05/09/2016 4:51PM

Fornatale: Wagners back in the saddle again


Brian and Judy Wanger have returned to the contest world in 2016 -- and it's like they never left. The pair of champions -- Judy won the 2003 National Handicapping Championship and Bryan won the 2009 National Handicapping Championship Tour -- had been ineliglible the previous two years because of Judy Wagner being a member of the NTRA Board of Directors. This year a rule change has allowed them both to compete once again. This weekend, Judy secured an NHC spot by winning outright in the Saturday Wager-to-Win contest at Treasure Island, the NHC host site, and not to be outdone, Bryan Wagner got his second seat for 2016 in Sunday's event.

Earlier this year, Bryan spoke about the pressure he and his wife felt coming into the year.

"After they changed the rules, we felt that if one of us didn't qualify, we'd have been really embarassed," he said. "So we got that monkey off our back."

Another great story to come out of the Wager-to-Win series was the performance of Chris Podratz. Podratz, still reeling from the passing of his father, contest patriarch Dennis Podratz, elected to play at Treasure Island and did his father proud, finsihing third on Saturday on gaining his seat to the 2017 NHC.

In total, nine players qualified for the NHC in total at Treasure Island: Jill Himes, Mark Everhart, Don Beardsworth, Robert McIntyre, Bill Shurman, Ernie "The Dentist" Powers, Podratz, and, of course, the Wagners.

Also this weekend on NHCQualify.com, two players won seats to the NHC: Dennis Dougherty and Edwin Spaunhurst. For both men, it is their first seat for the 2017 event.

Dougherty was the overall winner with $105.30 on a low-scoring Sunday. He was quiet through the first half of the contest, with just three small collections, none greater than $6.60 win-place combined. But he got going in Belmont's seventh with $14 worth of place points on Nigel's Destiny and backing that up with two nice-priced winners, I'mtwentyforcarat in Tampa's eighth, and 16-1 Joking in Belmont's eighth. Favorites won the last two -- including 1-20 Beholder -- and Dougherty hung on for first.

Spaunhurst's total of $91.30 was good for second. He had the same two price horses as Dougherty plus an early winner with 9-2 Pecorino in Tampa's seventh. On this day, three winners were enough.

Third-place finisher Edward Enborg was unlucky to just miss with $89.50. He tried to claw his way to Vegas in the last two events, grabbing the $4.20 available from Beholder and receiving place points from J K's Girl in the anchor leg, Belmont's ninth. Had the favorite not finished first, he might have just gotten there.

Also notable was yet another top 10 percent finish from Ken McMahan, Dennis Podratz's nephew, who looks a major threat for the NHC Tour. He will be profiled on DRF.com later this week.

Twenty-two advance to BCBC qualifier

On Saturday on BCQualify.com, 22 players advanced to Round Two on May 28, where up to eight players will win their full $10,000 Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge. There will be two more Round One contests -- where the top 10 percent of entries advance -- on each of the next two Saturdays.

On DRFQualify.com, Stephen "The Undertaker" Thompson won a $10,000 Belmont Stakes Challenge seat on Saturday and on Sunday, Gary Johnson won a $4,500 seat to the Santa Anita Preakness Challenge. Johnson won the corresponding event last year.

Myeress wins Derby Challenge

Ron Myeress, a 59-year-old horseplayer from Canfield, Ohio, won the inaugural Kentucky Derby Betting Challenge with a final score of $42,752. The contest featured the largest buy-in ever for a handicapping contest of $20,000, with $15,000 of that acting as a live bankroll that was bet over Oaks and Derby days.

Myeress got into contention courtesy of an exacta hit on Friday but appropriately enough, it was the Kentucky Derby, the final contest event, where he got to the top. When the result came in with favored Nyquist over second choice Exaggerator, many in the room assumed there would be no change at the top of the leaderboard, but Myeress had made a large place bet on Nyquist.

He keeps his bankroll, plus $100,000 in prize money and a seat to the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge. The 53 players in the contest bet $1.3 million -- 5.5 percent of the on track handle -- just within the framework of the contest itself, meaning if you include their bets outside the contest (including all multi-race bets) and bets of their guests it's reasonable to assume that number is closer to $2 million.

Garret Skiba ($39,619) ran second, adding $65,000 in cash. Bill Chenvert ($35,884) was third, netting $35,000 in purse money. Both men also receive BCBC seats. Keith Smith ($34,595), Frank Mustari ($30,733). and Michael Caposio ($29,857.90) keep their bankrolls and get NHC seats. The contest paid out $255,000 in seats and cash prizes.