09/24/2015 3:10PM

Fornatale: Three stakes-rich contests offer Breeders' Cup clues

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Some of the best contest sequences are stakes-laden. A day like Breeders’ Cup Saturday is ideal because you have a series of stakes races that horses from all around the country are targeting. As a result, you’ll see longshots who are still coming off several winning efforts. As famed professional horseplayer Maury Wolff told me when I was researching “The Winning Contest Player,” “Another great thing about the Breeders’ Cup is that over those two days, there are many times when you look at your Racing Form and say, ‘That’s pretty darn good paper for a 15-1 shot.’ That certainly makes those races a little easier to play in a contest.”

But stakes-rich contests can go in the other direction, too, particularly at this time of year in the regional prep days for the Breeders’ Cup. Without all the competition from around the country to spice things up, these seemingly big days can actually be quite chalky.

Opinions vary wildly these days in the contest world about the efficacy of playing favorites, but the trend in all-mandatory contests is that the best players are playing who they like, regardless of price. They know that in the end, the place payout on a favorite is often the difference between making one’s goal and just missing. That being said, it’s quite the tightrope walk to try to get three or more favorites in a sequence, so players need to choose their spots wisely.

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

That’s something to keep in mind if you’re playing in the three contests in the Daily Racing Form family of tournaments this weekend. Entry for the contests on NHCQualify.com and DRFQualify.com is open now.

On NHCQualify.com, the buy-in is $250, and up to four full packages for January’s National Handicapping Championship will comprise the prize pool. Packages include a berth in the NHC, where at least $2.5 million will be awarded, a four-night stay at host hotel Treasure Island, and $500 for travel.

Over at DRFQualify.com, Saturday marks another opportunity to win into the Santa Anita Autumn Championship, to be held at the Great Race Place on Oct. 17-18. There also will be a Santa Anita qualifier held on Sunday. The entry fee for both Santa Anita qualifiers is $110, and up to two slots at Santa Anita will be on offer in each. Santa Anita is known for the gracious hospitality it shows horseplayers, and the contest is one of the last key “preps” for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

Speaking of the BCBC, the field is set for Saturday’s Round 2 qualifier. The top eight finishers on Saturday will win their full $10,000 buy-ins to the Breeders’ Cup contest, plus a $500 travel allowance. Six players have two entries in the final 65: Rocky Hardy, Alex Larmey, Tim Gasaway, Paul Shurman, John Downie, and Jill Himes. Other notable names include 2013 BCBC champ Peter Behr, former NHC champ Judy Wagner, and current NHC Tour leader Jonathon Kinchen. It’s a salty field that also includes Chris Larmey, David Gutfreund, Mark Maguire, and Garett Skiba. There promises to be some entertaining scoreboard watching in this one.

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

4:18    Churchill 8 (G3 Ack Ack)

4:30    Santa Anita 3 (Unzip Me)

4:49    Churchill 9 (G3 Jefferson Cup)

4:51    Belmont 8 (G3 Pilgrim)

5:00    Santa Anita 4

5:20    Churchill 10 (Lukas Classic)

5:26    Belmont 9 (G1 Vosburgh)

5:48    Churchill 11

6:00    Santa Anita 6

6:30    Santa Anita 7 (G1 Zenyatta)

6:35    Belmont 11

7:00    Santa Anita 8 (G1 Chandelier)

That’s eight stakes races, six of them graded, and five turf races. Will the stakes races lead to chalky results? That’s up to each individual contestant to decipher. But in any case, these races will offer some important clues about what we might expect to see over the two days of the Breeders’ Cup.

The spacing gets a little bit tight between 4:51 and 5:00, so make sure you have default picks in, at least for those. The good news is there is plenty of room where it matters most: for the last few races. As always, free DRF classic past performances are available on the contest sites.
To sign up for the NHC contest, go to www.nhcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx. To win your way to Santa Anita, check out www.drfqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx.