03/12/2015 1:01PM

Fornatale: Santa Anita hosting rich handicapping challenge

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The Santa Anita Handicapping Challenge takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Great Race Place. The $3,500 buy-in event allocates $1,000 from each entry for the prize pool, and the remaining $2,500 acts as a live bankroll, with contestants able to keep whatever amount is left at the end of the tournament. Win, place, show, exacta, and trifecta wagers are all allowed in the contest.

Players can sign up for the tournament until noon Pacific on Saturday, so the field size isn’t yet known. But if the contest attracts 100 entries, the prize pool will consist of more than $40,000 in cash, at least seven spots in the National Handicapping Championship, two full $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entries, and four partial $2,500 entries to the BCBC. With good weather and full fields expected, those numbers could increase.

Santa Anita has emerged as a market leader in the contest world, regularly holding live-bankroll contests over the last several years. But this was the first time Santa Anita partnered with Daily Racing Form to offer online qualifying.

“Working with DRF has been great,” said Santa Anita vice president of marketing Nate Newby. “I think we’re going to get a whole new pool of players who are going to get introduced. When you play in this contest, 100 percent of your entry fee goes to prizes. That’s something that not a lot of players realize until they jump in and start doing the math on it. I’m excited, and I think we’ll probably have our largest field of any of the Santa Anita contests for this event.”

With live-bankroll events, it’s always difficult to guess what final score it will take to win and/or qualify. “I would say the winning bankroll might be somewhere in the $20,000 to $30,000 range,” said Newby, “but I don’t want to discourage anybody because I think you could still get an NHC spot with somewhere around $7,000 to $10,000. I’ve seen a lot of players who make smart win-place bets and double or triple their bankrolls over two days and don’t try anything crazy, and that can get you an NHC spot.”

Over the past several years, at least partially as a result of the Santa Anita contests, California has become a hotbed for great live-bankroll players.
“It’s just a very smart group of players,” said Newby, “guys like Dennis Decauwer, Duke Matties, Kevin McFarland, Christian Hellmers. They’ve had great success locally and nationally, and we’ll expect to see them this weekend.”

Beyond the value of the tournament, Newby thinks there is something special about the live-bankroll format. “Horseplayers love to solve problems, and they want to see how they stack up against other players in the country,” Newby said. “When you put a bunch of smart players in the same contest, they’re all trying to show that they’re the best at what they do, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Players have several options of where to hang out during the contest. “At Santa Anita, we’ve been lucky enough that our owner, Frank Stronach, has put $35 million into renovating our facility over the last 18 months,” said Newby. “Before, we’d pick a contest room and try to dress it up, and it was nice, but now we have about seven really nice rooms, all of which have Wi-Fi, all of which are very comfortable with fantastic food and beverage, which of course is all included for players.”

Players looking to sign up on the morning of the contest can do so by paying cash. Simply go to Will Call and let them know you’ll be playing in the contest. Then you can head up to the Eddie Logan suite and register. If you want to register in advance, call Newby at (626) 574-6391, or you can find him via the Santa Anita website.

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

BCBC qualifier on tap

Also on Saturday, there is another Round 1 contest on BCQualify.com. Contestants finishing in the top 10 percent will advance to the Round 2 contest March 28. Out of that event, up to eight players will win their $10,000 buy-ins to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, along with a $500 travel allowance. Here are the races that will make up the BCQualify.com contest (all times Eastern):

3:30    Gulfstream 6

3:43    Oaklawn 4

4:00    Gulfstream 7

4:14    Oaklawn 5

4:30    Gulfstream 8

4:40    Tampa 9

4:45    Oaklawn 6

5:10    Tampa 10

5:30    Gulfstream 10

5:40    Tampa 11

6:00    Santa Anita 6

6:30    Santa Anita 7

As always, full past performances are available on the website. To sign up now, go to www.bcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx.