09/08/2016 11:53AM

Garafalo's NHC qualifying pattern an oddity


First there was Bret Saberhagen, then the San Francisco Giants. Now it's Tony Garafalo. While hardcore baseball fans probably already know where this is headed, let's back up for a second.

In the 1980s, Saberhagen was one of MLB's best pitchers -- but only in every other year. The Giants won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014 and were nowhere in the odd years. So it is with Garafalo, a 51-year-old small business owner from Cincinnati.

This will be Garafalo's fifth time at the National Handicapping Championship finals in Las Vegas, all in odd numbered years. Garafalo, believed to be the only three-time qualifier out of the Keeneland contest, qualified at Red Rock in 2011, and won his way into the 2017 NHC out of the NTRA free contest this last weekend hosted by DRF Tournaments.

Garafalo is a bit of a contrarian in that he really prefers live events to online, despite the added convenience of the latter.

"After 2011 I sort of gave up on the contest scene, even though I had done very well and collected about $50,000 in tournament winnings," he said. "The reason why I bailed is that most of the on-site contests which offered NHC trips and cash prizes have up and vanished."

He was a road warrior back in the day, driving to events at Turfway Park, River Downs, Hoosier Park, Beulah Park, Thistledown, and Ellis Park, all of which are gone. His beloved Keeneland contest upped the buy-in significantly and became less appealing to him. "They all seemed like well-attended contests, but I guess they were too much work and didn't impact the bottom line enough," he said. "It is disappointing to me that the social aspect of the Tour has been replaced by keyboards."

All that said, he is committed to playing in several additional live events this year, including Kentucky Downs this Saturday, Hawthorne in November, and Gulfstream in January. "Maybe I just like to drive," he quipped.

Heading into this past weekend, Garafalo had yet to pay his $50 NHC Tour fee for 2016. "I only re-upped on Friday night, right before I entered my picks," he said. "After handicapping the contest, I knew I had to make it to the track Saturday to bet some non-mythical money!"

He liked three races in particular and shared his thoughts on each:

Race 6 at Kentucky Downs (Galton 10-1 morning line): "Amoss for Midwest Thoroughbreds, an eight-time winner, including five on turf, running mostly against horses with two lifetime wins and the favorite looked to be prepping for something longer after a year layoff. The other big earner in the field, and co-second choice, looked like he wanted no part of six and a half furlongs. The 10-1 morning line looked too good to be true, and it was."

Galton paid $10 to win and $6.40 to place, and was his first winner of the day.

Race 8 at Kentucky Downs (All Right 15-1 morning line): "A maiden, running in a 2-year-old  stakes can many times have some appeal. This one did, especially for Kellyn Gorder, who is excellent with second-time maidens. He had missed by three-quarters of a length closing into a brutally slow pace running a mile at Ellis Park his first time out. Out of new sire Dominus, he looked to have a lot of upside against a pedestrian group. With normal improvement he had a good shot if he could overcome the 12 post. Channing Hill broke him perfectly, he opened up a nice lead in the stretch, and held on by a neck."

Garafalo was shocked he paid $90.20 to win and $27.20 to place adding, " Those kind of overlays don't come around too often."

Race 12 at Saratoga (Hockey School 5-1morning line): "After nine contest races I was in 13th place. Nobody in the top 12 had used my horse, so I figured I had a shot if he could win. I was $17.60 out of fourth place. Hockey School is well bred, coming from a nice female turf family, and was running second off a layoff after what looked like a nice stamina builder. He set all the pace under Rosario and held on gamely to return $13.80 and $6.30. Fortunately for me, no one in the top 12 had the second-place finisher either."

And with that Garafalo was headed back to Vegas. where he hopes to break two trends. He'd like to finish in the money at the NHC for the first time, and he'll hopefully back up his 2017 success with an early-year qualification for 2018.