02/19/2015 1:39PM

Fornatale: Stakes-rich contests on tap

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There are two events in the Daily Racing Form family of contest sites Saturday. DRFQualify.com will be hosting the final online qualifier for the $100,000 Raise Your Game Handicapping Challenge, to be held Feb. 28 at Gulfstream Park. On Feb. 27 at Gulfstream, DRF will be hosting and streaming live a series of panels with DRF talent, including Andy Beyer, Mike Watchmaker, Mike Welsh, Dan Illman, and Matt Bernier.

Also on Saturday, NHCQualify.com, the official online qualifying site of the National Handicapping Championship, is hosting an online tournament. Buy-in costs $165, and up to five spots to the NHC will be awarded. Qualifiers also will receive a $500 travel allowance and a four-night stay at Treasure Island in Las Vegas. NHC Tour points will be awarded to the top 10 percent of finishers. At year’s end, the top 150 players on the tour who haven’t already qualified for the NHC will earn berths. In 2015, five of the 10 players at the NHC final table qualified this way.

On Sunday, DRFQualify.com will be hosting a qualifier for the $100,000 Santa Anita Handicapping Challenge. Contestants can buy in for $80, and up to four players will win their $3,500 buy-in to Santa Anita’s two-day live-bankroll contest taking place March 14-15. Qualifiers also will receive a $500 travel allowance.

Here are the races for both Saturday contests (all times Eastern):

4:00    Gulfstream 8 (G2 Davona Dale)

4:00    Santa Anita 2

4:25    Fair Grounds 7

4:30    Gulfstream 9 (G2 Mac Diarmida)

4:55    Fair Grounds 8 (G3 Mineshaft)

5:00    Gulfstream 10 (G3 Canadian Turf)

5:00    Santa Anita 4

5:24    Fair Grounds 9 (G3 Fair Grounds Handicap)

5:30    Santa Anita 5

5:54    Fair Grounds 10 (G3 Rachel Alexandra)

6:00    Santa Anita 6

6:24    Fair Grounds 11 (G2 Risen Star)

With stakes-studded cards at Fair Grounds and Gulfstream, contest director Ken Kirchner had plenty of good races to choose from. He came up with a 12-race sequence that includes seven graded stakes, one listed stakes, two claimers, a maiden special weight, and a maiden claimer, with six of the races being carded for turf.

There is a 20 percent chance of showers Saturday in both Miami and New Orleans, but hopefully all the races will stay on turf. Given the overall quality of the cards, it stands to reason that Gulfstream and Fair Grounds will be hesitant to switch the turf races off unless it’s an absolute monsoon, so contest handicappers can safely prepare for the green.

In the end, Kirchner decided not to use the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, arguably the afternoon’s most important race, simply because Upstart looks so strong in there. He did include the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Stakes, where multiple Eclipse Award winner Main Sequence returns to the races against seven rivals, including four-time vanquished foe Twilight Eclipse.

The anchor leg of the contest is one of the day’s most interesting races, the Grade 2 Risen Star from Fair Grounds. It’s a field of 10 aspiring 3-year-olds, including likely favorite Imperia, who has been on many Derby top-5 lists this winter. Contest players should be wary of needing a big price in the last race as there are many signed on here with obvious chances and only a few choices who figure to be at or near the odds cap.

The scheduled timing of the races looks tight, so players are advised – as always – to put in default picks at the start of the contest to avoid being shut out. Sign-up for both contests, as well as free past performances, are available at www.nhcqualify.com and www.drfqualify.com.

NHC Tour current standings

Rank Qualified Name Score
1   ROGER CETTINA 5716
2 YES JONATHON KINCHEN 5606
3 YES JOHN NICHOLS 4976
4 YES BOB ENGELHARD 4819
5   PAT STICH 4592
6 YES ROBERT EARLE 4413
7   LOUIS LICATA 4395
8 YES JOE SCANIO 4149
9   JAY JOHNS 4076
10 YES WILLIAM SHURMAN 3750
10 YES TY ALEXANDER 3750
10 YES LYNN RAY 3750
13   CHRISTOPHER LARMEY 3152
14 YES BENJAMIN BEYCHOK 2926
15 YES LARRY HAUSMAN 2922
16 YES DEANA BADALAMENTI 2852
17 YES ERIC MOOMEY 2843
18 YES EDWARD ENBORG 2830
19 YES BASIL DEVITO 2779
20 YES THOMAS BOLEK 2769

For full standings and more information, go to www.ntra.com/en/nhc/nhc-tour-leader-board.