10/21/2015 4:01PM

Fornatale: Taylor sticks with her early picks in contests

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Tanya Taylor, of Little Rock, Ark., ended up victorious on NHCQualify.com last Saturday in a most unusual contest – there was a three-way tie for first in an event where the top finishers all picked only two winners and whiffed in all the other races. Taylor put her picks in early, was out all day, and didn’t have a chance to check the scores until midnight.

“When I saw the three final scores, I was shocked,” she said. “So, I read the rules to see what happened in the event of a draw, and then I was elated!”

Taylor, 52, is a physical therapist, and 2016 will mark her first National Handicapping Championship. This is not her first qualification or even her first top finish. She won an NHCQualify.com event March 15 by picking four winners, including a cap horse in the first race. She is clearly not afraid to fire at prices when she has an opinion.

She has been playing in tournaments for around four years, but this year she’s stepped up her game.

“This is first time my schedule has allowed me to devote more time to tournaments,” she said. She likes formats where the picks have to be in before the first race starts for multiple reasons. For one thing, it allows her to fulfill her other weekend commitments without being at a competitive disadvantage. But there’s more to it than that. “I like those formats because I stick to my original picks and don't second-guess myself,” she said.

She uses various data in her handicapping, including Daily Racing Form, and is an avid listener to “Steve Byk at the Races.”

“I’ll go back and listen through the archives,” she said.

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Many players assumed that Taylor and many other players had played Papa Turf in the last contest race simply because of the price he was on the board, but that wasn’t the case. “He was my original pick,” she said. “He’s another horse I had played before, and I thought he fit in with this group.”

Taylor has been a racing fan since she was a kid, attending the races at Oaklawn Park with her aunt and uncle, who regaled her with their stories from the track. She has always remained a fan. “My family and I would watch the major races, especially the Triple Crown.”

As for contest play, she credits her friends Amy Brantley and Rocky Hardy with sparking her interest. “We are all competitive with each other but also supportive of one another,” she said. “We would go to Oaklawn Park and play horses together, but they would play tourneys also. I felt left out, so I got involved, too.”

When it comes to the 2016 NHC, Taylor is anything but left out – she’ll be arriving with the maximum of two entries and a fearless style that could make her very dangerous. First-year NHC players have a decent record at the NHC – John Doyle won the event in 2011 in his first appearance – and Taylor will look to add to it in January.