Champ re­tains his crown

Daily Racing Form National Digital Edition - - News - PETER T. FORNATALE

Gulf­stream’s Con­quer the Crown, a hand­i­cap­ping con­test run on the day of the Claim­ing Crown, has been run in 2016 and 2018. There has been only one win­ner: Garett Sk­iba.

Last Satur­day, Sk­iba won the event for a sec­ond time. He took home over $30,000 be­tween his $12,625 in bankroll, $18,150 in prize money, plus a seat to the Na­tional Horse­play­ers’ Cham­pi­onship.

Play­ers put up $3,000 to com­pete. Of that money, $2,000 acts as a live bankroll while the re­main­ing $1,000 feeds the prize pool. In the end, Sk­iba had an­other feather in his cap.

“I do think it’s cool that I’m the only player to have ever won this con­test,” he said.

Last time around, Sk­iba won Con­quer the Crown by cold cock­ing a $300 ex­acta in the last race. This time he got the job done with a $5,000 win bet on Jorge Navarro’s Aztec Sense, the fa­vorite in the 11th and fi­nal race.

Navarro was also the key to his get­ting into con­tention. He cashed for over $7,000 in the dou­ble that con­nected races 7 and 8. The eighth was won by one of three Navarro horses Sk­iba used, the even­tual win­ner at 14-1, Miss­chief Maas. That left him near the top of the leader­board.

“Navarro was run­ning so hot I had to use all his horses,” Sk­iba said. “Last time in this con­test head­ing to the last I was down to the felt. This time I was up at the front at the end.”

In both cases, he got the job done, prov­ing his ver­sa­til­ity as a player. In live-bank play, Sk­iba doesn’t shoot for a cer­tain to­tal from the out­set. In­stead, he fig­ures out what he thinks it’s go­ing to take to win as the play de­vel­ops.

He said: “I ask my­self, ‘Who else is in con­tention? What do the races look like?’ And then I build a plan from there.”

Tour­na­ments are very im­por­tant to Sk­iba’s play but are not his sole fo­cus. He es­ti­mates they rep­re­sent about 10 per­cent of his han­dle.

“In terms of my cash play, I’ll prob­a­bly look four or five days a week but I won’t nec­es­sar­ily bet ev­ery day,” he said.

Sk­iba is an es­tab­lished live­bank player, so it makes sense that there’s a re­la­tion­ship be­tween his cash play and tour­na­ment ap­proach.

“I use what I do on a dayto-day ba­sis to get bet­ter at con­tests,” he said. “Some­times I’ll look at a Satur­day card and pre-load my ac­count with $1,000 and look at it like a mini-tour­na­ment.”

There are ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ences, of course. In cash play, there isn’t the same im­por­tance on be­ing so ag­gres­sive at the end, nor is there any ad­di­tional mo­ti­va­tion to push in when it comes to the last race. “Look­ing at the races as a tour­na­ment helps me get a sense of how the card un­folds and gets me think­ing about al­lo­cat­ing funds to dif­fer­ent races,” he said. “Whether it’s a tour­na­ment or my reg­u­lar bet­ting, it’s im­por­tant to come up with a game plan.”

Arkansas man gets sec­ond shot

Dan Hart of Batesville, Ark., is headed back to Las Ve­gas after win­ning an NHC seat last week­end in an on­line con­test. Hart was a rookie at the NHC last year, and burst on the con­test scene mak­ing a run to the fi­nal ta­ble. He chron­i­cled his ex­ploits in real time by ap­pear­ing on Steve Byk’s “At the Races” cov­er­age live from the event.

Hart, 56, wasn’t thrilled with how things went once he got to the fi­nal ta­ble. He ended up 10th, and is still both­ered by a DQ at Oak­lawn Park that cost him a bet­ter fin­ish.

“That cost me four plac­ings,” he said, “and it stung that it hap­pened at my home track, even.”

It’s been an up-and-down year for Hart.

“I had an aw­ful slump this sum­mer where I couldn’t hit any­thing,” he said. “There were so many tour­na­ments where I would be on top after four or five races, but I couldn’t hit late to save my life.”

Look­ing back, the mu­sic afi­cionado thinks he might have put too much pres­sure on him­self.

“I wanted to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke,” he said, “I didn’t want to be a one-hit won­der.”

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters was pro­fes­sional up­heaval. He un­ex­pect­edly lost his job this sum­mer after 15 years at a den­tal sup­ply com­pany.

“It was a cor­po­rate cul­ture thing. They were go­ing younger,” he said. “I started a new job two weeks ago at a re­gional bank do­ing re­tail sales and now – bang! – I’m qual­i­fied.”

Travel will be a big part of the new gig as he’ll be go­ing around to dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try work­ing with deal­ers. Asked if he might sneak in a few race­track vis­its, he replied, “Oh, that might hap­pen.”

World se­ries qualifier

There’s an­other chance to qual­ify for the Horse Player World Se­ries this week­end on DRFT. En­tries cost $94 and one in 19 en­tries will win a $1,500 seat. The world se­ries is a three­day myth­i­cal-money con­test tak­ing place at Or­leans Las Ve­gas from March 28-30. Satur­day’s qualifier uti­lizes the all-in for­mat, mean­ing that all picks must be in be­fore the sched­uled post time for the con­test’s first race.

On Sun­day, there is an­other Round 1 qualifier for the Pe­ga­sus World Cup Bet­ting Cham­pi­onship. En­tries cost $220 and one in five will move on to com­pete in the $960 buy-in on­line Pe­ga­sus qualifier on Dec. 15. The Pe­ga­sus con­test it­self takes place Jan. 25-26 and is a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity for horse­play­ers. All the prize money is added by Gulf­stream, mean­ing play­ers get to wager their en­tire $12,000 bankrolls – there’s no en­try fee and you walk away with what­ever is left on your bankroll at the end.

For more in­for­ma­tion about ev­ery­thing hap­pen­ing this week­end, go to tour­na­ments .drf.com.

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