07/07/2014 9:27AM

Fornatale: Plenty of online qualifying action

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There was a flurry of contest activity this past weekend, especially online, with the 2015 National Handicapping Championships in Las Vegas adding several new contestants.

In the second round of the DRFBets Summer Challenge on Saturday, four players advanced to the NHC in Las Vegas. Sean Nolan won the event with a final bankroll of $603. Michael Guadagno was second with $574.50, and also earning seats were Cheryl Kaufman ($489), and Karen Richards ($467.25).

Starting bankroll was $150, so these scores were a bit higher than some observers used to playing on NHCQualify and BCQualify might have expected (typical winning scores on those sites are around 2.5 times initial bankroll). However, there are two reasons why one would expect higher scores in the DRFBets format. For one thing, contestants make 10 $15 win bets, no place bets. Win-only contests have higher totals because place prices do not dilute final scores. Also, while typical online contests consist of all mandatory bets, this contest consisted of all optional races across four tracks, meaning players were not locked in to playing any particular races and could search for prices. Given these factors, scores were right where one would have guessed, between 3 and 4 times initial bankroll.

To advance to round 2, players had to finish in the top 20 in one of two round 1 events, held the previous two Saturdays. Then the final 40 competed for the four NHC spots. Given that the round 1 events attracted right around 200 entrants, this contest marked an excellent chance for players to qualify for the NHC: essentially they just had to finish in the top 10 percent in two successive contests, a format that rewards consistency. Players serious about qualifying for Las Vegas should keep their eyes out for other opportunities on DRFBets throughout the remainder of the year.

New format has debut

NHCQualify debuted its new format on Saturday, a “low-roller” contest where players could buy in for $25 to try to win $10,200 in credit at NHCQualify.com, BCQualify.com or DRFBets.com. The contest paid down to 20th place.

Jackie Jenkins of Gainseboro, Tenn., finished first of 448 contestants to win $2,550 in credit. Jenkins won in near wire-to-wire fashion, picking the first three winners and topping up with Mr Speaker in the Belmont Derby, who paid the full cap price of $42 for contest purposes. He cooled off after that but managed to get two more winners late in the day to secure the win. He picked C. Zee ($13.80) in Gulfstream’s ninth race and scratched into a winner in Gulfstream’s 10th. His initial pick didn’t make it to the gate but the favorite, Mr. Baker, won and paid $4.60, enough to keep him in front.

There will be another $25 buy-in contest on BCQualify.com on July 12, and, on the same series of races, NHCQualify.com will host a $165 buy-in one-day event where players can win in directly to the NHC.

Three qualify through BCQualify.com

Also on Saturday, three players earned seats to the $10,000 buy-in Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge via BCQualify.com. Joe Pettit of Sugarloaf Key, Fla., finished first overall with $132.80 from three winners: Mr Speaker (cap, $42), Zivo in the Suburban ($29.40) and C. Zee in Gulfstream’s ninth ($13.80).

Former trainer Gary Johnson of Maple Heights, Ohio, who values the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge above all other contests, won his third qualification to this year’s event. He’ll have to give up two of them under the one-per-customer rules of the BCBC, but players are allowed to transfer entries to others. Johnson ended up second overall on Saturday with a score of $100.40, on the back of four winners including Mr Speaker.

The third seat went to Sergio Ramirez of Reseda, Calif. Ramirez also picked four winners, the longest of which was Zivo. He held off the fourth-place finisher, an unlucky Anthony Acierno of Staten Island, N.Y., by just $3.90.

It was a feast or famine sequence for all three qualifiers. Among them, they backed 11 winners, but had no place points from any of the other races.

* Other notable names to earn NHC seats this weekend in various online arenas included former NHC Champ Ron Rippey, last year’s NHC Tour champ Brent Sumja, and notable up-and-comer, Emily “Mayhemily” Gullikson, one of the players who contributed to The Winning Contest Player.