09/16/2014 11:44AM

Fornatale: Ostrowski scores rare contest double

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The two free contests at NHCQualify.com in the past week each attracted a field of 1,000 players. When dealing with a field of that size, it’s awfully difficult to finish anywhere near the top, and it’s impressive to even end up in the top 10 percent. To finish in the top 1 percent, which players needed to do to qualify for the paid Sept. 27 NHCQualify.com contest, is a real achievement. 

Terrence Ostrowski, a 48-year-old grocery-store manager from Kinsosha, Wis., accomplished something amazing in these two events. He finished first Thursday in the All-In contest and then finished tied for seventh in Sunday’s Points4Picks event. That’s finishing in the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent twice in a row.

Even if he doesn’t finish atop the standings with either of his two entries Sept. 27, Ostrowski is committed to qualifying for the National Handicapping Championship this year. He sits at 179th on the NHC Tour, and players finishing in the top 150 on the tour who haven’t already qualified will receive automatic berths in the NHC.

“I finished eighth in the Sovereign Stables contest, and I also got some NHC Tour points in a couple of other online contests,” Ostrowski said. “I plan on continuing to play whenever I can.”

Ostrowski, who has played horses for 30 years, became disillusioned a few years back with the cash game. “It’s just so hard to make money,” he said. “A lot of the uneducated money has gone to the lottery and other places, except for places like Saratoga and Del Mar. When I do play cash now, those are the places I play.”

Tournaments have become an important part of his action. “I tried tournaments at first as a lark, but I’ve been able to have some success, especially since I’m just starting out. It’s been a great learning experience.”

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Ostrowski described his approach: “Because all the picks had to be in before the first race, I had to handicap the way people were going to bet as well as the horses themselves. In any contest, the first thing I’ll do is handicap all the races like I normally would, separating contenders into As, Bs, and Cs. From there, I look at the sequence as a whole and see what, if any, prices will jump out at me.”

On Thursday, there were a lot of price horses he liked, and he built a plan around those. None of those runners ended up going off at less than 5-1, but Ostrowski said that was partially a coincidence. “That was a result of that specific sequence of races,” he said. “I’m not afraid to take a 3-1 shot in a race where I don’t like anything else.”

He ended up having the two highest-priced horses in the sequence – always a key to victory in an all-mandatory contest. Also qualifying for the Sept. 27 NHCQualify contest were Richard Wright, of Camp Hill, Pa.; Franz Bronnimann, of Pawling, N.Y.; George Matkovich, of British Columbia; Gary Gibbs, of Homosassa, Fla.; Mike Illies, of Whitby, Ontario; Peter Rogers, of Summit, N.J.; Timothy DeWitt, of Sellersburg, Ind.; Leonard Ficarelle, of Massapequa Park, N.Y.; and Judy Raydo, of Westcliffe, Col.

Sunday’s format was a different animal. “The prices I liked didn’t matter as much on Sunday since the format was just about picking horses who finished in the money,” Ostrowski said. “I did have a 25-1 at Monmouth that ran second, but other than that, I don’t think I picked anything over 9-2.”

Ivan Lopez, of Ponce, Puerto Rico, was the overall co-winner of the Points4Picks contest. Lopez, a 45-year-old office manager who works for the municipal government, has been playing horses since he was 5. He’s played in tournaments for most of the last decade.

On Sunday, he had an amazing day, picking four winners, two seconds, and three thirds. That means there was only one race in which he blanked. Under the rules of this format, Lopez received 20 points for each of the winners, 10 points for the seconds, and 5 points for the thirds. He finished with 115 points, tied with Randall Scott, of El Segundo, Calif.

All of the horses Lopez picked were between 3-1 and 9-2. “In most contests, you have to take more risks in terms of prices,” he said. “But in this tournament, you need to play it a little more on the safe side. Even the favorites can be very profitable.”

Like Ostrowski, Lopez loves Saratoga. “There’s no other place you can experience the combination of the history and the quality of racing,” he said. “If you take a trip to Saratoga, it’s like going to the 19th century with the best horses in the country.”

Lopez is also keenly aware of Puerto Rico’s deep connection to the sport. “Horse racing has always been a very popular sport in Puerto Rico,” he said. “Angel Cordero set the standard for successful riders from Puerto Rico. John Velazquez may be the most successful athlete of the last 20 years from Puerto Rico. He has lots of fans here. And other people, like the Ortiz brothers, are keeping that tradition going.”

Joining Ostrwoski, Lopez, and Scott as qualifiers for the Sept. 27 NHCQualify.com event will be Bill Zvara, of Canfield, Ohio; Bruce Lay, of Glen Burnie, Md.; Jeffrey Amster, of Oceanside, N.Y.; Michael Lazarus, of Tinton Falls, N.J.; Bruce Dagostini, of Gilbert, Ariz.; Dan Weisenburger, of Stow, Ohio; Frank Pasquale, of Astoria, N.Y.; Gary Gristick, of Lebanon, Pa.; Jeff Pastorini, of Tampa, Fla.; and John Farnan of Skagway, Alaska.