08/31/2016 12:38PM

Harberg puts together winning hand for NHC

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Allen Harberg is headed to the National Handicapping Championship for the first time, courtesy of a second-place finish last weekend in an NHCQualify event via DRF Tournaments.

Harberg, 44, is a lawyer who lives in Philadelphia. He has been attending the races since he was 10 years old. His first trip to the track reads like horseplayer boilerplate – with a funny twist. “My dearly departed uncle took me to the track and I hit my first play – a trifecta,” he said. “He cashed for me, and took a modest commission.”

While Harberg has never played in the NHC, he did qualify for the contest world’s other major, the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. “I structured my entire contest strategy around Taris and Obviously,” he said. “You saw how that played out.”

He’s had several close calls at the NHC, but more than once he’s changed a pick at the last minute that ended up costing him. He didn’t have that issue on Saturday as he was hosting a Travers party that kept him preoccupied throughout the day, forcing him to stick by his initial selections. Fortunately, one of them was Arrogate.

“He was my top pick of the weekend,” Harberg said. “I loved his finishes and gallop-outs in his two-turn races.”

In the Travers, he handicapped the trainer as well as the horse. “Most trainers are notorious touts for their own horses in stakes, but Baffert is legit,” he explained. “If he touts a horse, the horse runs."

Baffert was bullish on Arrogate and Harberg had heard that he thought Arrogate was more of a runner than American Freedom. “Plus Baffert showed up in Saratoga, which is another big tell for him,” Harberg said. “That was an empty-the-wallet play for me.”

Arrogate’s win alone wouldn’t have been enough. He needed critical points from Strike Charmer as well – a pick he takes no credit for. “My good friend Mike Michalisin, founder of Timberfence Capital" -- an equine-oriented investment firm -- "is an amazing turf handicapper and knows what a good finish is. He put me on this one and has done so with many other turf bombs.”

Harberg got into contests through his friend Jersey Pete, aka Pete Strauss. It was a logical suggestion by Strauss, whom Harberg calls “the best handicapper I know.” It’s always wise to respect the gambling ability of someone whose moniker is shared by a geographical location. Jersey Pete’s success demonstrates why: He has qualified for the NHC four years running. This year he’ll be joined by a protégé.

Three-contest weekend

There is an extra day of action in the DRF Tournaments universe this week. Contests will be held through Monday, where the headline event will be a $162 qualifier for the National Handicapping Championship. The Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge takes center stage on Sunday, with a $325 buy-in tournament. Additionally, Saturday there is a $90 qualifier for the Conquer the Crown contest at Gulfstream and on Sunday you can win in to the rapidly approaching Santa Anita Autumn Championship for $162.

Each day this week through Monday there are also feeders (where you can win in to the qualifiers inexpensively) and credit builders, including brand new match up credit builders. Match up contests require you to beat just one other player for $100 in site credit and cost $55 to play. They utilize the popular all-in format.

For a full list of contests, rules, and races included, check out tournaments.drf.com.