Tournament Veteran Lam Captures Laurel Champions Handicapping Tournament

Press Release

Phillip Lam of Fresh Meadow, N.Y. finished with a bankroll balance of $4,359.70 to capture the fall session of the Maryland Jockey Club’s Champions Handicapping Tournament held Saturday at Laurel Park.

Lam earned $3,030 in prize money ended with a comfortable margin over runner-up Gwyn Houston of Fallston, Md., who ended the day with a bankroll balance of $3,106.80 and took home $2,020 in prize money.

The tournament was open to players for $300, which covered a $100 entry fee and $200 bankroll. In addition to prize money, the top four finishers qualified for automatic berths to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC), Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) or The BIG ONE.

A total of 201 entries were accepted from 139 players for the tournament, held for the first year in Laurel’s newly refurbished second-floor sports bar. There were no mandatory races during the contest but a $20 minimum wager on races from Laurel, Gulfstream Park, Saratoga Race Course, Monmouth Park and Woodbine.

Given his choice of four tournament berths, Lam selected the BCBC to be held Nov. 3-4 at Del Mar while Houston selected a berth in The BIG ONE Sept. 23-24 at Laurel Park.

Third place went to Michael Webb of Westminster, Md., who finished with a balance of $2,395.40 and earned $1,010 and an NHC berth. Jason Jubb of Pasadena, Md. was fourth with a balance of $2,248 and earned $606.

Since Jubb is not a member of the NHC Tour, fifth-place finisher Joseph McKay of Gaithersburg, Md. earned the final NHC berth. He ended with a balance of $1,594.50 and prize money of $606.

Rounding out the top 10 finishers were David Hertz with a tournament balance of $1,450, Roger Kurrus ($1,358), Barry Howard ($1,192), David Stone ($1,089.50) and Jeffrey Harryman ($1,000). Each player earned $606 in prize money.

The spring session of the MJC Champions Handicapping Tournament was won by Thomas Camann of Providence, R.I., who chose a berth in the BCBC. Other winners from the spring tournament were Frederick Cipriano (BIG ONE), Hewett Andrews (NHC) and Steven Scalco (NHC).

Champions Handicapping Tournament in Two Weeks at Laurel

The Maryland Jockey Club is accepting entries for the spring session of the Champions Handicapping Tournament to be held Saturday, March 25 at Laurel Park.

Berths to the NTRA/DRF National Handicapping Championship (NHC), Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) and BIG ONE tournaments are on the line as well as guaranteed prize money to the top 10 finishers.

A maximum of two entries per person will be accepted at a cost of $300 each, covering the $100 entry fee and $200 bankroll. The tournament will be capped at 300 entries.

The tournament winner will have their choice of one of two berths to the NHC or a berth in the BCBC or BIG ONE. The second-place finisher has the choice of one of the remaining three berths, the third-place finisher has the choice of one of the remaining two berths, and the fourth-place finisher will receive the remaining berth.

Tracks available for the tournament are Laurel Park, Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita, Aqueduct and Tampa Bay Downs, with no mandatory races. The minimum wager is $20.

For a registration form or further information, email Diana Harbaugh at Diana.harbaugh@marylandracing.com before noon March 24 or visit www.laurelpark.com/handicapping/champions-tournament. Registration by credit card can be done by calling 301-470-5432 before noon March 24.

The BIG ONE takes place Sept. 23-24 at Laurel Park, while the BCBC will be Nov. 3-4 at Del Mar and the NHC is held January 2018 in Las Vegas.

Major Handicapping Tournaments to Now Feature $3M Rolling Bonus

A New Twist: NHC, BCBC $3 Million Bonus To Become ‘Rolling Double’

NTRA:
The $3 million NHC Tour Bonus – the largest prize ever offered in the handicapping contest world – added a new twist when the National Thoroughbred Racing Association today announced that the winner of January’s Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) in Las Vegas will be eligible for a $3 million bonus if he or she goes on to win the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge at Del Mar.

This year’s BCBC winner, Joe Appelbaum, is already eligible for the bonus should he win NHC 17. Today’s announcement makes the NHC Tour Bonus a “rolling” double, as every BCBC and NHC winner will be eligible as long as they win each major contest successively, but in either order.

nhc final table vegas NHC 18 is set for January 27-29 at Treasure Island Las Vegas. The 2017 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge will be held Nov. 3-4 and based at the Breeders’ Cup host site, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club near San Diego.

Appelbaum earned $364,000 at this year’s BCBC and first prize at the NHC is $800,000, meaning that successful completion of the NHC Tour Double would be worth more than $4.164 million. Players must be current members of the NHC Tour ($50) to be eligible to win the lucrative bonus.

Qualifying for the NHC continues through January in scores of contests held on-site and exclusively online at NHCqualify.com. In its 18th year, the NHC is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino race books, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping websites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. There are no bye-ins to the NHC. Each year, the NHC winner joins other human and equine champions as an honoree at the Eclipse Awards. In addition to the founding title sponsor, Daily Racing Form, the NHC is presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas.

For more information on the NHC Tour and a complete contest schedule, visit NTRA.com/nhc.

Now entering its ninth year, the $1 million-estimated BCBC has become one of the most sought after prizes on the tournament calendar. The BCBC, which offers 15 seats to the NHC in addition to cash prizes, is a highly lucrative and exclusive live bankroll handicapping contest with a $10,000 buy-in required to participate. Players enjoy first class access to the two best days of racing in the world with VIP seats that include buffet lunch each day and other amenities. Online and on-site qualifying tournaments, offering $10,000 berths into the BCBC as prizes, continue throughout the summer and fall leading to the November Breeders’ Cup. For more on the BCBC, visit www.breederscup.com/bcbc.

Texas Gastroenterologist Wins 1st Half of NHC Tour

JOE JOHNSON WINS NHC TOUR FIRST HALF,

TOP FIVE PLAYERS EARN $10,000 BREEDERS’ CUP BETTING CHALLENGE ENTRIES

 LEXINGTON, Ky.  – Joe Johnson, of San Antonio, Texas, rode the lone speed of Laoban all the way to a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry as the winner of the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Tour’s “First Half,” which concluded Sunday, July 31st.

By pegging that 27-1 winner of the Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga Race Course, Johnson vaulted himself to an 11th-place finish in a Free-to-Play online qualifier presented by the NTRA on NHCQualify.com, good for 2,851 points on the day and a final tally of 13,578 points on the “First Half” leaderboard. The “First Half” top five – each of whom received either a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry worth $10,000 or the equivalent in cash – was rounded out by Gary McMaster (12,969 points), Cheryl McIntyre (12,617), Rick Broth (12,555), and Kevin Engelhard (12,199).

“First Half” totals are comprised of points earned in a player’s top four finishes, at least one of which must have come in an on-site contest, through July 31. Results became official Wednesday at the conclusion of a three-day audit period.

NHC generic logoJohnson, 59, a gastroenterologist, amassed his score with a March 13 win on HorseTourneys.com (in a field of 290 entries) worth 3,688 points; a March 20 win on BetAmerica (281 entries) worth 3,631 points; a third-place finish in the July 23 live contest at Woodbine (86 entries) worth 1,908 points; and the 11th-place finish on Saturday against a field of 1,810 other entries in the final major contest of the First Half.

His effort north of the border was Johnson’s first and only attempt of the year in an on-site tournament.

“I played at Woodbine just so I could get that in-person score,” he said. “I’ve been pushing for this for some months now and it feels good to have it happen.”

Johnson also backed Laoban on multiple entries in another contest Saturday, on DRF Tournaments, finishing first and second while earning his second BCBC entry of the year as a result. With the maximum of two BCBC entries in his own name already secured, Johnson will receive $10,000 cash for his NHC Tour “First Half” exploits.

“I hate to say I had some luck because we like to think it’s all skill but things broke just right for me,” Johnson said. “It really worked out well. I was only aiming for the top five but to win feels great.”

Now Johnson will turn his attention to the overall, year-long NHC Tour leaderboard, where he sits in second with 16,616 points, just behind Engelhard, the current leader with 16,783. The overall NHC Tour leaderboard incorporates a player’s top six scores. First prize for the NHC Tour is $75,000 and comes with a trophy and the chance to play for a $2 million bonus should the NHC Tour winner go on to win NHC 18 in January. There is also a new “$3,000,000 NHC Tour Double” bonus for anyone that can complete a sweep of the BCBC and the NHC.

“Of course I’ve got to go for all of that,” Johnson said. “That’s what we do this for.”

The top 150 NHC Tour finishers earn automatic berths to the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping contest, the NHC, set for Jan. 27-29, 2017, at Treasure Island Las Vegas, provided that each individual has not already won an NHC entry. The top 20 share in a $175,000 prize pool, from $75,000 (plus a trophy and an automatic berth to NHC 19) for the NHC Tour champion to $1,000 for 20th, and the top 40 get to play for a $25,000 bonus that goes to the qualifier with the highest finish at NHC 18.

Here’s more of what we know about the rest of the top five “First Half” finishers after Johnson and whether they’re accepting a BCBC entry or taking $10,000 cash:

McMaster, of Etobicoke, Ontario, won live contests at Woodbine and Arlington Park this summer. He already holds a BCBC spot and has elected to take $10,000 cash.

McIntyre, of Massillon, Ohio, is an eight-time NHC qualifier. She has already earned four BCBC entries in 2016 (although only two can be played in her name) and will, therefore, receive $10,000 cash.

Broth, of Dunwoody, Ga., is a sales manager for an acoustical tile manufacturer. The 58-year-old made his NHC debut in January at NHC 17. He has co-owned several quality horses with trainer Ronny Werner, including Lady of Shamrock, a multiple Grade 1 winner after they sold her as a 2-year-old. Broth already held a BCBC berth he earned by winning Keeneland’s Grade One Gamble in April and will take $10,000 cash.

Engelhard, of Franklin Park, N.J., is a seven-time NHC qualifier. The 63-year-old is the current NHC Tour leader. He has accepted a BCBC entry.

On the compact “First Half” leaderboard, eight players – including elite names like Joe Pettit, Bill Shurman, Garett Skiba, Eric Moomey and Sally Goodall – finished within 1,000 points of making the top five.

The complete final “First Half” standings with scores for all 2,633 NHC Tour members that earned points so far this year can be viewed online.

The NHC Tour’s “Second Half” starts this weekend with a clean slate separate from the overall standings. The top five on the NHC Tour leaderboard from Aug. 1 toJan. 1 will each be awarded a $10,000 cash prize. This weekend’s plethora of contest offerings include the two-day (Friday and Saturday) $200,000-guaranteed Wynn Las Vegas Handicapping Challenge (2 NHC spots); Saturday’s “All-Optional” contest on HorseTourneys.com (3 spots minimum); Saturday’s “Second Chance” contest (a qualifier for the 2-spot championship Oct. 1) at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas; Sunday’s Free-to-Play online contest (4 spots) presented by the NTRA at NHCQualify.com; and another Sunday contest (2 spots guaranteed) at NHCQualify.com.

For more information on the NHC and NHC Tour, visit www.ntra.com/nhc. 

About the NHC

In its 18th year, the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino race books, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping Web sites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. Each year, the NHC winner joins other human and equine champions as an honoree at the Eclipse Awards. In addition to the founding title sponsor, the NHC is presented by host casino Treasure Island Las Vegas.

About the BCBC

Now entering its eighth year, the $1 million-estimated BCBC has become one of the most sought after prizes on the tournament calendar. The BCBC, which offers 15 seats to the NHC in addition to cash prizes, is a highly lucrative and exclusive live bankroll handicapping contest with a $10,000 buy-in required to participate. Players enjoy first class access to the two best days of racing in the world with VIP seats that include buffet lunch each day and other amenities. Online and on-site qualifying tournaments, offering $10,000 berths into the BCBC as prizes, continue throughout the summer and fall leading to the November Breeders’ Cup. For more on the BCBC, visit www.breederscup.com/bcbc.

About the NTRA

THE NTRA is a broad-based coalition of more than 100 horse racing interests and thousands of individual stakeholders consisting of horseplayers, racetrack operators, owners, breeders, trainers and affiliated horse racing associations, charged with increasing the popularity, welfare and integrity of Thoroughbred racing through consensus-based leadership, legislative advocacy, safety and integrity initiatives, fan engagement and corporate partner development. The NTRA, Based in Lexington, Ky., owns and manages the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance; NTRA.com; the NTRA Top Thoroughbred and NTRA Top 3-Year-Old weekly media polls; the Eclipse Awards; the National Handicapping Championship; NTRA Advantage, a corporate partner sales and sponsorship program; and Horse PAC, a federal political action committee. NTRA press releases appear on NTRA.com, Twitter (@ntra) and Facebook (facebook.com/1NTRA).

$3M Bonus Tied to BCBC and NHC Tournament Wins

The Breeders' Cup at Keeneland NHC TOUR INTRODUCES $3 MILLION BONUS FOR BREEDERS’ CUP BETTING CHALLENGE-NATIONAL HANDICAPPING CHAMPIONSHIP DOUBLE

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sunday, July 31, 2016) – – A $3 million National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Tour bonus – the largest prize ever offered in the handicapping contest world – will be awarded to any horseplayer who wins the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) November 4-5 and the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) next January 27-29, the NTRA and Breeders’ Cup announced today. The “NHC Tour $3,000,000 Double” starts with the $1 million-estimated BCBC, a lucrative live bankroll contest with a $10,000 buy-in, and continues with NHC 18, the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping contest, worth an estimated $2.8 million in cash and prizes.

The bonus was first announced during today’s NBC broadcast of the $1 million Betfair.com Haskell Invitational from Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.

Last year’s BCBC winner earned more than $300,000 and first prize at the NHC is $800,000, meaning that successful completion of the NHC Tour Double would be worth more than $4.1 million. Participating individuals must be a member of the NHC Tour ($50) to be eligible to win the lucrative bonus.

“This bonus ties together and strengthens the two most prestigious handicapping contests in the world,” said NTRA Chief Operating Officer Keith Chamblin. “Winning the BCBC in November and the NHC in January would be unprecedented and a feat worthy of the richest pay day in handicapping contest history.”

Las Vegas sportsbook contest Now entering its eighth year, the $1 million-estimated BCBC has become one of the most sought after prizes on the tournament calendar. The BCBC, which offers 15 seats to the NHC in addition to cash prizes, is a highly lucrative and exclusive live bankroll handicapping contest with a $10,000 buy-in required to participate. Players enjoy first class access to the two best days of racing in the world with VIP seats that include buffet lunch each day and other amenities. Online and on-site qualifying tournaments, offering $10,000 berths into the BCBC as prizes, continue throughout the summer and fall leading to the November Breeders’ Cup. For more on the BCBC, visit breederscup.com/bcbc.

Qualifying for NHC 18 continues through January in scores of contests held on-site and online. Next weekend’s contest menu includes a Free-to-Play NHC online contest at NHCqualify.com offering four spots to the NHC. For more information on the NHC Tour and a complete contest schedule, visit NTRA.com/nhc.

In its 18th year, the NHC is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino race books, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping websites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. There are no bye-ins to the NHC. Each year, the NHC winner joins other human and equine champions as an honoree at the Eclipse Awards. In addition to the founding title sponsor, the NHC is presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas.

About the NTRA
The NTRA, based in Lexington, Ky., is a broad-based coalition of more than 100 horse racing interests and thousands of individual stakeholders consisting of horseplayers, racetrack operators, owners, breeders, trainers and affiliated horse racing associations, charged with increasing the popularity, welfare and integrity of Thoroughbred racing through consensus-based leadership, legislative advocacy, safety and integrity initiatives, fan engagement and corporate partner development. The NTRA owns and manages the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, NTRA.com, the Eclipse Awards, the National Handicapping Championship, NTRA Advantage, a corporate partner sales and sponsorship program, and Horse PAC, a federal political action committee. NTRA press releases appear on NTRA.com, Twitter (@ntra) and Facebook (facebook.com/1NTRA).

About Breeders’ Cup

The Breeders’ Cup administers the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, Thoroughbred racing’s year-end Championships. The Breeders’ Cup also administers the Breeders’ Cup Challenge qualifying series, which provides automatic starting positions into the Championships races. The 2016 Breeders’ Cup World Championships, consisting of 13 grade I races and purses and awards totaling $28 million, will be held November 4-5 at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., and will be televised live by the NBC Sports Group. Breeders’ Cup press releases appear on the Breeders’ Cup Web site, www.breederscup.com. You can also follow the Breeders’ Cup on social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube

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.

AGameofSkill.com 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.

My Favorite Type of Handicapping Tournament

By Ross Gallo

Las Vegas sportsbook contestA few months ago, I wrote an article in this space extolling the virtues and camaraderie of handicapping tournaments.  I truly believe that most horse players from expert to novice would find enjoyment in playing in a tournament online, or even better, attending a tournament at one of the numerous venues around the country.  While I enjoy tournaments of all types and formats, I obviously have my favorites (and others not so much) and reasons why, so I’ll try to convey my thoughts to you as best I can in the ensuing paragraphs.

After recently competing in the NTRA/DRF National Handicapping Championship for the 9th time, and coming home empty handed for the 7th time, I would say that anyone interested in playing handicapping tournaments should try to get there at least once.  The tournament is the biggest one we have and the only one that the player MUST qualify for during the year.  It is a wonderful experience in Vegas, but extremely difficult to win.  I’ve often said to many of my fellow, veteran players, “If we were all immortal and each played in the NHC every year for 100 years, you MIGHT have a repeat winner or two at the very most.”  Of course I’ll never be able to prove that theory, but you get the idea.

I would wish for every player to enjoy being at the NHC as many times as possible, but it is a tough tournament.  The hypotheticals, tournaments that keep track of mythical win dollars or win and place, can often times turn into dart throwing contests at longshots.  When you have 500 players in a room and they hang up a $50 horse that 40 people have (and you’re not one of them), your mindset changes, and depending on the timing, your mindset may HAVE to change.  This is the format of the NHC and many other online and live tournaments.  Please don’t get me wrong, I am not against these tournaments.  I’ve won plenty of them, and plenty of money along the way.  They’re fairly simple to play for the most part too, but as far as my personal preference goes, they are not my favorites.

The NHC Tour isn’t a tournament per se, but it encompasses every NHC qualifying tournament of any kind, and players accumulate points for high finishes along the way.  I feel it is a much better barometer of who the best player is in any given year than the two day NHC.  I was lucky enough to finish second during the inaugural year of the NHC Tour and I would encourage anyone with the time and means to pursue the dollars the Tour has to offer.  You need to be versatile because any and all formats are in play.  The only problem with pursuing the Tour is that it can get VERY expensive if you’re in the hunt for the top prizes.  You feel compelled to travel around chasing points, and with airfare, hotels, cars, entry fees etc, there aren’t that many players out there with the time and the money necessary to be able to compete for the top.

And this brings me to another key point.  I will not point fingers at anyone, but I will caution you to be aware of the lack of value at some tournaments out there, live and online.  Getting to the NHC or doing well on the Tour are great accomplishments, but there are tournaments now that give away just spots and no prize money.  I find it very hard to rationalize putting up money with no chance at a return even if I win the tournament.  Other tournaments are keeping an extremely high percentage of the entry fees.  My advice is to play freely, but depending on your priorities, tread lightly when value is not there.

I understand why some of these tournaments are keeping so much of our money.  NTRA qualifying spots are expensive and they feel they need to pass that expense onto the players.  The landscape has changed over the last decade.  It used to be that if you got 200 players to your venue to play a tournament, they would pound handle through the windows and the venue would make money.  Now with rebates everywhere, most players are on the phone or online making their wagers.  The handle isn’t there, so if you have a mythical event with three spots given away, you’re stuck between $10-16,000 before you start.  So who pays?  We do of course.

My favorite tournaments by far are “real money” events.  They almost universally give back 100% of any entry fees and you get to keep any accumulated bankroll as well.  In addition, this type of tournaments generate handle for the host venue, because your tournament wagers are live money and going into the mutuel pools.  If the format is well thought out, this handle can make the tournament at least a break even for the host and many times even turn a profit.  The benefits of real-money tournaments are felt by the players and the venue.  My reasons for loving real-money tournaments go beyond being beneficial for everyone involved, which is fantastic by the way.  What attracts me is that you are much more in control of your fate in these tournaments.  Generally, you can play everything within the races, including vertical wagers.  With exactas, trifectas and sometimes superfectas involved [all of those are vertical wagers], huge paydays can be had, and the feeling that you’re never out of the tournament is not an illusion.

In last year’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge tournament (BCBC) at Churchill Downs, I was in the hunt going into the Classic, but I was still on the outside looking in as far as qualifying for the NHC.  I really liked Flat Out and bet $3,000 to win on him.  He ran horrible, but fortunately I gave both Drosselmeyer and Game on Dude more than a punter’s chance.  So, as I only really liked #2,3,8; I also bet $500 to win on the 3 and the 8 at close to 20-1 odds each and a $20 exacta box 2,3,8.

I spent a few other miscellaneous dollars, but win, lose or draw I was still going home with $8,000.  A huge difference than if I was playing in a hypothetical tournament, where I would most certainly be going home with air.  Anyway, Game on Dude ran to his name as he was hounded by Uncle Mo and put him underground, and Drosselmeyer came flying home to complete my tidy exacta box.  Now my $8,000 was $22,000, I grabbed the last qualifying spot and picked up another $7,000 in prize money.  I wasn’t the grand prize winner, but the weekend sure ended up worthwhile, and some last race magic finished the deal.

Again, if I was in a mythical tournament, chances are good I would have been eliminated going into the last race of the day. Patrick McGooey the winner of the BCBC event, had just over $7,000 going into the Classic, a full $6,000 behind me.  All he did was step up and bet it all to win on Drosselmeyer, collecting a cool quarter of a million dollars, counting the winner’s check!  How’s that for real-money magic?  Oh yeah and brass cojones, to boot!

As you can see by the wagers I’ve described above, this particular real-money event is a high-end, $10,000 entry fee.  There are others such as Del Mar at $5,000 and Keeneland at $2,000, and Santa Anita at $1,000 (plus a rebuy). Those events are for the expert players with a decent bankroll.  If you are in that category I couldn’t recommend these tournaments enough.

There are some lower-end, real money tourneys out there in the $100 to $500 range, so check the schedules and make some phone calls.  Find one that’s right for you.  Again, I’m not knocking any tournament with any format.  Of course some appeal to me more than others, but if you want the best bang for your dollar and you’re not too intimidated by putting your contest dollars through the windows; try real-money tournaments.  They really are the best for you the player and the host.  Happy hunting [winners] in whatever format you choose.