamitos 7

Statebred optional allowance claimers make up the field for this six-furlong Los Al race. Though the best last-out Beyer belongs to Roman Tizzy, there are a whole lot of ways you can go in here.

7:00    Los Alamitos 8

The anchor leg is the Grade 1 Starlet, where frequent-flyer Take Charge Brandi will try to cement her Eclipse award case for 2-year-old filly, going 1 1/16 miles. She’s going to have some serious competition from the likes of Feathered, whom she only beat a length in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.