08/29/2016 12:07PM

Guzzi wins free entry into BCBC


Bernard Guzzi finished first in a field of 5,000 entries to win a seat to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge in the first-ever BCQualify free roll hosted by DRF Tournaments on Sunday. Guzzi, an unfamiliar name in the contest world, has yet to accrue any points in a National Handicapping Championship Tour event this year and remains an unknown quantity.

Here’s what we do know about him: He picked the heck out of Sunday’s free roll, cashing in six of the seven contest events. The only races keeping him from a perfect score were Del Mar’s second, where he missed, and Del Mar’s fourth, where he got only place points from Louden’s Gray. He was 5 for 5 in the other races, including a perfect 4 for 4 at the Spa.

His score of $86.10 was just 50 cents ahead of the unlucky second-place finisher, Dan Batchik. The two were separated by that same margin after four races. Under normal circumstances, running the table in the last three races would be enough to make up that margin and then some, but not this time. Guzzi, of course, had the same three winners, so Batchik was drawing dead for the win from there in the all-in contest. Such are the vagaries of playing against such a large field.

The players who finished second through 21st will receive $50 in site credit at DRF Tournaments. While that may not seem like much compared to a $10,000 berth to the BCBC, keep this in mind: Starting Wednesday, DRFT will be running feeders for the National Handicapping Championship and Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge for as little as $18 and $36, respectively. This means there is still the chance for another major success story to come out of Sunday’s free roll.

On Saturday, the headline event on DRF Tournaments was a qualifier for the 2017 National Handicapping Championship. Two players – Richard Rutkowski and Allen Harberg – won their seats for the NHC and its $2.5 million expected purse.

For Rutkowski, it was the third time this year he earned points in an NHCQualify event. He started out quietly, managing just three collections in the first two-thirds of the live format contest. He finished like a freight train, hitting his own cold pick three with Strike Charmer ($51.70), Thunder Basin ($16.80), and Irish Prayer ($43.40). His final total of $132.40 was much the best in the 100-entry plus field.

Harberg has also been active on the Tour this year. Heading into the weekend he’d finished in the top ten percent of a sanctioned NHC Tour contest on five occasions, all online. Saturday he finally broke through with a score of $121.80. His hot streak came in the middle of the contest, when he collected in five of six races. They ranged from small wins on Flintshire and Masochistic to nice hits on Arrogate ($38.00) and Strike Charmer ($51.70). That approach reflects a very modern approach to contest play often espoused by Paul Shurman: Pick who you like regardless of price.

Third-place finisher Dan Zaretsky didn’t win an NHC seat but he did win $1,000 in site credit, as did fourth-place finisher Rich Nilsen. With the points he’ll receive for third, Zaretsky is expected to move up very close to current NHC Rookie Tour leader Peter Dressens. The top five finishers on the Rookie Tour will split $15,000 as follows: $5,000 to first, $4,000 to second, $3,000 to third, $2,000 to fourth, and $1,000 to fifth.

Nilsen is a good story to follow for the rest of the year as well. The 12-time qualifier had his streak of NHC appearances interrupted last year, but aims to get back to the big dance in 2017. Nilsen, a respected handicapper, was also the first player to finish in the top 10 twice at the NHC.

Also on Sunday, Robert Granillo won a $5,000 prize package to the Santa Anita Autumn Championship. Bob Turner and Stephen Tartaglione won $1,000 partial entries in the same event. The player who wins the Santa Anita contest will join previous Santa Anita winners Vic Stauffer and Hesham Ragab as eligible for a $1 million bonus should they go on to the win the BCBC.