02/02/2015 10:08AM

Fornatale: Two longshots key in NHC qualifier


The 2015 National Handicapping Championship Tour kicked off Saturday with a contest on NHCQualify.com. Five players won their way into next year’s NHC. They are John Nichols, Benjamin Beychok, Deana Badalamenti, Basil DeVito, and Richard Sugimoto.

DeVito, a racing-industry veteran and a longtime WWE employee, had two entries at last year’s NHC, his first appearance at that event. There will be no sophomore slump for DeVito. He’ll be right back at Treasure Island in Las Vegas next year after picking Include Betty ($39.80) in Tampa’s ninth race and closing out the day with the last three winners in the contest races, She’sabrees ($10.20) in Oaklawn’s ninth; Avanzare ($13.80) in Santa Anita’s seventh, the Grade 2 Arcadia; and Callback ($7.20) in Santa Anita’s eighth, the Grade 1 Las Virgenes.

“I fared so poorly at the NHC, I thought I’d play in the first qualifier to do a little better – and bang! I ended up qualifying,” said DeVito. “The best part is this: Basically, I’ve been qualified for the NHC from last April until January 2016. That’s a great feeling.”

The two key horses to have in the sequence were Include Betty and Colorado Daydream ($34.60) in Gulfstream’s 11th. The qualifiers all had one or both of those. Two unlucky players, Nick Tammaro, of Houston, and James Connors, of Pleasanton, Calif., had both but just missed going through to the NHC finals.

Overall winner Nichols had both key longshots and added points in the last three contest races for an impressive total just over three times above the initial bankroll of $48. Nichols, the head clocker at Churchill Downs, has become an active contest player who will be interesting to watch as the year unfolds.

Beychok is the brother and adviser to 2012 NHC winner Michael Beychok and is an excellent contest player in his own right. He started the contest hot, hitting Mojo Workin ($15.80) in Oaklawn’s fifth and Include Betty. He also had Colorado Daydream. Later on, he cooled off – he received no points in the last one-third of the contest – but he hung on to qualify.

Badalamenti earned her qualification between the seventh and 10th contest events, where she hit her own pick four with Grazenette ($19) in Santa Anita’s fifth, Colorado Daydream, Stock Yard Hen ($12.40) in Tampa’s 12, and She’sabrees.

Sugimoto barely held off a bold charge from an unlucky Tammaro.  In the end, the $6 Sugimoto received in place points on See Trouble in Tampa’s 12th was enough to get him qualified by a mere 60 cents. Tammaro hit Avanzare after that, but Sugimoto had his number and blocked him. Perhaps Tammaro, a newer contest player who also had two entries at the 2015 NHC, can take solace in the fact that his name is currently among the leaders on this year’s NHC Tour. The top 150 on the tour at year’s end who have not already qualified get into the NHC automatically. Five of last year’s top 10, including the NHC winner, John O’Neil, took this route to the finals.

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Saturday NHCQualify.com
John Nichols, of Louisville, Ky., $146
Benjamin Beychok, of Baton Rouge, La., $140
Deana Badalamenti, of Brooklyn, N.Y., $134.20
Basil DeVito, of Norwalk, Conn., $134
Richard Sugimoto, of Big Bear City, Calif., $123

Saturday DRFQualify.com
Ronald Milchhoefer, of North Riverside, Ill., $111.60
Michael Ray, of Las Vegas, $110
Both win $3,500 entries to the Santa Anita Betting Challenge on March 14-15.

Sunday BCQualify.com
George Nixon, of Port Jervis, N.Y., $89
Carm Adimando, of Trumbull, Conn., $88.30
Howard Yancovitch, of Montreal, $84.20
Angelo Partipelo, of Utica, N.Y., $80.20
All receive full $10,000 seats to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

Sunday DRFQualify.com
Kevin Mahoney, of Fort Worth, Texas, $90.80
Louis Filoso, of Ocean, N.J., $82.40
John Fisher, of Houston, $81.20
David Pankenier, of Maricopa, Ariz., $72.00
All receive $3,000 entries to the Gulfstream Park Raise Your Game Challenge on Feb. 28.