07/14/2016 1:30PM

De Sena finally bursts through the bubble


Dan De Sena misses the competition. The 41-year-old Long Islander owns a landscaping business, but in previous years, he spent a lot of time playing competitive basketball and golf. Between getting older and having four children all under 10, playing sports at his old level is all but impossible. But handicapping contests help him scratch that itch. Thanks to a score in the Belmont contest last weekend, De Sena will be attending his first National Handicapping Championship in 2017.

“I miss the rush,” he said, “but between contests and coaching my sons’ basketball teams, I can get some of it back.”

Young children also explain De Sena’s preference for online contests and account for some pretty unusual handicapping practices. “Getting to the track for a contest or traveling to contests is almost impossible,” he said. “That’s why I’m usually up at 4 a.m. handicapping. It’s the only time my house is quiet.”

De Sena was a late bloomer when it comes to racing fandom. “I didn’t really get into racing until my senior year of college,” he said. “I played college basketball up in New Hampshire. We had an off day on a Saturday in January, and with nothing to do, me and my friend went to Rockingham Park, and that’s the day I really got hooked.”

As soon as the basketball season ended, De Sena became a Rockingham Park regular, and he’s been going to the races ever since. His journey to the NHC has not been easy. On four separate occasions, he has been bubbled in his Las Vegas quest, i.e. he’s been the last player not to get a seat.

The worst one came last November. He was in second heading to the last leg in an NHCQualify event where three players made the NHC. He switched off his initial pick, a longshot, to go for something shorter. Of course, the longshot ended up winning and paid $27, and De Sena finished fourth. “To add insult to injury, the horse’s name was Chiropractor, and my wife is a chiropractor,” he said. “That one hurt.”

On Saturday, things started slowly in the live-bankroll contest. “My philosophy was to get my 10 $15 minimum plays out of the way and build up a bankroll to give me a chance to make one big bet on a stronger opinion later on the card,” he said.

That race ended up being Monmouth’s seventh, on a horse called Lights Gone Wild. “I thought he was interesting because he was second off a layoff, had two races last year that were good, and he had speed,” he said.

The other key was the rider switch to Orlando Bocachica, an aggressive speed jockey. When Lights Gone Wild wired the field and paid $27, De Sena was in business. He bet $100 on Effinex in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont and caught a $22 horse at Delaware with a $20 win bet. With two races left, he was in 14th, around $500 back with $360. A $220 bet on A. P. Indian in the Belmont Sprint Championship put him in third, $25 behind the leader and $5 behind second place.

The last race was the Delaware Oaks. “I didn’t have a strong opinion on the race, and I knew people would be firing from behind with price horses,” he said, “but I also thought the two leaders would bet some of their bankroll, too.”

He didn’t have a strong opinion, so he conferred with his buddy Ken King, and they decided the safe bet was a smallish win play on Dark Nile, who, like A. P. Indian, was trained by Arnaud Delacour. He won and paid $7, and then the waiting began. When scores were updated, De Sena was finally headed to the NHC.

Saturday contests

There is a full slate of contest action on DRF Tournaments on Saturday. The headline events are a $190 qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and a $109 qualifier for the just-announced Battle of Saratoga contest on Aug. 10-11.

There also are feeders for upcoming NHC and Santa Anita Autumn Championship events, as well as credit builders. For more information, check out DRF Tournaments.

Woodbine seminar

If you’re in the Toronto area on Saturday, please join me at Woodbine for a seminar on contest play at 11 a.m. Eastern at 2nd Floor East. I’ll be joined by DRF’s Matt Bernier, 2015 NHC Tour champ Jonathon Kinchen, and BCBC champion Tommy “Hammer” Massis. Free copies of “The Winning Contest Player” will be given to the first 120 attendees, and I’ll stick around to sign them afterward.

If you can’t make it to Woodbine, you can watch the event via live stream. You’ll have to buy your own book though. Check out www.woodbineentertainment.com/Woodbine/Betting/HandicappingSeminars/Pages/SeminarsHome.aspx for more details.