03/18/2015 12:18PM

Fornatale: Wells scores big at Santa Anita


There’s a new contender on the NHC Tour: Steve Wells, last weekend’s winner of the Santa Anita Betting Challenge. Wells netted more than $50,000 for the weekend, including a $5,000 bonus for being the overall leader on Day 1. “I’ve been thinking about the tour since Saturday night,” he said.

To have a score in a live event that’s also an outright win gives Wells a leg up because of the 25 percent winner’s bonus that’s been added to the tour rules this year. “There are a lot of great players out there,” Wells said, “but I’m off to a great start, and I’m looking forward to playing at Keeneland next month.”

Wells, a controller for a construction company in North Dakota, won his $3,500 buy-in for $80 on DRFQualify.com. “I’ll be playing on DRFQualify.com every week,” he said. “I wish the Keeneland tournament was this weekend. I’m just so excited, and I want to keep handicapping.”

Wells is primarily a multirace player with a particular affection for the pick six. In fact, he elected not to make a bet in the last race Sunday when in the lead, partially because he was singled in the pick six to his top choice. The ticket would have paid $14,000 had the horse come in, but Wells still ended up with consolation tickets and his far more valuable tournament score.

Like a lot of players, contests have changed Wells’s game for the better. “Playing in tournaments has changed how I handicap,” he said. “Now I’m not necessarily looking just for the winner, I’m always looking for the value winner. Just in the last six months, I’m not having as many winners, but I’m being a lot more successful looking for spot plays.”

Wells uses trip handicapping to find many of his best plays. He uses DRF Formulator to watch replays. “You can click on there and see how bad the trip actually was,” he said. He gave an example of a turf horse moving from a disadvantageous outside post with wide trips to a cozy inside post. “Maybe next time he drifts up to 20-1 and has a rail trip the whole way,” he said. “I didn’t used to look for things like that before I started playing in tournaments.”

Wells is no stranger to contest success. Last September, he decided to play in the Canterbury Park live-bankroll contest after seeing an article about it in the Daily Racing Form. He won there as well, starting with a $400 bankroll and running it up to $2,700, plus spots in both the National Handicapping Championship and Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. “I’ve been fortunate since I started playing in tournaments,” he said, “and once I qualified for the NHC, I knew I had to start honing my game and playing in a lot more events.”

Experience is a great teacher, according to Wells. “Whenever you get curveballs, hopefully you can adjust and keep yourself in the game to try to win the big prize,” he said.

Despite his affection for the NHC, Wells considers himself more of a live-bankroll player. As we’ve seen from Patrick McGoey and, more recently, Bob Traynor at the BCBC, a willingness to lose can be a great advantage in these types of events. “I don’t have any problem when I really like a horse about going all in or making a big bet,” he said. “I just look at it as a contest, and I’m willing to do what it takes to win.”

Shurman strikes again

Not to be outdone by his older brother, Paul, who recently qualified for the NHC for the 14th straight year, Bill Shurman earned his second NHC qualification for 2016 in the Santa Anita contest, putting him one ahead of his brother in terms of all-time NHC qualifications, counting double-entries.

Bill Shurman finished third with a bankroll of $10,100 and might well have earned a BCBC seat as well if not for a late odds drop on the exacta he played in the last race. Shurman had previously said he would not chase the NHC Tour title this year after enduring a grueling schedule last year. “After this, I really have to think about it,” he said.

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

Keppler wins NHC spot

Dean Keppler, a DRF Press author, ran fourth in the free NTRA qualifier Saturday, securing an NHC spot for the first time. There were more than 1,700 players in the free qualifier, making it a record-setting event in terms of tour points awarded; 300,000 tour points were distributed among the top 176 finishers.

Keppler used Formulator to help him Saturday. “I think the trainer tool is one of the best features of the Formulator program,” he said. “I’ve always been a trainer-angle guy, and trainer patterns are still some of the strongest betting angles out there.”