A First Time Starter at the Wynn Handicapping Challenge

“Here were two tournament veterans wanting in on my action.  A far cry from just wanting to avoid embarrassing myself. “

By Justin Dew

A social media friend of mine pointed out to me that when one’s name is misspelled publically, it’s thought to be a sign of good luck.  Perhaps that’s what led to my 7th place finish in the Wynn Handicapping Challenge.  Or perhaps it was “Misspelled Name’s Luck” better known cousin, Beginner’s Luck.  Regardless, my experience in my first ever $2 Win/Place format tournament with an actual cash prize on the line has brought me to the conclusion that I am going to be taking part in these events for a long time to come.

The 2016 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge was my first handicapping tournament of any kind, and since then I have participated in several online qualifiers.  But the 2017 Wynn Handicapping Challenge was the first time I had ever competed for real money, other than the live money BCBC.  I am typically not a big goal setter, so I aimed low for the Wynn event: don’t embarrass yourself.  With $64 in mythical wagers each of two days, I would have been perfectly happy earning a score of $128.10 and looking at my lost $2,000 entry fee as an investment in my education.  Seriously.  My expectations were that low.  Especially after trying and failing to qualify for the event online four times at an additional cost of about $800.

I downloaded the Saratoga and Del Mar past performances on Thursday before my flight from Orlando to Las Vegas, but other than a cursory glance to get a feel for what the respective cards had in store, I didn’t do one second of handicapping before the event.  Not one second.  I am a huge believer in avoiding paralysis through analysis, and my limited experience in online qualifies has shown me how frustrating it can be to warm up to a horse at 12-1 on the morning line, see that horse open at 6-1, find another horse at better odds, and then watch the first horse win at 10-1.  So I knew I didn’t want to make any emotional commitments to any horse before I had a chance to see the tote board.  And with more than 30 minutes between races at Saratoga, I knew I’d have plenty of time to handicap.  So I essentially went in blind.

Me and my iPad arrived at the Wynn Sportbook about an hour before the Friday opener at the Spa.  There was no assigned seat for me since I had just registered that morning.  I was placed at a small table with two other guys who would become friends by the end of the weekend.  We will call them Scott and Brian since I neglected to get their permission to use their real names for this little story.  Scott and Brian were playing as a partnership.  I had seen Scott’s name on tournament leaderboards before.

With 30 selections over two days, I’ll spare you a breakdown of each horse I used and stick to the highlights.  After running last and second last with my first two plays, I used my one daily $4 Win and Place wager in the 3rd from Saratoga [Wynn rules allow one ‘double bet’ each day].  I wish I had kept the PPs from both days so I could tell you why I picked the horse, but I didn’t.  Anyway, Hardened won and paid $18.80 and $7.90.  Since I “fired my big bullet,” that horse was worth $53.40 to me.  After only three races, I knew I was near the top of the leaderboard, which I wouldn’t be able to actually see until the end of the day, per Wynn rules.  The Saratoga card would end with me only scoring on one other horse: Petrov, who paid $7.60 and $4.40.

In the 4th at Del Mar, Into Rissa (if I remember correctly) was moving into state-bred company from open maiden special weights company at about 12-1.  She ran 2nd and paid $10.20 to place.  I had used a short-priced winner earlier on the card and then blanked from there.  So I scored with four of 15 picks and had a Day 1 score of $85.80, good for 16th place out of 241 contestants.  When the Day 1 results were posted, I was identified at J. Drew.  My social media friends had a field day.

I approached Day 2 pretty much the same way.  Minimal prep and low expectations.  And I struck early and hard.  After initially planning to skip the first three races, I ended up playing them and making a move that would make me a contender for the victory.  In the 2nd race at Saratoga, an Al Stall Churchill shipper caught my eye, so I fired my $4 bullet and he won at 6-1.  Behavioral Bias paid $15.60 and $6.60, times two.  And in the very next day, me and my tablemates Scott and Brian both used 9-1 winner Estrechada.  Javiar Castellano had now won two in a row for me, and I was up to $74.00 for the day and $159.80 for the tournament.  The table celebrated together.

It was after the next race, the 4th from Saratoga, that things got interesting.  Scott and Brian used a Mott first-timer named Trumpi who won and paid $47.40 and $20.20.  This put them up near the $150 range, and right into contention with me.  Just then, as I started to handicap the 5th race, I noticed Scott motioning Brian to follow him out in to the casino.  I figured they were going to come back and inform me that tournament protocol dictated that we had to either switch tables or stop talking openly about our opinions since both parties were now in contention for some serious cash.  I was wrong.  They returned to the table and a fresh round of Diet Cokes (I think both of them combined for between 30-40 Diet Cokes over the weekend).  Scott said “So Justin.  We figure you are in the lead and we are in the Top 5.  How about we each agree to hedge for 10% of each other’s winnings, and we keep playing openly like we have been?”  Wow.  Here were two tournament veterans wanting in on my action.  A far cry from just wanting to avoid embarrassing myself.  I agreed, and it was on to the rest of the Saratoga card.

I would only hit three more horses from my remaining 11 selections.  The highlight for me was a D. Wayne Lukas runner in the 11th race named Warrior’s Club, who almost stole the race at 26-1 before Neolithic ran him down.  That extra $54 would have come in handy, but I settled for the $11.60 place payout.  I did manage to score with my final two picks, adding about $20 or so.  After two days, I had accumulated a score of $189.20.  Scott and Brian were in the low $160 range.  It was all over.  Time to wait.

It took about 45 minutes for the final results to be posted.  The people sitting around me speculated that I had a shot at the Top 20.  I was letting myself dream about maybe the Top 15.  Though I was fully prepared to be disappointed by a 25th-place finish, which would have been out of the money and out of the Top 10 percent.

But I was not to be disappointed.  I had finished in 7th place overall.  Scott and Brian also cracked the Top 20 and took home some cash.  My finish was worth $8,500, minus the 10% cut for Scott and Brian, plus 10% of their winnings to me.  I was absolutely stunned.  I never expected to perform so well.  It was truly beyond my wildest expectations.   In a room full of people who had done this many, many times before and who in some cases were viewing multiple laptops at once as they analyzed replays and charts, I had somehow managed to finish 7th without even looking at the past performances until there were 30 minutes to post.  I’ll say it again: I was stunned.

Scott and Brian invited me to the Wynn buffet, where I literally pinched myself half-a-dozen times just to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming.  To be honest, while the money was nice and will fund my return to the BCBC this year, what I really was excited about was knowing that I can compete with the best handicappers on the tournament circuit.  Maybe not every time.  Maybe not even most of the time.  But at least this time.  For at least a race or two, I was in the lead against 241 other handicappers.  And I ended up beating 97% of the field.  Was it Beginner’s Luck?  I guess time will tell.

 

 

A First Timer’s Look at the NHC


Craig Spencer former jockey

By Craig Spencer

On January 27-29th I was lucky enough to be a guest at the Treasure Island Casino to participate in the 18th National Handicapping Championship.  I have not played a lot of tournaments and was lucky to win a seat on New Years’ Eve off of a qualifier on nhcqualify.com.  So my buddy and I headed to Vegas in hopes of coming home $800,000 richer.

It’s quite an event with so many like-minded handicappers enjoying spending time in an environment that caters to the horseplayer like none other.  We are the target audience that week and no stone is left unturned.  The NTRA does a top class job in organizing this event.  The accommodations, buffets, and dinners are top notch.  I will be back and I will be better prepared.  Now onto the events in the contest.

I had spent the couple of weeks prior to the NHC going over every first time starter to have made their debut since early December at all of the available tracks (eight in total).  I would make “trip notes” on ones that I thought ran better or worse than their running line might indicate.  If their race seemed like the running line would represent their abilities well, then I didn’t bother.

I had made around 90 notes on these horses and had gone back to see how any that might have made their next start had performed to see if my eye was good at identifying value.  I was quite pleased with the results.  Twenty-two had made their second start, four of them with “negative” trip notes, meaning that the performance wasn’t as good as the running line might suggest.  Examples included  “appeared to close well but the pace was extreme upfront and they finished the last quarter in near 27 seconds and this horse had everything go his way getting up the rail and still wasn’t good enough to finish better than a well-beaten third.”  All four of those horses had been reasonably well backed and all finished fourth or worse.

I had five runners that I thought ran deceptively well that didn’t perform that good in their next start.  I had three that ran well but ran into trouble in their second start to finish worse than second but none of them were beaten over three lengths in their second start.  It provided me some confidence that my notes were of some value.  I had four that finished second at good to great odds and six that came back to win paying $90, $66, $38, $24, $14, and $12, so I could see that I had a potential advantage.

I will say two things about these trip notes. First, I see very little value in watching a very experienced horse’s last race looking for trip problems.  I don’t weigh my decision on one race and will toss a race with any indication that it was abnormally poor.  I don’t need to watch the race to see it and one race will not have an effect to my opinion of an animal significantly.

Also I think people who do a lot of replay watching might get to be very good at it, but mostly they are looking for excuses and forget about other items in a race.  An example would be watching a replay and noticing a horse has nowhere to run down the lane so the jockey takes hold and gallops them to the finish line.  They forget that the horse had a perfect ground saving trip up until they ran into a wall of horses.  It is much more likely that the trainer will give instructions to go wide to avoid trouble next start and most of the time that ground loss will make it so they have too much to do and cost them even more energy to be lost than the lack of room did in their prior race.  However, for second time starters a lot can be learned from how they perform in their first start.

Second, after watching a ton of races over a few weeks I worried that I might be getting too forgiving, looking for reasons to like a horse.  I would suggest you spend less than 30 minutes before taking a break, clearing your head, doing something different so you can start again fresh watching the rest.

After entries came out for the weekend and they trickled in, which was painful, I pulled a list of all second time starters and looked at when they made their debut.  If it was outside of the window of time I had watched the replays or at a different track, I went back and watched those horses and made another 25 notes on these horses.  I also had run my data through my tools for the entire first day and had handicapped every race with a main and alternate selection before I left home.  We didn’t know until Thursday morning what the mandatory races would be on Friday and I would be traveling on Thursday so I wanted to be prepared.  Mission accomplished.

Day One of the NHC

Well, my buddy and I stayed out a little later than we should have on Thursday night.  I knew better and will not make the same mistake again.  But I took my list of horses and sorted them by main contenders’ morning line odds (after putting the mandatory races on top).  I had made some notes on ones I had to use and ones I wanted to watch the line on.  As the day progressed and morning line odds got obliterated, I realized as I marched down my list that many of the races had gone off that were a bit lower priority on my list and that I had passed on 3-4 winners already.

I cashed two place tickets for $9 bankroll going into my last alternate race.  In that race I had a Louisiana Bred maiden who had run a very game second in debut at Golden Gate in an open Maiden Special field.  I thought I’d get 4/1 or better on the horse but he was going off at around even money.  I told my buddy, I think I am going to change my ticket to this Yes It’s True first timer who had some decent works and whose trainer didn’t suck too badly with Firsters.  Being the devil’s advocate he is and to make sure I thought about things, he said, “Are you sure you don’t just want to cash, get a little momentum, and start tomorrow with $15 or so and change your tactics a bit?”  I thought about it and decided he may be right.  Well the Golden Gate shipper may have beaten the ambulance to the finish line, but it was a close photo with the ambulance.  The Yes It’s True first timer opened up a clear lead and held on to win and pay $131.  It would have given me the $64 maximum score (they limit the scores to 20/1 to win and 10/1 to place, or $64 as the most you can get off one selection).

Day Two of the NHC

I was dejected but vowed to at least not repeat Day One on Saturday.  I re-organized, spent a little less time at the [casino] tables and more time reviewing my selections with a lot fewer races on my list to play.  I sorted it by post times and categorized the races as “Mandatory,” “Use,” and “Watch the board.”  I played my “mandatory” and “use” races immediately (but still watched for odds and made some adjustments/cancellations on them if the odds didn’t make sense) and then knew which races were going off next.

I did quite a bit better with $129 in contest points on Day Two to get to $138, just $42.60 shy of making the cut to play on Day Three.  That one decision not to change my ticket on Friday cost me a chance to make some noise on Sunday.  I was able to use a trip note second timer that I scored a max payout in the contest on Saturday along with the correct second place horse who a Facebook buddy also had a trip note on, to cash an $880 exacta payout.  I also hit the pick 5 at Laurel for just under a grand, so it turned into a profitable weekend nonetheless.

Final Day of the NHC

I have no clue what would have happened on Sunday.  I played in the consolation contest, which the NTRA sponsors for the non-cut making players, such as myself, to play on Sunday morning.  You must play 10 races out of 36 races available before 12:30 pacific time, the same format the players making the cut play to determine who makes the final table.  I spent very little time preparing for that as there were quite a few social opportunities Saturday night and the chance of beating a field of 400+ non-advancers seemed pretty small, so my buddy and I enjoyed more of the Treasure Island that night.  Had I been in the main contest on Sunday, I would have likely spent a lot more time studying and came up with many different selections than the ones I used in the consolation contest where a couple of max horses are almost a necessity to beat that many players for one prize.  If you’re not first you’re last in that contest.  I did hit a $20 horse at Laurel making his second career start and a half sibling to $1.2M earner International Star.  I probably would have had that one in the big contest had I qualified, as there were many other positives on that horse.

Live and learn.  If you have never been to the NHC, it’s well worth the time to try and get qualified.  The experience is one that I will never forget.  I will be back and, as a second time starter, I will fare significantly better next time I am there.

 

  • Craig Spencer is a former jockey who competed for 12 years.

$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

Real-Money Handicapping Contest Offers $5,000 in Cash Prizes!

Special Offer for AGameofSkill.com Visitors

Portland, OR, July 31, 2012 – Traditional handicapping tournaments are not designed to appeal to all horseplayers. If the contest is filled with mandatory races at racetracks that the horseplayer doesn’t normally play, it slants the playing field toward others in the tournament who play those tracks. Cash money contests, on the other hand, typically require large minimum wagering thresholds or entry fees that price most players out. The Cash is King II contest at BetPTC.com takes away those inequities and lets every level of horseplayer participate. The new tournament, featuring an enhanced prize pool, begins this Saturday, August 4th.

“It doesn’t matter if you a big bettor or a small bettor. Everyone has an equal chance to win the prizes in the Cash is King contest at BetPTC.com,” explained General Manager Todd Bowker. “The contest is scored based on your return on investment (ROI), not on how much you wager.”

“We have increased the prizes significantly for the return of the Cash is King tournament,” continued Bowker. “This time around, our customers will compete for $5,000 in cash prizes.”

Real Money contestThe Tournament Director for the event is veteran contest player Rich Nilsen, who created the first-ever online qualifier for the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) back in 1999 at Brisnet.com and who managed the online tournaments at TwinSpires.com for several years. Nilsen is the founder of the site here at AGameofSkill.com.

“There are no mandatory tracks, and no specific bets required. You can play your favorite tracks and make your favorite wagers, all using a bankroll that fits your budget,” said Nilsen. “Best of all, there is no entry fee and since it’s a real-money contest, in addition to any prizes, you keep whatever you win.”

Wagers can be made online or by phone and on any type of bet that BetPTC accepts through their Oregon hub. Cash is King wagers can be made on any racetracks of the player’s choice on Saturdays beginning August 4 and running through December 29. To qualify for contest play on any given Saturday, registered members must bet a minimum of $50 during the course of a contest day. There is no limit to how much can be wagered. Players are not penalized for missing a contest day.

The inaugural handicapping contest at Premier Turf Club was successfully held in June. The June Cash is King champ was Vermont veterinarian Bill Mentes who won a trip for two to the 2012 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, courtesy of Premier Turf Club. Cash prizes were also awarded to the top four finishers.

Registration for the event is quick and easy for members of Premier Turf Club, which is also offering a $75 sign-up bonus for new customers of the online wagering service. Rules for the Cash is King II tournament, as well as a leaderboard, can be found at www.betptc.com/news.jsp.  Visitors from AGameofSkill.com can earn an additional $25 cash sign-up bonus by entering promo code “AGOS” when signing up.


ABOUT PREMIER TURF CLUB
Premier Turf Club operates in Portland, Oregon, and is licensed by the Oregon Racing Commission as a Multi-Jurisdictional Simulcasting and Interactive Wagering Totalizator Hub. The company can be found on the internet at www.betptc.com. Premier Turf Club accepts online and phone wagers on over 120 Thoroughbred, Harness, and Greyhound race tracks. Since 2007 Premier Turf Club has handled over $100 million in wagers safely and securely through the Oregon hub.

Cash Handicapping Contest debuts Belmont Stakes day

Contest offers Trip for 2 to the 2012 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita!

Portland, OR, June 7, 2012 – Traditional handicapping tournaments are not designed to appeal to all horseplayers. If the contest is filled with mandatory races at tracks that the horseplayer doesn’t normally play, it slants the playing field toward others in the tournament who play those circuits. Cash money contests, on the other hand, often require large minimum wagering thresholds or entry fees that price most players out. The new Cash is King contest at BetPTC.com takes away those inequities and lets every level of horseplayer participate.

“It doesn’t matter if you a big bettor or a small bettor. Everyone has an equal chance to win the prizes in the Cash is King contest at BetPTC.com,” explained General Manager Todd Bowker.

The June Cash is King champ will win a trip for two to the 2012 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, courtesy of Premier Turf Club, and cash prizes will be awarded to the top four finishers. The June contest begins Belmont Stakes day, June 9th when I’ll Have Another seeks to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

The Tournament Director for the event is Rich Nilsen, who created the first-ever online qualifier for the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) back in 1999 and who managed the online tournaments at TwinSpires for several years.

“There are no mandatory tracks, and no specific bets required. Thus, you can play your favorite tracks and make your favorite wagers, all using a bankroll that fits your budget,” said Nilsen. “The contest is scored based on your return on investment (ROI), not on how much you wager. Best of all, there is no entry fee and since it’s a cash money contest, in addition to any prizes, you keep whatever you win.”

Wagers can be made online or by phone and on any type of bet that BetPTC accepts through their Oregon hub. Cash is King wagers can be made on any racetracks of the player’s choice on four Saturdays in June, starting Belmont Stakes day. To qualify for contest play on a given Saturday, registered members must bet a minimum of $50 during the course of a contest day. There is no limit to how much can be wagered.

Registration for the event is quick and easy for members of Premier Turf Club, which is also offering a $100 sign-up bonus for new customers of the online wagering service. Rules for the Cash is King tournament, as well as a leaderboard, can be found at www.betptc.com/news.jsp.  Visitors to AGameofSkill.com can use this link for special promotional sign-up offers.

ABOUT PREMIER TURF CLUB
Premier Turf Club operates in Portland, Oregon, and is licensed by the Oregon Racing Commission as a Multi-Jurisdictional Simulcasting and Interactive Wagering Totalizator Hub. The company can be found on the internet at target=”_blank”>www.betptc.com. Premier Turf Club accepts online and phone wagers on over 120 Thoroughbred, Harness, and Greyhound race tracks. Since 2007 Premier Turf Club has handled over $100 million in wagers safely and securely through the Oregon hub.

Join BetPTC and receive a $100 sign-up bonus, free contest entry, and cashback on every wager.

Win a Trip to See the 2012 Triple Crown Attempt

Belmont Park is giving away two tickets and a trip to the upcoming Belmont Stakes, June 9th.  The grand prize includes:

Two (2) tickets to the 2012 Belmont Stakes at BelmontPark on Saturday, June 9 (Value $200), two (2) airline tickets (Approximate Value $1,100), and accommodations at the Long Island Marriott (Approximate Value $800).  If the grand prize winner lives within 100 miles of BelmontPark, transportation to the track will not be provided. (Total Approximate Value $2,100).

Fill out the registration form at NYRA.

FREE Online Tournament to follow Championship Event

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) announced today that it will host a free, online handicapping contest at ntra.com that will allow fans to follow along with the action at next week’s $1.6 million Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) at Treasure Island Las Vegas. In its 13th year, the National Handicapping Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers.

The one-day “Play Along With the Pros” contest will offer a $1,000 prize pool to the top five finishers plus free 2012 NHC Tour memberships to the top 20 finishers. There is a limit of one entry per person. “Play Along With the Pros” will take place on Saturday, January 28, which is the second and final day of the NHC. Contestants must make mythical $2 win and place wagers on eight designated mandatory races. The eight races selected will be same as those chosen for mandatory play on Day 2 at the NHC. For more information, visit http://games.ntra.com.

Prize Structure for “Play Along With the Pros” contest:

$1,000 pool

1st: $500

2nd:$200

3rd: $150

4th: $100

5th: $50

“’Play Along With the Pros’ is designed to expose the NHC to players who may not be familiar with the excitement of tournament play,” said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of the NTRA. “It also gives fans the chance to see how they stack up with some of the outstanding handicappers battling for the $1 million grand prize at Treasure Island.”

The NHC Tour is a yearlong bonus series offering additional prize money and qualifying berths to the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship. Tour members receive NHC Tour points for top finishes in NHC qualifying events held during the year. Registration for the 2012 NHC Tour will begin shortly.

Interview with 2011 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Winner

Patrick McGoey, a commercial litigation attorney from New Orleans, parlayed a winning $100 entry into the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge into winnings of $270,600. McGoey had won his way into the $10,000 event by qualifying online back in May for only $100.

In its third year, the BC Betting Challenge saw 115 of the country’s best horseplayers face-off in a live money $10,000 buy-in betting tournament.

Patrick McGoey

Patrick (left) alongside his brother

McGoey won first place in a dramatic come-from-behind effort in the last race of the contest by wagering $7,000 to win on 14-1 longshot Drosselmeyer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Drosselmeyer’s victory resulted in McGoey’s win bet returning an amazing $110,600. Combined with the first place winnings of $160,000, McGoey took home $270,600.

McGoey had earned his spot in the BC Betting Challenge on May 28 by defeating 90 other players in a $100 qualifying event for the Challenge at www.bcqualify.com.

His last-race heroics also earned him an automatic berth into the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) at Treasure Island in Las Vegas where over 500 qualifiers will be shooting for approximately $2 million in prizes.

We sat down with McGoey a few days after his memorable win.

 AGOS:  Patrick, congratulations on a tremendous accomplishment. You defeated 114 of the best handicappers in the country over the two biggest racing days of the year. What was your general philosophy going into the event?

McGoey: You know my basic philosophy for day one was to be conservative and just “hang in there” until day two. I wanted to have some money for the second day. I never planned on letting it all ride like it did on the final race.

 AGOS:  How did you catch the horse racing bug, and how long have been handicapping?

McGoey: I started about 10 years. My brother handicaps a lot and he kind of got me involved. I follow The Fair Grounds and Churchill Downs quite a bit, but I don’t play every day.

Around 2005 some buddies and I said, “wouldn’t it be fun to own a horse?” So a group of us bought a $30,000 claimer and then Katrina kit that summer and shut down the track. The horse ended up running at Louisiana Downs, so we had to drive about six hours to watch him race. But the horse did fairly well, so over the years we got up to six claiming horses.

But owning horses is what really got me into the sport.

AGOS:  How many tournaments a year do you typically play?

McGoey: I played three to four satellite tournaments trying to qualify for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. I played a few last year, trying to qualify for this as well as the NHC, but not many.

 AGOS:  Had you played in this tournament or similar money-bankroll tournaments before?

McGoey: I had not. This was my first time in the tournament and I had no experience in this type of contest.

 AGOS: Have you qualified for the National Handicapping Championship before now?

McGoey: This is a first. I had other things on my calendar the last week of January but I have cleared them out!

AGOS:  What handicapping tools did you utilize in ‘capping the Breeders’ Cup cards?

McGoey: I use the Daily Racing Form. Sometimes I will check stuff on Equibase but primarily DRF.

 AGOS: What type of wagers were you making in the two days leading up to the final race?

McGoey: I made some large $500 show bets on Friday which got me through some of the races. I wanted to get the mandatory bets out of the way and just “stay in the game.” I ended Friday with about $8,200.

 Then on Saturday I hit the first couple of races with win/place bets on the favorite along with $200 exactas that were fairly chalky. That got me up to about $12,500, but then I started to give it away after that.

I was on Shackelford and he looked strong turning for home but he got mowed down for the top spot. I lost Union Rags by a nose. I also had bets on Turralure who suffered a tough break getting nosed out at the wire in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

My brother was in the contest as well. With about four races to go, he told me he was “bowing out. I am going to bet some Pick 3s and Pick 4s and I am disqualifying myself.”

 Well about a race or two before the Classic, I told him I was going all-in on Drosselmeyer. My brother just looked at me and said, “nah, don’t do that!”

 AGOS: When did you know that you were going to go all-in on Drosselmeyer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and why?  Did you consider other types of wagers, such as exotics?

McGoey: I actually started thinking about this approach only about two races before the Classic.

I was on Flat Out [one of the favorites for the Classic] going into the day. I had bet on Royal Delta on Friday, and that filly closed from off the pace to win for trainer Bill Mott.  Birdrun ran big also, so I was thinking that Mott’s horses were doing really well. I started looking more at Drosselmeyer [also trained by Bill Mott] and noticed the huge improvement in his last race. He had run a big Beyer speed figure and had lost to my top choice, Flat Out, by only 2 1/2 lengths.

Flat Out was 7/2 and Drosselmeyer was 15/1, a big discrepancy in odds despite those horses running one-two in their last start.  Other horses were turning the tables on runners [who defeated them previously] over the weekend, so why not Drosselmeyer? The last time Mike Smith had ridden him, it was the Belmont Stakes and he had won. Good workouts, Mike Smith had ridden him well, and Bill Mott horses were hot, so I decided to take a shot.

Except for those first two races that were chalk, I wasn’t hitting exactas very well during most of the day, so I just decided why not a win bet on a live longshot. I said if I hit this, it could mean $300,000. How often do you get a shot at a $300,000 score? I thought Drosselmeyer should have been about 10-1, but I got about 40-1 on him [by betting him in the contest].

I loved the format of the tournament because you get to keep the money that you won. The guys in the lead late in the day had real money in the bank so I could understand why they wouldn’t take the type of risk I took.

I was sitting next to the guy who hit a huge exacta using Perfect Shirl on Friday so he vaulted to over $40,000. So for most of the tournament I wasn’t even in the same zip code as him.

AGOS: Why do you think you have chosen handicapping over other forms of gambling?

McGoey: I still do fantasy football and I have done some poker. Once I started doing more and more handicapping, the other forms of gambling didn’t interest me at all. The casinos are boring. You don’t get the same types of odds at the casino. The odds are so much better with the horses. For example, I don’t like betting 1/1 shots and in football that is the best case scenario.

It’s super exciting, too. I get a rush when the horses are going into the gate.

If you lose five or six races in a row, you can get it back in the next race. Whereas in a game like blackjack, it can take forever to get back to even.

AGOS: This website is devoted to improving the game of racing. What are the key areas that this industry should focus on in the coming years?

McGoey:  Focus on getting younger people involved. I was probably one of the youngest in the room.

It’s easy to pick a football game, given a 50% chance and everybody has a “gut” feeling about a game without doing any research, but handicapping the horses takes time.

I really think these tournaments are great and should be promoted more. The potential return you can get is excellent. You can play some of them from home online. You can put in picks early, go out and do things, and then come home and see how you did.  There are a lot of opportunities like that. It’s a flexible sport that doesn’t take all of your time.

The industry needs to focus on contests and getting younger people involved. A lot of younger people are just intimidated by both the sport and “The Form.” I learned how to read the form was I was pretty young. I got away from the sport in later years. Didn’t do it much at college or law school. But then when I came back to it, it was much easier for me to picks things up, compared to someone who didn’t have any prior exposure to the game.

AGOS: Yes, there is definitely an intimidation factor when it comes to horse racing.

McGoey: I took my wife and three girls, and then each brought a friend last year at The Fair Grounds. There was a horse with a name the girls liked. I bet the horse for all of them. She won, and I think I hooked every one of those kids!

I have a picture on my wall of The Fair Grounds with 50,000 people in attendance, many dressed to the tilt. Now you go to the track and you can shoot a cannon off in there. To think that is how the track used to be…you got to do something to get people back into the sport.

Online is definitely the best way to grow the sport. The access is so easy.

AGOS: Have you seen any overlap with the casino crowd and the racing fans at The Fair Grounds?

McGoey: To be honest with you, I haven’t even walked through the slot area. For one, I can’t stand slots. I’m sure it is helping their bottom line, but it is not generating more fans for racing.

You know what has been great is the Fair Grounds, like Churchill Downs, has experimented with night racing, and the place is packed on those nights. Tracks could have events like a jazz festival. Fair Grounds could use the facility more and hold a jazz festival inside the track. People would come. We know how to throw a party here in New Orleans. Most people simply can’t attend during the day.

Additional Notes from the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge

Christian Hellmers of Los Angeles California finished in second place behind McGoey, winning $121,700. Hellmers held the contest’s lead over the last four races until Drosselmeyer’s upset and McGoey’s last race theatrics. John Allunario won $78,480 by finishing third in the event. Allunario also qualified in a bcqualify.com on October 1 in a $400 online event.

“The Betting Challenge has quickly become the ‘go to’ tournament for horseplayers throughout North America,” said Kenneth Kirchner, the tournament’s administrator for Breeders’ Cup. “The BCBC has grown by fifty percent in just three years and we are working to expand the opportunities for players to qualify at more racing facilities and sites for next year’s contest. I believe there is tremendous upside for this event in future years.”

For those who didn’t win their way in, the BC Betting Challenge requires a $10,000 buy-in per player, with $2,500 going towards the prize pool and $7,500 towards the player’s two-day betting bankroll. Total prize money was $315,000 with cash prizes to the top ten finishers.

Cash Prizes every Saturday in Equibase Contest

Play free every Saturday for cash prizes (top 3 finishers) in the Equibase.com handicapping contest sponsored by Premier Turf Club/BetPTC.com.