07/23/2015 2:22PM

Fornatale: Summer racing brings contest magic

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The summer boutique meets – Del Mar and Saratoga – are finally here. For many contest players, their year is centered around these next 6 1/2 weeks. The Triple Crown is the one time of year when racing permeates into the popular culture, and the Breeders’ Cup offers the best two days of the year, but for real racing fans, this is when the real magic happens.

The Daily Racing Form family of tournaments offers several options for contest players this weekend, starting on Saturday on BCQualify.com. The buy-in costs $330, but for that extra investment players get a better ratio of entries to seats than is typical – one Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat will be awarded for every 40 entrants. Two seats are guaranteed, and up to three might be awarded based on participation. Qualifiers also will receive $500 travel vouchers.

On Sunday, the NHC Tour returns to NHCQualify.com. The buy-in is $165, and players will compete for two to four seats to the National Handicapping Championship, depending on the overall number of entries.

There will be a lot of scoreboard watching going on. The top five players on the NHC Tour as of Aug. 1 each will receive $10,000 bonuses, and the race at the top is very tight at the moment. With several players who are already double-qualified for the NHC expected to compete, that could mean good news for players looking to qualify for the first or second time – it’s possible that you could finish fifth and still win your way into the NHC because of all those playing for tour points only.

:: Click here to purchase a copy of “The Winning Contest Player” by Peter Thomas Fornatale

On Saturday and Sunday, players can win their $3,000 buy-ins to the Sept. 19 Raise Your Game handicapping contest at Gulfstream Park through DRFQualify.com. A prize pool worth $100,000 in cash and seats to the major tournaments is expected for the Gulfstream event. It’s shaping up as a key prep for handicappers looking to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge as well. Buy-in for the Saturday and Sunday qualifiers is just $80, and up to two entries to the Gulfstream contest will be awarded each day.

Here is a look at the races for Saturdays contests (all times Eastern):

4:00 Gulfstream 6

4:22 Saratoga 7

4:33 Gulfstream 7

4:57 Saratoga 8

5:07 Gulfstream 8

5:32 Saratoga 9

5:37 Del Mar 2

6:07 Saratoga 10

6:09 Del Mar 3

6:40 Del Mar 4

6:40 Saratoga 11

7:10 Del Mar 5

It’s a wide-reaching mix of races for an unusual Saturday – while both Saratoga and Del Mar are under way, it’s not a marquee day for either venue. As a result, contest director Ken Kirchner has mixed in some claiming races and maiden races along with the Saturday stakes fare. The sequence is highlighted by the Grade 3 Sanford and Grade 1 Diana from the Spa, with Del Mar contributing a competitive restricted stakes for 3-year-old California-bred fillies, the Fleet Treat. Full DRF classic past performances are available via the contest sites.

The spacing generally looks good, but players need to be aware of the conflict at 6:40 p.m. As always, it’s a good idea to put in default picks at the start of the day to ensure you don’t get shut out. You can always change them along the way.

To play on BCQualify, go to www.bcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx. To win your seat to Gulfstream, sign up via www.drfqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx.