Last to First in the Kentucky Downs Turf Challenge Tournament

Colonial Downs Names Turf Course After SecretariatFRANKLIN, Ky. (Monday, Sept. 13, 2021) — Kenny Mollicone, a 47-year-old real-estate developer from Somerset, Mass., is the 2021 National Turf Handicapping Champion, having won the six-day online Kentucky Downs Turf Handicapping Challenge at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.

Mollicone finished with an aggregate total of $5,783.90 Sunday after playing in all three of the individual two-day, live-money competitions. That gave him a comfortable $1,163.90 advantage over runner-up Christy Moore, who finished on top in the second contest.

As the King of the Turf, Mollicone earned $20,000 in prize money and the BetMakers King of the Turf Trophy. He earned a seat and prize pack to the 2022 National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) in Las Vegas in late January by virtue of his second place in the second contest.

If Mollicone was a horse, his race-chart trouble line would read “left at the gate, rallied, won under wraps.”

Santa Anita to return to Hillside Turf course and run 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill in October.

Mollicone tapped out in the first two-day contest staged Sept. 5-6, finishing with a $0 score as Gary Gristick won the competition with a $2,500 bankroll. Undeterred, he finished second at $3,778.40 behind Moore’s winning bankroll of $4,620 in the second tournament Sept. 8-9 and seventh with $2,005.50 Saturday and Sunday in the final leg won by Ed Deicke at $7,392. Contest players were required to bet a minimum amount of money on a minimum of five races each day.

“I was going to bet Kentucky Downs anyway,” Mollicone said by phone Monday. “To be honest, I really didn’t concentrate on the tournament. I usually bet $200, $300, $500 a race. I liked a horse or two, so I screwed around and the horses didn’t win, so I was done (with the first tournament). Some people do so much a race and manage their money. Me, I’m just like if I take a shot and win, great; if not, hey, I’ll do the next tournament. Kind of like that’s what happened.

“Like, I did OK for the tournaments, but I did great betting on my own…. I entered the contest figuring if I like a horse, I’ll take a shot. If he does well and I win, I got money and I keep playing. If not, then I just keep betting on my regular account.”

Mollicone says he played some horses whose double-digit odds seemed too high, but he couldn’t generally remember their names. One name he clearly recalls, however, is Arklow, who got bottled up in traffic in midstretch before getting through late and coming up a neck shy of Imperador in Saturday’s $1 million, Grade 2 Calumet Farm Turf Cup.

“He got blocked, should have won the race for fun,” he said. “He wins that race, I probably win that tournament. I had big doubles going in to him and big doubles going out with him. That’s what kind of killed me. Then (Sunday), I just did what I had to do. I didn’t like anything on the card.”

He said he calculated that he had enough bankroll to win the overall title and quit playing after Sunday’s seventh race — his handicapping there proving correct.

Mollicone is a fan of the competition’s format.

“It kept it interesting,” he said. “I knew I didn’t do well on the first one, but I kind of liked a couple of horses in the second one; it kept me involved. I thought it was great, the way they set up it and the way they did the overall so you’re going to play all three. Whoever came up with it, I think it’s a great idea. It keeps you wanting to do it.

“A couple of guys who beat me (in the third leg), they didn’t do the other tournaments and they didn’t get the $20,000. Shame on them. You’re going to bet Kentucky Downs anyway. It’s great racing. You’ve got great horses. I think the more the people find out about it, especially with the bonus at the end, you’re going to find more people playing next year. Guys are going to kick themselves in the butt for not playing the whole thing.”

Mollicone calls his late father, Bob, the best handicapper he’s ever known. He says the first thing he learned how to read was the Daily Racing Form and went Suffolk Downs and the off-track betting at Rhode Island casinos with his dad, the two also traveling around the country to play contests.

“I love betting turf races,” he said. “It’s a more exciting race, a more true race. And I just love the set up (at Kentucky Downs). They’re going uphill, downhill. I just love it. You look forward to it. I’ve always done well at Kentucky Downs. You get horses who pay $25, $30 that you think should pay $8 or $10. Great racing and great value.”

Tournament Director Brian Skirka called the 2021 Kentucky Downs King of the Turf Handicapping Challenge “a massive success.”

“We had over 400 combined entries over the three contests and awarded over $171,000 in prizes,” he said. “I’d like to thank all the players who participated and Kentucky Downs for putting on six days of world-class turf racing. In just two years, these Kentucky Downs contests have proven themselves to be some of the most-challenging and most-lucrative in the country. I look forward to working with the Kentucky Downs team to grow them even more in the future.”

source: Kentucky Downs

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.