05/21/2015 9:31AM

Fornatale: Pair of online qualifiers Saturday

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National Handicapping Championship qualifying action returns to NHCQualify.com on Saturday with a slate of 12 races and a chance for up to four players to punch their tickets to the NHC at Treasure Island in Las Vegas in January. Three of the seats are guaranteed to be awarded. Buy-in is $165.

At this year’s NHC, $2.3 million in purse money was awarded, and next year’s prize pool is expected to equal or surpass that total.

Also on Saturday, there will be a qualifying tournament on DRFQualify.com for the next Santa Anita contest. Last weekend, DRFQualify.com player Gary Johnson parlayed his low-cost, online qualifying win into more than $50,000 at the Santa Anita Preakness Challenge. Next month’s Gold Cup Challenge is expected to yield a similar prize for first place.

Buy-in for Saturday’s qualifier is $100, and up to three $5,000 Santa Anita spots will be offered. The top players on the NHC Tour are expected to play, and this is a great chance for all contest players to stand toe-to-toe with the cream of the crop.

Here are the races for Saturday’s events:
3:24 Belmont 5
3:41 Arlington 4
3:55 Belmont 6
4:00 Santa Anita 2
4:10 Monmouth 8
4:41 Monmouth 9
5:00 Santa Anita 4
5:12 Monmouth 10
5:30 Santa Anita 5
5:41 Arlington 8
5:43 Monmouth 11
6:00 Santa Anita 6

Monmouth and Arlington enter the mix this week in addition to the more-typical Belmont and Santa Anita. “We like the idea of keeping our contest sequences geographically balanced for our players in the Midwest and those at the Jersey Shore,” said contest director Ken Kirchner.

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Players will notice a logjam of races near the end of the contest, with three races scheduled between 5:30 and 5:43 p.m. Eastern. As always, it’s a good idea for contestants to put in default picks in all races to avoid getting shut out. The DRF contests usually feature more spacing, but Kirchner said dealing with races on top of each other near a contest’s end will provide good practice.

“One of the reasons our players are so successful in the big tournaments is that we provide them a multitude of challenges that mimic the realities of an actual live event such as the NHC,” he said.

As always, past-performances will be available on both contest sites. To sign up for the NHC qualifier, go to https://www.nhcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx. To play for a spot at Santa Anita, check out https://www.drfqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx.