06/02/2014 11:05AM

Fornatale: Women rule Sunday contest


Women from California ruled the day on NHCQualify.com on Sunday. In a contest that consisted of 12 mandatory races and awarded four berths to the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas, Jeannie King of Valencia finished in first place, and Jacqueline Sukanick of San Anselmo came in second. Also qualifying were Nick Kochanski of Mount Prospect, Ill., and Carl Gioio of Ossining, N.Y.

Jeannie King, who had qualified for the NHC two times previously, won the day with a final score of $130.90. She sprinted to the front, catching the first four winners: Aquinnah ($8.40), Stock Fund ($18), Reporting Star ($9.60), and Pinetree Pro ($27.60). Later, she cemented the win with three more winners: Pinot Grigio ($7.40), Wasted at Midnight ($8.20), and Pure Tactics ($11.20).

King’s biggest betting score was the $84,000 she won on a $20 trifecta bet she made with her husband, tournament player Kenny McMahan, on the 2011 Belmont Stakes won by Ruler On Ice. At this year’s NHC, with its $750,000 first prize, she hopes to make that score look like chump change. If she wins, she’d like to contribute to animal-welfare causes.

“I would have to donate to the retired racehorses, as I am very passionate about these beautiful, strong animals,” she wrote in her 2014 NHC participant questionnaire.

Sukanick’s name should look familiar. She was profiled last week in Daily Racing Form after earning her first 2015 NHC qualification in the May 24 event. Sukanick ended up with $123.70 on Sunday, with four double-digit winners, one shorter price, and one heavy chalk leading to a comfortable margin ahead of the fifth-place finisher. It took $99.70 to qualify, just under 2.1 times the initial bankroll of $48.

Sukanick is on fire, sporting a two-contest winning streak. Sukanick’s son, Brent Sumja, is a former trainer and NHC Tour champion whom Sukanick described as her teacher. With the student now maxed out on NHC qualifications for 2015, maybe she can help the teacher find his way to Vegas to join her. Sukanick also is in a position to make a run at the NHC Tour herself, should she choose to keep playing in qualifying events. The first half of the tour concludes July 31, and the top five finishers receive $10,000 each.

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Michael Pallidine of Peachtree City, Ga., was a tough-luck loser Sunday. He missed qualifying by only 50 cents in a roller-coaster of a day. He started off flying: Through the first seven contest events, he had $94.60, and his odds of qualifying were strong. But Pallidine hit a drought, blanking on four races in a row.

It appeared that he might make it anyway when Fly to Freedom (4-1), his selection in the anchor, looked like a winner in deep stretch. But Fly to Freedom ended up losing by a nose, and the $4.60 he paid to place was just short of the needed total.