04/14/2016 12:15PM

Fornatale: Shugar pushes the right buttons


Dan Shugar is on his way back to the National Handicapping Championship after an excellent performance on NHCQualify.com last weekend. The 49-year-old Los Angeles business owner finished second in the field of 240 on the back of six winners, the longest of which was Sheer Drama ($18.80) in the Grade 1 Madison Stakes at Keeneland.

Shugar describes his selection process as "impulsive" but there's clearly a method to his madness. You don't get to the NHC five times without thinking things through. The first important decision he made last Saturday was to play two entries. "When that many races look salty, it's good have the ability to cover multiple horses," he explained.

Lately, there have been many instances where players on the DRF contest sites have made puzzling decisions in the anchor legs of contests, either by playing horses that won't allow them to win or playing horses in the last leg that wouldn't cost them a qualifying place if they won. Shugar did not make that mistake. He was in qualifying position going in to the last and understood that if odds-on What a View won -- which he did -- he'd be golden. No one could pass him. "I played a longshot, Soul Driver, instead, to protect the lead."

Shugar, a regular Daily Racing Form reader, has been a racing fan for 35 years and he's become very involved in contests over the last decade. "Contest play improved my ability to handicap by eliminating the gambling aspect of it and allowing me to focus on picking winners," he said.

His approach to handicapping is simple and one that more players should emulate. "I try to have fun and learn from my mistakes," he said.

Saturday contests

There are two contests in the Daily Racing Form world on Saturday. The first offers a chance to win your way to the National Handicapping Championship, the world's richest and most prestigious contest, where the winner will take home $800,000 and an Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year.

Buy-in for Saturday's qualifier is $190 and up to four slots at the big dance will be awarded, with three guaranteed. Qualifiers will also receive $1,000 in travel and a four-night stay at host hotel Treasure Island.

Also on Saturday, DRFQualify.com is hosting a one-day qualifier to Santa Anita's Preakness Challenge. The Preakness Challenge is a live-money contest held May 19-20 at The Great Race Place. Players can buy in to the DRFQ contest for $210 and up to two $5,000 prize packages will be awarded. Prize packages include the full $4,500 buy-in for the Preakness contest plus $500 in travel. Win your way in and learn why Santa Anita has earned its reputation as a leader in customer service in the contest world.

Here are the races that will be part of both contests:

4:05    Aqueduct 6

4:21    Oaklawn 6

4:26    Keeneland 8

4:38    Aqueduct 7

4:59    Keeneland 9

5:11    Aqueduct 8

5:32    Keeneland 10

5:33    Oaklawn 8

5:44    Aqueduct 9

6:05    Keeneland 11

6:09    Oaklawn 9

6:40    Oaklawn 10

You'll note that the Arkansas Derby is not in the mix due to its late post-time of 7:18 E.T. But it's still a cool sequence with three graded stakes and six stakes overall. There are four turf races and two maidens. Field size looks strong as well with nine of the 12 races having 10 or more entries. As always, free DRF Classic PPs are available via the contest sites.

To win your way to the NHC, go to https://www.nhcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx.

If you're interested in watching the Preakness from the Eddie Logan suite at Santa Anita, navigate over to https://www.drfqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx