04/28/2017 1:02PM

Brucato makes Cleveland rock again

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What a crazy 12 months it’s been for Cleveland sports. First the Cavs came back to win the NBA Finals last June, the city’s first championship in 52 years. Last October, the Indians won the American League pennant and got all the way to extra innings of Game 7 in the World Series. And just last weekend, 60-year-old Blaise Brucato of Highland Heights, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, managed one of the more impressive feats in handicapping contest history: He pulled a double in Keeneland’s handicapping contests, getting outright wins on Saturday and Sunday.

Brucato, the general manager of a large sports bar, is no stranger to contest success. He ran fourth at last year’s big Breeders’ Cup contest, netting six figures in the process, and he’s been playing in contests since 2008.

“I used to sit and handicap with Gary Johnson" -- a noted contest player -- "and one day he asked me why I wasn’t playing in contests,” said Brucato, who answered his friend’s question with another question. “I said, ‘What’s a contest?’ ”

Brucato got up to speed quickly and became involved, playing mostly at the Breeders’ Cup and in the Keeneland tournaments, where he has an amazing track record of success with four in-the-money finishes now in eight tries. His love of racing extends way back.

“The story in my family is that I could read a Racing Form before I could read a book,” Brucato said. “My father took racing as a hobby back in the 1940s, predating me.”

His dad’s interest in racing was significant. He had a stable of 20-25 horses in the '60s and '70s at Thistledown, and some of Blaise’s earliest memories involve trips to the farms of Kentucky when he was five or six years old visiting the then-prominent Elmendorf Farm.

“I remember going down with him to pick up horses,” said Brucato, “and when I was 12 he got the harebrained idea to name a horse after me. The sire of that horse was the original Arrogate, which made last year both wild and touching for me, seeing his namesake’s success.”

Saturday’s win came on his father’s birthday. “He’s always in my thoughts and he was especially so on Saturday,” he explained. “I asked him to appeal to the racing gods for a favor and he pulled two instead.”

Brucato incorporates some horsemanship into his handicapping but is 90 percent a numbers and trips guy. “The two dominant factors for me are pace and trip,” he said. “My wife laughs at me because with Derby around the corner I’ll spend a couple of days charting the race on paper, putting everybody somewhere.”

He knows how to chart because he’s been a chart caller, working in the past few years at Presque Isle Downs. “Charting races helps give you another perspective and makes you watch races a lot closer,” he said.

With a race like the Derby, he tries not to marry himself to an opinion until they draw. “For me, with a 20-horse field, it’s not necessarily the best horse who wins unless they can dominate. A lot of times it comes down to nothing but trip.”

And until the post positions are known, he can’t make his best educated guess about which horses will get the right trip. “If I already like a horse before the draw I tend to look for trips that aren’t there,” he said.

The end of Sunday’s contest was chaotic. Brucato had planned on using the 10-horse, Kid Perfect, prominently in Keeneland's ninth race, but he scratched at the gate. He had just two minutes to revise his bet. At that point he had $1,700 on his bankroll and the leader was around $8,500.

“I originally had the 3 and the 4 with the 10 and after the scratch I elevated them and put my tickets together with guesswork trying to get to a number I thought could win,” he said. “After the win the previous day there was no reason not to bet it all.”

His feel for what to bet was dead on. He ended up with a $250 exacta and a $10 tri. When the race went official and his name was on top of the leaderboard, he fell to his knees like John McEnroe at Wimbledon.

“With so many great players in these contests, for someone to win two in a row is definitely a freak thing,” he said. “The horse that won the last was named Awestruck and that description was perfect for me as well.”

If you’ve missed out on the Cleveland sports bonanza so far, don’t feel too bad. You can still get a great price on the Browns to win the Super Bowl.

Sunday contests

Feeders for the new DRF World Championship of Handicapping continue on Sunday with another free opportunity to start on the road to win your share of $1 million. Sunday’s free game offers the biggest prize in any of the free contests so far. The top two finishers advance directly to the Derby Day Grade 1 qualifier, a $580 value. One in 10 players will win their $5,000 entries to the championship on Derby Day.

There will also be a $95 all-in round-one contest, where one in seven players will win into the Grade 1 Derby Day qualifier.

Lastly, there is an $11 feeder where the top 10 percent win into the Oaks Day round one contest.

For more information check out tournaments.drf.com.