09/22/2016 11:13AM

Rookie scores two NHC spots in one day


Financial analyst Richard Alotta pulled off an impressive feat last Saturday. He became one of the first players in NHC Tour history to win two NHC seats in the same day. Each of Alotta’s wins came in online events hosted by DRF Tournaments.

His first seat came via the open NHCQualify event, where he finished second to Brian Knowles. Initially, it appeared he’d suffered a tough beat in the rookies-only event, where he ended up with the fourth highest total of over 1,000 entries. But after the top two were disqualified for not having registered for the Tour prior to the contest, Alotta was headed to the NHC with two entries.

It’s been a whirlwind for Alotta, 51, who had only played in three contests prior to last weekend. His first came at Indiana Grand recently. “I saw an advertisement for it and thought it would be a fun weekend to get away,” said Alotta, who made the four-hour drive from his home in St. Louis, Miss. to attend. “I was a little intimidated at first but when I got there I felt comfortable because there were a lot of guys who were just like me.”

It didn’t turn out as he’d hoped, but a fire was lit. “I didn't do very well but I thought it was a great experience and decided I definitely wanted to participate in the best handicapping tournament in the world,” he said. “I thought it would be cool to compete at the big dance against the best players.”

He looked over the NHC schedule and saw upcoming events far away at Lone Star and Canterbury and felt discouraged – at the time he didn’t realize online play was an option. “I read about the Daily Racing Form online qualifiers and figured I’d give those a try,” he said. “I did not seriously think that I would be able to earn a spot, but after finishing 19th and then 11th in the previous two tourneys, I thought with a little racing luck maybe I had a shot.”

He’s been a racing fan for three decades. “I started going to Fairmount Park with a friend of mine, watching Dave Gall ride when we were young, and we enjoyed trying to outthink our fellow handicappers,” he said. “Going to the races is a great escape from the everyday world and has a culture all its own.”

Alotta has read books on handicapping – he cited the work of Andy Beyer and Tom Ainslie – but mainly he doesn’t take things too seriously. He aims to have fun and enjoys the mental challenge. “The beauty of handicapping is that there are so many styles and methods of picking horses that each can use,” he said. “It's a big puzzle to figure out and you get the answer to that puzzle shortly after the gates open.”

Handicapping contests add another layer to the fun. “I look forward to attending my first National Handicapping Contest in Vegas and experiencing everything it has to offer,” he said. “My buddy Doug Foerstel won a local tournament at Fairmount Park about 10 years ago and still reminds me about it to this day, so maybe I can get some bragging rights now.”

As for the specifics of his handicapping, he likes to look at where a horse is headed as opposed to relying solely on where it’s been. “I like to look for horses that are improving on their form cycle and utilize the information the Daily Racing Form provides on the trainers’ stats,” he said. “Having an insight on what trainers’ records are in certain layoff periods and race conditions are very helpful to handicap how your horse will run today.”

As such a new player, he hasn’t really developed a theory yet on how to play the two tickets he’ll have in January. “I guess I’ll need two dartboards instead of one,” he joked.