11/28/2016 3:25PM

Wild finish to BCBC contest

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Benoit & Associates
Journey Home's victory in a controversial running of the Jimmy Durante Stakes created a bit of chaos in a Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge qualifier.

In a wild finish on DRF Tournaments on Saturday, four players won seats to the tournament world’s two biggest contests: the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and the National Handicapping Championship.

In the BC Qualify contest, Michael Ray and David Gutfreund won $10,000 buy-ins to next year’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. Over on NHC Qualify, Richard Trobaugh and Scott Rubinchik got seats to the NHC in January.

Gutfreund’s achievement is particularly notable. Back in January, after finishing fifth at the NHC, he won a seat to the 2017 event in the very next qualifying contest. Last month at the BCBC, Gutfreund finished sixth, and now he’s secured a seat for next year as well, once again in the very next qualifying contest.

All four Saturday qualifiers got back $26 win-place combined in the Jimmy Durante Stakes, which was originally supposed to be the contest's anchor leg. Journey Home prevailed in a bizarre scene where drainage pads were being blown onto the turf course. According to CHRB rules, a race should be declared a no contest if “interference during the running of the race affects the majority of horses in such race.” Despite 10 of the 13 runners suffering interference according to the race chart, the CHRB stewards let the result stand.

Complicating matters further, the Jimmy Durante didn’t end up being the contest's last race, which went off just one minute late at 6:02 Eastern. The Kentucky Jockey Club stakes was scheduled for 5:56, but since Churchill post times had drifted 10 minutes throughout the day, the Grade 2 for 2-year-olds would be the contest finale, not the Durante.

As the stewards were deliberating at Del Mar about whether or not to call a no contest, players had to make difficult decisions as to how to play the last race not knowing if the Del Mar scores were going to count. Later this week we’ll hear from several of the players who were in contention at the time and examine their thought processes.

Just taken on the face of the Del Mar result, three of the four qualifiers would have been the same, with Gutfreund being displaced in favor of John Nichols in the BCQ contest. But it’s not really that simple because the events at Del Mar shaped who the participants chose to play in the Churchill race.

On Sunday, Roger Cettina and Grier Bibby finished best in a sold-out DRF Qualify event, the final online qualifier for Gulfstream’s Conquer the Crown contest, which takes place next Saturday, Dec. 3.

Cettina topped the field of 34 with $137.30. He began slowly, with just $3.10 in the first quarter of the 12-race contest. From there he caught fire, collecting in eight of the remaining nine races, with four horses who returned over $20 (Big Ben, place points on Jay Makes Us Laugh, Moonwalker, and Go Navy Go). It’s hard to win a mythical online contest going away when you don’t have either of the two cap horses, but that’s what Cettina did Sunday. Cettina’s contest resume is already enviable – twice he’s been second at the NHC Finals for six-figure scores – and he’ll look to add to that next weekend in Florida.

Bibby got to his total of $105.60 in a different manner. He had four collections, the most important of which was Blazingulch, a cap horse, in Del Mar’s third. Blazingulch demonstrated the power of playing way over the cap. He was 71-1 on the board, meaning not many others in the contest played him. So even though Grier “only” got back $64 win-place combined (as opposed to $194.80), there was value in the fact that he moved up the leaderboard with very little company. Only one other player, Gordon Larson, used the Cliff Sise-trained runner.

Also this weekend, 2013 BCBC winner Peter Behr won two seats to the NHC on consecutive days in Hawthorne’s contests with a pair of third-place finishes. On Friday, Brian Gross finished first, ahead of 2013 NHC champ Jim Benes, with Behr third and Steve Schwerb fourth.

Russell Priola won Saturday’s contest overall, with Behr third, Byron Yablon fourth, and fifth-place finisher Tom Walsh also winning seats. Frank Mustari, already double-qualified, was second, and will benefit from the additional NHC Tour points.