09/30/2016 10:52AM

Two lifetime players qualify for BCBC

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Pat Gianforte and Bill O’Neal became two of the latest horseplayers to qualify for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge last weekend in a BCQualify event on the DRF Tournaments’ site.

Gianforte, 59, owns his own marketing and sales company in Cary, Ill., and he’s been a dyed-in-the-wool horseplayer since his teenage years. He worked at a country club and bet horses from the summer after sixth grade, and in the summer before eighth grade he made a $2,200 score.

“My mother said that would be the worst day of my life,” Gianforte said. “I have learned many expensive lessons along the way. She was probably right, but I love the action!”

His interest in contests was fostered by Noel Michaels’s classic "Handicapping Contest Handbook" and he’s been involved in the National Handicapping Championship Tour ever since reading it. He’s qualified for the NHC over 10 times.

Another major influence on Gianforte is Randy Gallo, the well-known handicapper and bettor. In addition to running contests, Gallo is known for his prowess at the pick six. “I've always had an infinity for the pick six,” Gianforte said. “I even named my company Pick Six LLC.”

For Gianforte, the appeal of contests is simple: “The competition, the camaraderie with the other players, and the ability to make scores without investing big money,” he said.

He’s been a supporter of the BCBC since its inception, playing in every one. This is the third time he’s qualified. His first important winner was Accepting at 7-1 in Belmont’s sixth race Sunday. “Her first race was September 11, so she was wheeling back very quickly for a 2-year-old filly,” he said. “I watched the tape and when John Velazquez didn't break, he just wrapped the horse up for another day -- Sunday was that day.”

The other key was Papa Zulu in Churchill’s ninth. Gianforte had a valid handicapping reason to play him: There was a trip angle from a couple of races back and he expected improvement second off the bench, but there was a hunch angle as well. “My six  grandkids call me papa,” he said, “and I rooted down the stretch, ‘Come to papa’ and he did. My wife heard me and thought I was losing my mind but I knew if [Papa Zulu] won, I'd be in a great position.”

Indeed he was, though he still needed the critical $6.40 in place points he had received early on from Cold Blood in Gulfstream’s sixth to secure the fifth and final qualifying spot – proof once again that every dollar you earn helps.

Bill O’Neal, now 55, started going to the races when he was nine years old. “My father was a big fan and he took me and I’ve been hooked ever since,” he said, citing a story familiar to many horseplayers.

O’Neal is a financial advisor who lives in Centerville, Ohio. He started playing contests locally and as the tracks nearest to him stopped hosting onsite events, his play migrated to online. He likes online contests because you can play almost every day and is a fan of formats like DRFT’s all-in contests where all picks go in before the first race.

He has a Hoosier Park win on his resume and won an online entry into Keeneland’s contest this fall. He’s played in the NHC three times. This will be his first BCBC appearance.

As for his handicapping, he’s a believer in assessing class and trainer intent to try to find longshots. This worked perfectly last weekend. “The big turning point for me was Papa Zulu at Churchill Downs at 17-1,” O’Neal said. “He was shipping in from Woodbine as a class dropper and I liked Shaun Bridgmohan riding. I was totally surprised that he went off at that price.”