02/09/2016 11:46AM

Fornatale: Racenstein recovers from NHC disappointment


For many horseplayers, success can be borne out of tremendous disappointment. That’s definitely the case for Brooklyn’s Marc Racenstein. Fresh off a disappointing day two at the NHC, Racenstein became just the second online qualifier for next year’s event at NHCQualify.com on Saturday.

Gambling is in Racenstein’s blood. His father won his first car – a 1927 DeSoto – in a poker game. . .when he was 14 years old. Racenstein – and, yes, that is his real name – prefers the ovals to the felt.

“Back in the mid 80s, my friend worked his way through college at OTB and I would go visit,” said the about-to-turn 49-year old Emmy-winning video news editor. “That turned into going to the Big A on winter break in cold, bleak January.”

Given that he chose to spend his vacation not in sunny Florida but playing the inner dirt, it’s no surprise this Brooklynite loves New York racing in general, particularly Belmont Stakes day. “I treated my friends to 25 straight Belmonts before I missed last year’s because of illness,” he said.

Racenstein also counts Saratoga, Gulfstream, and Del Mar among his favorite tracks. He started in contest play six years ago and has qualified for the National Handicapping Championship four times and the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge twice.

This year he made a big run on day two at the NHC. “I was as high as 15th on day two and looked like a lock to advance,” he said, “but the last four bets I made all lost and I finished 75th, just $5 out of the money. I was do distraught I blew off the consolation tournament and caught the red eye home.”

A week later, he was still smarting from the close call, but he decided it was best to get back on the horse, so to speak. Racenstein entered the first official online qualifier of the year on NHCQualify.com, and had an amazing day, picking seven winners and absolutely dominating with a score of $160 that was nearly $30 clear of second.

Things got off to a great start when he picked Duffle Bag ($29.60) in the first contest event. “I liked both Dane Kobiskie horses there and was leaning to the shorter-priced horse,” he said, “but when he dropped to 4-1 I audibled to the uncoupled entrymate who was double digits.”

They finished one-two. “My friend Doc taught me years ago about taking the longer price of uncoupled entrymates,” he explained.

Two races later, he hit another longshot, Fourth Watch ($28.40), a good-looking firster by Tapit. Racenstein typically goes over the cards the day before, but he tries not to commit to his final decisions too early. “I'm a big believer in the physicality of the horses, so I make two selections and then wait for the paddock view and post parade to decide my fate,” he said. “I take into account the horses energy, tail and ear position, and warm-up. I've taught myself to make a judgment in a second’s glance.”

Physicality helped him later in the card as well as it led him to Lukes Alley ($12.20) in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. Then he really put his score over the top with Marquee Miss at Oaklawn. “I took her based on Thoro-Graph number power,” he said. “She was second best and was not coming off a layoff while the favorite was.”

He is not a leaderboard watcher, preferring to use his intuition to help him navigate a path to victory. “I didn't look at the leaderboard once,” he said. “I just played my selections with confidence.”

Racenstein believes that when you don’t like a price horse, it’s absolutely okay to play the favorites. His card also included Power Alert ($7.20), Mor Spirit ($3.40), and even Songbird ($2.10).

“I am still learning sometimes you should bet the best horse instead of trying to beat it.”

By finishing tops of a 364-runner field, Racenstein accomplished several things. He is now in front in two year-long contests: the NHC Tour and the NHCQualify.com bonus contest.