09/10/2014 2:56PM

Fornatale: Tournament draws passionate players

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The 18th annual Dog Days of Summer Handicapping Tournament returns to Canterbury Park this weekend on Saturday and Sunday. Canterbury also is offering a special one-day contest Friday with two National Handicapping Championship seats on the line and a $500 entry fee, $400 of which is a live bankroll.

Friday’s contest is a mini-version of Ross Gallo’s Ultimate format, in which players must bet half their bankrolls in each of six mandatory races from Canterbury. Gallo first held contests with this format for the Breeders’ Cup back at Dover Downs in the early 2000s. Contest director Jeff Maday described the unique rules perfectly.

“It’s diabolical,” he said. “You’re forcing people to have a really good day, and you have to have no fear.”

For the main tournament, a group of 100-150 players is expected. The two-day, real-money, live-bankroll contest costs $650 total – $150 of that is the entry fee, $100 goes to the prize pool, and the remaining $400 acts as the live bankroll. Beyond that, the format is wide open. Contestants can bet any wager at any track offered by Canterbury, and Canterbury has almost all the Thoroughbred signals in the country. In the tournament’s history, the single largest winning wager was an $11,000 place pick all from Del Mar.

First prize is an entry to the National Handicapping Championship plus a $10,000 entry to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, plus 15 percent of the prize pool. The second-place finisher also gets an NHC entry plus 35 percent of the prize pool. For rules, payouts, and a list of prior winning scores, click here.

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It’s a tournament that attracts players from across the country. One of the most interesting tales from this year’s renewal belongs to William Shurman. Shurman currently is battling for a spot atop the NHC Tour standings and is looking to go the extra mile – literally – to improve his position on the Tour this weekend.

“I had a trip to Minneapolis for my work, so I decided to play the Canterbury contest,” he said. “Then I saw that Monmouth was on that Sunday and booked a flight to New York from Minneapolis on Saturday night.  If I am doing well at Canterbury, perhaps I stay. If not, I’ll likely be at Monmouth on Sunday.”

Canterbury rules allow players who are in attendance the first day to make wagers in advance for Sunday, so he could possibly play in both, but with the nature of live bankroll events, by the end of Saturday, he’ll likely either have a great score or be at zero. But his current travel itinerary shows the lengths that some players will go to have a shot at the prestigious NHC Tour.

“There’s a lot more to the Tour than just the money,” Shurman said. “Otherwise, it would be insane to pursue it like this.”

That pursuit will doubtless include a perusal of online contest activity this weekend. It’s become de rigueur for the players at the top of the Tour to play multiple entries in multiple online contests every weekend, chasing Tour points wherever they can.

A big motivator for Shurman is pride.

“My brother, Paul, won it in 2011, and for me to complete the double, it would be a huge achievement,” he said. “To a certain degree, it would be a much better achievement even than winning the NHC itself.”

Aside from the tour, Shurman loves the camaraderie and competition. Paul lives in New York, and a big part of the attraction of diverting to New Jersey would be seeing him and other friends at Monmouth. Plus, he relishes the chance to compete against other top players like Ken Seeman, Eric Moomey, and Brett Weiner.

Months ago, Shurman flatly dismissed the idea of chasing the Tour. But that’s changed.

“I qualified twice online early on, then I had the good fortune of doing well at the one on site I could go to, and that set me on the path,” he said.
Shurman’s story is a perfect illustration of an old line in contest circles, usually attributed to Ross Gallo: “You don’t choose the tour. The tour chooses you.”