04/05/2016 9:09AM

Fornatale: A Skotz family exacta in DRF Bets contest


Chris Skotz is serious in his pursuit of winning the National Handicapping Championship Tour. So much so that even though he's already double-qualified for the NHC, he was multitabling in NHC contests last Saturday.

"I figured I would play one NHCQualify.com entry and then hedge between both the DRF Bets contest and NHCQ as it played out," he said.

Skotz, a 50-year old business development manager, also brought in reinforcements in the form of his father, Robert Skotz.

"I already told him I was taking him to this year’s dinner," he said, referring to the NHC finals, "but he wanted his own invite."

In the end, it worked our perfectly for the Skotz clan, as they hit the exacta on DRF Bets, earning Chris valuable Tour points - including a bonus for finishing first overall - and getting Robert his own seat at the NHC. Because Chris is double-qualified, an NHC seat also went to Edward Lawless, the third-place finisher.

Over on NHCQ, Chris Skotz was sixth, good for around 4,700 Tour points between the two events, which should put him on or near the top when the new leaderboard is posted at ntra.com later this week.

This was the second time Skotz has won a DRF Bets event this year.

"I wish I could say there was a method to the madness," he said. "There is certainly a learned skill, but it comes down to playing the right races."

Tournament players are typically looking for big fields in optional races.

"I would very rarely if at all play a small field in a  win-place tourney, as the places price become too depressed," he explained. "It's frustrating only getting $3.20 to place on your 20-1 shot when the odds-on horse wins by nine."

But in the win-only environment of DRF Bets - which requires 10 win bets of $10 each - that changes. "When a tournament is  win-only, even a small field is worth looking at," he said.

The day started slowly for Chris, who went zero for his first four picks while his father hit his fourth play.

"Fortunately, there weren’t too many high prices early, and with 14 races at Gulfstream and 12 at Turfway, it is important to have patience," he said. "In one respect, it helped that I hadn’t handicapped much the night before as I needed to pass on some races unless there was an obvious overlay that merited further inspection."

Eventually, Chris hit two winners at Turfway, starting with Hoochie Poochie.

"The race was a bit of mixed bag with turfers returning hoping to take to the synthetic surface," he said. "This horse appeared to like the track, and looked to be coming back in to this race really good, with a decent work."

Hoochie Poochie drew off to win like Skotz wishes all his 42-1 shots would. Later in the card he backed Oscar Nominated ($49.20) to win the Spiral Stakes. Oscar Nominated was the key to many a contest player's success on Saturday.

"In Mike Maker we trust," Skotz said of Oscar Nominated's trainer. "It was a ridiculous price on a horse with the right running style that figured to get first run on any closers if the speed came back, which it almost didn’t."

Once the Skotzs were both on the board, they played their tickets off each other's total.

"My view was if someone was going to pass me it had better be my dad," Skotz said, "so we discussed the type of horses he should play."

Robert hit a 45-1 shot at Aqueduct to take the lead from Chris, who had been sitting on top at $425. Then Chris re-took the lead by playing Oscar Nominated.

"With him as the target, now I had a number to shoot at, and the price on Oscar Nominated was too good to pass," Chris said. "I saved my remaining plays for prices in the last few races to protect and/or to react if someone caught something, and he was focused on a couple of mid-price horses to extend his margin while not catching my total."

When a price horse neither played won the last DRF Bets race, the Skotzs had a few anxious moments. Had any players in the top six used the horse, the Skotzs could have wound up on the outside looking in. But in the end, no one did, and it was a Skotz family exacta.

On the year, Chris Skotz has now cashed in four of the eight contests he's played, an unsustainable pace by any standard. Skotz, who ran third on the 2011 Tour, has a lot of summer engagements, so he won't be able to mount an all-out Tour run. But he's not giving up by any means. He'll look to play online selectively and plans to attend the Treasure Island contests in May.

"I have free nights, and the 100 percent payback makes for incredible value," he said. "I encourage all to attend as the larger field size will mean more Tour points and you won’t be competing against me for an NHC spot."