07/10/2017 2:06PM

Gilbert gets second WCH berth

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Robert Gilbert will have two chances to win his share of an expected $1 million purse with zero takeout at the Daily Racing Form World Championship of Handicapping on Jan. 27-28. He became the first player to win a second $5,000 berth with an outright win in Saturday’s Grade 1 qualifier.

Gilbert, 66, is retired from careers in both the Air Force and high-school teaching. He lives in Yardley, Pa., near Philadelphia. He won his first WCH seat in the first Grade 1 qualifier on Kentucky Derby Day. He is eligible for one more seat to the WCH since entries are capped at three.

You’ll hear some tournament players complain about people “stabbing” in contests, reaching for cap horses late in the game just because of the number on the tote board, but that critique can’t apply to Gilbert. He got a cap horse in the very first contest race Saturday with Changewilldoyagood ($64 win-place combined). The bay gelding paid $61 to win and $25 to place in Belmont’s fifth, but that amount gets limited for contest purposes to 20-1 on the win end and 10-1 for the place.

From there, Gilbert collected points in three more races, including nice hits with Ghost Hunter ($36) in the Arlington Handicap and Oscar Performance ($19.90) in the Belmont Derby.

Gilbert’s approach is to try to synthesize data in an effective way. “I like to look at a number of different sources and try to reach a consensus,” he said. “To me, past performances have become like looking at abstract art or those inkblots psychologists use – you see what you want to see, or you see too many things, or you’re not sure what you’re looking at is real.”

He tries to rely on his own intuition rather than following any type of system to make his final decisions. “Having taken a few classes in statistics and read what others have said, I’m not sure all the ratings, rankings, etc. generated by computers are always better. So, I try to look at a variety, and hopefully the mix compensates for some of the error factor.”

As for his contest play, he takes a holistic approach. “In live contests, I try to play the contest vs. the races,” he said. “I have a rough idea of potential horses in each race and decide based on my position and the current odds. I find it better trying to hit a price horse from the beginning. I like playing from ahead rather than from behind.”

That was certainly not a problem on Saturday for Gilbert, who went right to the lead and finished best in the field of 44 with $123.50.

Joining him in the WCH will be Bruce Pratt ($91.70), Bruce Dagostini ($89), and David Watts ($86.50), all of whom got there without the benefit of Changewilldoyagood. Pratt’s key horses were My Magician ($36.80) in Delaware’s ninth and Ghost Hunter. For Dagostini, Guilty Twelve ($28.60) in Delaware’s eighth got him started. Ghost Hunter helped a lot, and two small collections in the last two races put him over the top.

Watts had two entries in contention heading into the last race, allowing him to play two different horses. When California Swing ($20) won Belmont’s nightcap, he leapfrogged into fourth and fifth, guaranteeing him a spot in the WCH.

The biggest winner from a monetary perspective on Saturday was Alex Calzi, who won his $7,000 seat to the Del Mar Handicapping Championship plus $500 in travel money. Calzi finished with $97.80, a little less than $5 clear of tournament veteran Sally Goodall. Changewilldoyagood got him started, followed by two small collections. He needed California Swing to get to the line in front.

In the Wynn Handicapping Challenge qualifier on Saturday, Ruben Lopez and Shea Harrod won their $2,000 bankrolls plus $500 in travel. Both built monster totals – $132.20 and $128.70. Lopez had the first two winners – Changewilldoyagood and Guilty Twelve – and topped up with two more collections, including Red Butte ($30.80) in Arlington’s 10th.

Harrod had two collections in the $8 range in the contest’s first half and then exploded with Postulation ($36.40) in Delaware’s 10th, Ghost Hunter, and Red Buttes before pouring it on with place points from Harlan’s Hunch ($8.60) in the anchor leg.

On Sunday, Nick Masesso won his Wynn buy-in plus $500 for travel in a 10-runner event that cost $290. His winning total was just $49.30, which speaks to the power of the player-friendly ratios of prizes to entries available in so many DRF Tournaments contests. He collected in six of the 10 contest races, but none were for more than $13.30.

Contest action returns to DRF Tournaments on Wednesday with a wide variety of contests, including first-round events for the next Grade 1 qualifier for the WCH on July 29. Go to tournaments.drf.com to sign up.