09/15/2014 2:57PM

Fornatale: Wells makes his own Canterbury tale


Steve Wells, of Edinburg, N.D., is glad he reads the Daily Racing Form. Last Thursday night, he noticed the story previewing the Canterbury Park contest on Saturday and Sunday. He was initially scheduled to work Saturday but managed to change his schedule and travel to Minneapolis for the weekend. Wells ended up winning the 18th annual Dog Days of Summer Handicapping Tournament.

The contest followed a live-bankroll format. Wells finished with a total of $2,763.99, which was 6.9 times his initial bankroll of $400. For his efforts, he receives a seat at the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas, a $10,000 buy-in to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge at Santa Anita, and a little extra cash – $1,785 plus the money he won in the contest itself.

Wells joined the NHC Tour five years ago but found the typical contest formats too difficult – too many races to handicap and not enough opportunity to leverage his strongest opinions. “I prefer the live-bankroll tournaments over other tournaments,” he said. “If you really like a horse, you can put yourself into the game more.”

That’s just what Wells did Saturday, betting half his bankroll on Ball Dancing in Belmont’s eighth race. “Chad Brown had two horses in there, and there wasn’t much separating them when they ran against each other in Europe,” Wells said. “At 5-1 versus 2-1, and first off the plane, I thought Ball Dancing was the play.”

Indeed, Ball Dancing got the job done against her stablemate, Xcellence, and all the rest, returning $12.60. Shortly thereafter, Wells took another shot, betting $200 to win on Sistas Stroll at Arlington in the Grade 3 Pucker Up.

“She was coming out of a first-level allowance race at Del Mar where there were some good older horses,” Wells said. “But here she was facing 3-year-olds only, and I thought the two favorites were a little suspect, so I gave her a big chance despite the rise in class.”

Sistas Stroll got the job done and paid $17.20. Wells had only made two bets, but his bankroll was already up to more than $3,000, and his name was atop the leaderboard. It was a lead he wouldn’t relinquish.

Wells is a first-time NHC qualifier, and given his preference for live-bankroll contests, he knows it won’t be easy to adjust to that format with so many races over three days. “I’m really looking forward to Vegas,” he said, “I’m going to have to get used to the grind in a hurry.”

The second-place finisher in the Dog Days tournament was Kelly Frost, of Maple Grove, Minn., who finished with $2,277.50. Frost also earned a seat to the NHC and a cash prize of $4,165.

Also finishing in the money were three other Minnesotans: Dan Kovalesky, of Shorewood; Bruce Meyer, of Prior Lake; and Jay Lietzau of Farmington.

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

On Friday night, Canterbury ran a separate event following the Ultimate format. This is also a live-bankroll event, but in the Ultimate format, players must bet half of their entire bankrolls in each of six mandatory races. Players started with $400. The top two finishers, Dan Flanigan ($3,328.50), of Medina, Minn., and John Fisher ($2,952.60), from Houston, won seats to the NHC.

Contest director Jeff Maday was thrilled with the turnout: 77 entries for the Ultimate and 119 for the Dog Days.

“We were fortunate to draw players from all over North America, including three past NHC champions in Kent Meyer, Brian Troop, and Jim Benes,” he said. “The formats of the two contests were completely different, but both were very well received and well played. And what a great group of handicappers we had here over the weekend.”