12/03/2015 9:00AM

Fornatale: Southern Californians get late shot at qualifying for NHC


For contest players, the sound is loud and clear: tick tock. Chances are running out to qualify for the 2016 National Handicapping Championship. This weekend, there are two opportunities for players looking to win their shares of the $2.5 million on offer at the NHC, as well as a new free contest on PublicHandicapper.com.

We’ll start with the live event. If you’re a Southern California player looking to punch your ticket to the NHC (or collect valuable Tour points) you’ll want to go to Los Alamitos this weekend for its live-bankroll event, where two NHC seats will be on offer. This will be the third contest Los Al has hosted since it started hosting daytime Southern California racing in July 2014.

The rules are simple. Players buy in for $300 per entry. Of that $300, $200 feeds the prize pool and $100 that will act as a live bankroll. Tournament races will include only the live races from the Los Alamitos Thoroughbred card on Saturday. Permitted wagers are win, place, show and exacta. Each entrant will have to play a minimum of five races on the Los Alamitos card. Each must wager at least $20 per race on five races held on Saturday, and the top five finishers with the highest total bankroll will share in the prize pool. The complete rules are posted at losalamitos.com.

Contest director Orlando Gutierrez is anticipating a successful event. “We expect to have a nice turnout and hopefully many NHC players that may not have visited Los Alamitos Race Course in the past,” he said.

Given the number of fine players in Southern California – especially fine live-bankroll players - competition is expected to be fierce. “We have some fantastic handicappers at Los Alamitos,” Gutierrez said, “and we want to give them an opportunity to qualify for the big NHC event.”

Many of the players at Los Al will have one eye on their laptops on Saturday because they’ll be playing on NHCQualify.com simultaneously. NHCQ is the only place to qualify online for the NHC at this stage of the game and it’ll be running contests each of the next four Saturdays. These contests are mega-qualifiers. This Saturday, up to 10 NHC seats will be awarded. Buy-in is $250 and the entries will be capped at 430. That field size means that there will be a whole of Tour points up for grabs.

Here are the races that will be part of the contest (all times Eastern):
2:50    Aqueduct 6
3:05    Gulfstream 7
3:20    Aqueduct 7
3:28    Tampa Bay 7
3:35    Gulfstream 8    
3:50     Aqueduct 8
3:58    Tampa Bay 8
4:05    Gulfstream 9
4:20    Aqueduct    9
4:28    Tampa Bay 9
4:35    Gulfstream 10
5:05    Gulfstream 11

After all the graded stakes action last weekend, it’s understandable that this slate is a little low on star power. That said, there are five Claiming Crown races from Gulfstream and a stakes from Aqueduct, so the quality of the racing overall is actually pretty strong.

Note there are two turf races from Aqueduct on the list, and they might be washed to the main track, so be sure to follow that story and get changes as soon they’re available. To sign up to play, go to NHCqualify.com. As always, free DRF Classic past-performances are available on the contest races.

Also on Saturday, the new Public Handicapper contest – the Winter of Our Discontent Holiday Handicap – begins. The contest spans eight Saturdays from Dec. 5 through Jan. 30. Each weekend, PublicHandicapper.com chooses four races and contestants have the option of making one selection to win in each event (you are allowed to pass races as well). For a losing selection, contestants will have $2 deducted from their scores. Winning mutuels will be credited to players’ bankrolls. Highest scores win.

First prize for the contest is $500 plus a three-month unlimited subscription to Daily Racing Form past performances, Classic or Formulator. There are consolation prizes down do the 20th spot. The player with the best record each month wins a 30-day unlimited PP subscription. And any player who picks all four winners in one weekend wins ten DRF PP cards.

As PublicHandicapper honcho Scott Carson said on this week’s DRF Players’ Podcast, “It’s a great way to stay involved with racing throughout the winter.”

Join today and play for free throughout the next two months. Then this spring, the Public Handicapper prep will begin. It covers several of the key Kentucky Derby trial races and also serves as a prep for players for the biggest of the PH contests, the six-month Public Handicapper Challenge. The Challenge will send two players to the NHC and award Tour points. Why not get familiar with PH now and then prepare to make a run to the NHC on there next year?