The Year of ‘The Hammer’

By Rich Nilsen

We first interviewed Tommy “The Hammer” Massis after he scored a major handicapping contest victory last spring in the Grade One Gamble tournament at Keeneland Racecourse.  Topping 123 players with a huge $28,074 bankroll, the Canadian horseplayer captured an NHC berth, a $10,000 grand prize, and an entry into the lucrative Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

But Massis was far from done in 2015.  He parlayed that win into victories in both the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and the fall Del Mar handicapping challenge.  The Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) is the largest real-money tournament in the country and its popularity is reaching that of the National Handicapping Championship.

Massis put the hammer down by turning a $7,500 betting bankroll into a staggering $90,682.25 balance at the conclusion of the two days of Breeders’ Cup action.  In the process he crushed 321 other players and brought home total winnings of $320,682.  At Del Mar a couple of weeks later, Massis turned a $3,000 bankroll into $18,064.  He added another $32,000 to that in prize money. sat down again with this professional horseplayer from Toronto, Canada to discuss his big wins in the second half of the year.  2015 was truly the year of the Hammer.


photo by Louie DeMato

photo by Louie DeMato

AGOS: Going against an all-star field of handicappers in the BCBC, what was your strategy going into the event?

TM:  I handicapped the two cards and was looking for my spots to make my plays. My two plays that I found were both on Saturday in the Sprint and the Turf.  I didn’t really like anything on Friday to make a huge bet.  However, with the $600 minimum bet requirement, I figured I would just take the five races I had to play, bet the $600, and try to hit something really good.  I did not consider any type of huge bet on Friday.  My two plays were in those races on Saturday.


AGOS: With so many races to look at, how did you prepare for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC)?

TM:  I can’t do it the same way I normally do back home. Ten days at the latest, after a card has been run, I have looked at all the replays and have all my homework done. I try to do that work the next day, but at the latest, it is completed within a week to 10 days after the races have been run.

With 20 races in two days and all those horses, I can’t do all that legwork.  It’s insanity.

You can’t rely on just the DRF chart caller notes. I honestly went through those two days looking for pace scenarios, Europeans on the turf, etc.  It took me very little time to come up with no plays on Friday and two plays on Saturday.  On those two races [the Sprint and Turf] I did a lot of work.  I started watching the replays and so forth.

I then went back to Friday and looked at what races I could bet on.  There was one horse on Friday that was going off much lower than I expected at 5/2 and so I just bet to place instead [of a large win wager] and he ended up winning.

That’s why I don’t like the NHC.  It doesn’t fit my style with having to play 15 races a day. There is not enough time in the week [beforehand] to handicap the races and do it properly.


AGOS: Incidentally, did you feel that there were any track biases at play during the 2 days of the Breeders’ Cup, and did you use that information to your advantage?

TM: I knew that Keeneland took away one of my advantages which is the stone closers having a chance [by removing the all-weather track].  That was my bread and butter, but horses can’t win like that at Keeneland now.

On a big day with top jockeys and good horses, sometimes the biases can be corrected and evened out. I didn’t see any type of significant bias.

I came in with a plan and, with those kind of stakes, nothing was going to change.


AGOS: You basically risked everything on two horses in the Cup.  Tell us about your decision to play those runners.

TM:   The Sprint is what I look for in my daily handicapping – a ton of speed where closers can take advantage.  I really like Wild Dude’s ability to sit a good trip off the speed. I thought Kobe’s Back was better off at 6 furlongs than 7 furlongs and would come running late.   So if the speed gave way, I had two horses that were going to be finishing well.

I made a huge win bet on Wild Dude. I bet a bunch of trifectas with Kobe in the two and three hole.  The gate opened and basically I knew I was dead.  The jockey had it in his mind to take way too far back.  I was done.  I didn’t even watch after that.

I knew Run Happy was a young horse and he had to learn how to rate.  And he did just that on the biggest day of his life!

As for the turf, I watched Golden Horn beat Found with no excuses for Found.  Found’s only bad race was at 12 furlongs, so I watched the replay.  He had trouble, really had no chance to do his best running, but finished OK.  You could put a line through that race.  If I couldn’t put a line through that race, I would have put a line through Found.  So I determined that 1 1/2 miles (12 furlongs) was not a problem for the horse.

With good odds, Found was a play with Lasix and my favorite jockey.  That’s enough to move you up a little.

I had no opinion beyond those two.

I made a $3,000 exacta box on the two, and then went back up and added a $1,000 straight Found over Golden Horn.  I figured if I put more on that combination, I put the contest out of reach if it hit.


After the win at Del Mar

After the win at Del Mar

AGOS: Tell us about the winner that propelled you to victory in the Del Mar contest.

TM:   He had one lifetime races, broke in the air and rushed up.  The favorite won the race easily and this horse kept finishing behind him.  He kept finishing strong, distancing himself from the rest of the field and galloped out great past the wire.  He was claimed by Doug O’Neill and running back in the same class.  He was very obvious.

I went down to the paddock (and I’m not a paddock guy) and this horse looked like he was raring to go.  I waited and waited, watching the odds.  I planned to bet $5,000 at 5/2 but instead I ended up betting $9,000 at even money. I didn’t like the card.   I bet a horse that I would never bet as he was obvious to the public.  So, I ended up getting 9/2 on the winner [due to the prize money I won].

In the next race I liked two speed horses in a 5 furlong race and I was going to play a $600 straight exacta, but they killed each other off.  They ended up running third and fourth.

These were two bets I would never make in my real wagering. I would never bet an even money shot like that.


AGOS:  Since the NHC is so different and not really suited to your style, how are you going to approach that tournament in January?

TM: What I am going to do first is take care of the mandatory races.  I’ll be putting some replay work into those.   I look for speed horses, lone closers and so forth.

Tommy Massis relaxing back home at Woodbine

Tommy Massis relaxing back home at Woodbine

The more effort you put into [the 3-day contest], the more drained you get and the harder it is to make it the required three days.  I am not young, so I get drained pretty quickly.

I plan to walk in and put in all of my picks right away the first day; and then just monitor the odds throughout the day.  I’ll see if I have to change my strategy during the day.

I don’t care how good you are, you better just have the day of your life.  Being good gives you a chance.  I’m just not going to put a lot of work into it, because a lot of work isn’t going to do the job.  I don’t want to have a good day the first day and then I am so mentally drained the second day that I can’t make proper decisions.


AGOS: How have these recent experiences changed your life?

TM: You know I have so many health issues.  My meds are very expensive but I get them for $300 year through the disability program here in Canada.  It’s a great country to live in.

Looking long term, I plan to invest all my money in a condo and start from scratch again.


AGOS: Where are you going to buy a condo?

TM:   One bus stop from Woodbine.


For more on handicapping star Tommy Massis, read our first interview from April, 2015.

Saratoga 2015 – Week One Stats

Our guest writer Tom Amello has compiled some very interesting statistics on the opening week at the Spa.

Saratoga Shippers – July 24-July 27, 2015

Track Last Raced Wins Starts
Aqueduct 1 (12-1) 11
Arlington Park 0 1
Belmont 22
Churchill 4 33
Delaware 0 3
Ellis Park 0 3
Gulfstream 2  (8-1, 22-1) 13
Finger Lakes 0 2
Indiana Downs 0 3
Keeneland 0 2
Monmouth 2  (55-1) 12
Laurel 0 1
Parx 2 9
Penn 0 1
Pimlico 0 2
Prairie Meadows 0 1
Presque Isle 0 2
Santa Anita 3 7
Saratoga 0 1
Tampa 0 1
Woodbine 0 3
First Time Starters 5 45


Want to learn more about the game, select more winners and have fun?  Check out Tom Amello’s Gateway To The Game

Saratoga Track Profile – July 24 – July 27 

Main Track

July 24, 2015  outside paths better, front speed failed, stalkers ruled

July 25, 2015  main track tighter, track played fair

July 26, 2015  kinder to speed

July 27, 2015  kind to speed 


Nothing like Saratoga racing in the summer

Inner Turf:    No Bias

Mellon Turf:  No Bias

Main Track

5.0       (2) 0 Wire, sustained pressers

5.5f      (4) 0 Wire, front pressers

6.0f      (6) 2 Wire, Pressers, Closer

6.5f      (5) 3 Wire, no closers

7.0       (3) 2 Wire, 1 Closer

9.0       (4) 2 Wire, 1 Closer  


 Inner Turf:

8.0                   (4) 3 Wire, 1 up-close

8.5                   (3) 1 Wire, 2 closers

1&3/8              (2) 1 Stalker, 1 Closer


Mellon Turf:

(4) 1 Wire, 3 Closers

8.0                   (3) 0 Wire, 2 Stalkers, 1 Closer

9.0                   (2) 0 Wire, 1 Stalker, 1 Closer                   

Gateway to the Game by writer Tom Amello

Click here to learn more


147th Saratoga Meet Kicks Off Friday

from the NYRA Press Department

The 147th summer of thoroughbred racing at historic Saratoga Race Course gets under way on Friday with a 10-race card that includes the first two of 69 stakes worth a record $18.7 million during the 40-day meeting.
Saratoga’s traditional opening day feature, the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies, is joined this year by the Grade 2, $200,000 Lake George for 3-year-old turf fillies. Post time for the first race is 1 p.m.
Saratoga canopy walk throughRacing will be conducted six days a week, excluding Tuesdays, through Labor Day, September 7, highlighted by the 146th renewal of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes for 3-year-olds on Saturday, August. 29.
Travers Day includes six other graded stakes, five of them Grade 1s, worth $4.6 million as one of three spectacular Saturday programs put together by the New York Racing Association. The others are August 8, offering five stakes worth $2.15 million anchored by the Grade 1, $1.25 million Whitney Handicap for older horses; and August 28, featuring six New York-bred stakes worth $1.15 million.
Seven-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher looks to get a head start on his sixth straight Saratoga training championship and 12th overall when he sends out contenders in each of Friday’s stakes: impressive debut winner Positively Royal in the six-furlong Schuylerville and Grade 3 winner Feathered for the 1 1/16-mile Lake George.
The 97th renewal of the Schuylerville is set for race 4; the 20th running of the Lake George will take place in race 9.
A bay daughter of champion Bernardini, Mathis Stables’ Positively Royal cruised to 3 ½-length victory in her June 18 unveiling at Belmont Park, covering five furlongs in 58.49 seconds. Pletcher, 48, has won the Schuylerville five times (2002, 2003, 2006, 2011, 2014) and gone on to take Saratoga’s training title in each of those years.
“She’s a very professional filly,” Pletcher said. “She trained at my dad’s all winter and trained very well. She was one of the first ones to come in. She ran to expectations first time out and has trained accordingly since then. We’ve been fortunate over the years to have some nice fillies in here, and I think she is of that same caliber.” 
Fellow defending meet champion Javier Castellano, looking for his third consecutive Spa riding title, has the mount from post 7.
Trainer Wesley Ward will send out both Mark Dodson’s Banree and Ten Broeck Farm’s Moment Is Right for the Schuylerville. A daughter of multiple Grade 1 winner Medaglia d’Oro, Moment Is Right is unbeaten in two starts having romped over colts in her May 15 debut at Gulfstream Park and followed up with a front-running 1 ½-length score in the June 4 Astoria for fillies at Belmont Park.
Banree, by Macho Uno, similarly beat colts in her debut April 16 at Keeneland  Race Course and faced males again in the June 5 Tremont at Belmont but was taken out of her game following an awkward break and wound up a non-threatening fifth.
“They’re doing really well. Both are coming into the race great, so we’ll see what happens,” Ward said. “I don’t know what happened [in the Astoria]. She’s always kind of been pretty quick out of the gate but she was really compromised and lost all chance. [Moment Is Right] has been super. Going into the race it’s a toss-up as to which one’s better, that’s for sure, and I’d even lean the other way a little bit. A lot of it has to do with the trip and what have you, but they’re both pretty talented 2-year-old fillies.”
Joel Rosario, up for the Astoria, gets a return call from post 6 on 121-pound top weight Moment Is Right, who spots two pounds to each of her rivals. Saratoga newcomer Rafael Hernandez will be back aboard Banree from post 8.
Also entered are Decked Out and One Minute, who ran 2-3 in the Astoria; fellow stakes-placed Areolite; and debut winners Little Miss Miss and Off the Tracks.
Pletcher has the lone graded stakes winner in the Lake George in Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Feathered. In two starts since being moved to the turf this spring, the daughter of Indian Charlie won the Grade 3 Edgewood May 1 at Churchill Downs and was a stubborn second in the Grade 1 American Oaks 29 days later at Santa Anita.
Feathered will be ridden for the first time by Luis Saez from post 10 at top weight of 123 pounds and cuts back from 1 1/8 miles for the Lake George, run at the same distance as the Edgewood. Pletcher won the Lake George in 2005 and 2006.
“In her first couple of starts this year she didn’t seem to have regained her 2-year-old form,” Pletcher said, “so we turned to the grass and that seemed to take care of it. We’re not surprised with her pedigree that she likes it, but she’s a good, versatile filly that handles multiple surfaces and distances.”
Third in the Edgewood and second by a head in the Grade 3 Regret, Three Chimneys Farm’s Lady Zuzu is entered for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who captured the 2009 Lake George with Be Fair. Most recently, the Dynaformer filly set a blistering pace before fading in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational July 4.
“We’re going to look at it. I’ll let the owner decide. I think she fits the race pretty good,” Lukas said. “The last race was a debacle with the rider. He just opened up and went unrealistic fractions. We’re going to change that.” 
Corey Lanerie, riding at Saratoga full-time this summer, has the mount from post 8 at 115 pounds.
Trainer Chad Brown is represented in the Lake George by three fillies: Mr. and Mrs. William Warren’s Mrs McDougal, Klaravich Stables’ Partisan Politics and Martin Schwartz’s Irish-bred Sivoliere.
Partisan Politics is already a stakes winner at Saratoga, having taken the 1 1/16-mile P.G. Johnson last summer under Castellano, who returns to ride from outside post 12. She has been winless in three starts since, returning from a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf to run second by a nose in the Wild Applause Stakes June 14 in her sophomore debut.
Unraced at 2, Mrs McDougal won her debut over the winter at Gulfstream Park and most recently was fourth by 2 ¾ lengths in the Grade 1 American Oaks. Sivoliere has been off the board in three North American starts since arriving last fall from France including a fourth-place finish in the Wild Applause, five lengths behind Partisan Politics.
Sivoliere will break from post 6 under Jose Ortiz at 115 pounds, while Mrs McDougal will carry Irad Ortiz, Jr. and 117 pounds from post 9.
Rounding out the field are Celestine, a winner of four straight starts including the Wild Applause for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott; Mississippi Delta, having captured three consecutive races including back-to-back stakes at Woodbine; Indy Star Stakes winner Cara Marie; All in Fun, Robillard, My Year Is a Day and Jellicle Ball, the latter making her U.S. debut for trainer Graham Motion.