05/28/2014 9:21AM

Ask Pete Fornatale: How do I prepare for different contest formats?


Dear Pete:
I’ve had some success lately playing in the 12-race, all-mandatory format where you need to get an entry into the top 10 percent to advance. I’d like to try my hand at other contest formats, like the NHCQualify.com contest coming up this weekend. Any advice on how the strategy changes going from last month’s BCQualify.com format to the NHCQualify.com format?
– Threepeat

Dear Threepeat:

As I’m written many times, I love formats where you just have to finish in the top 10 percent because over time they do go a long way in helping control the important role that luck plays in handicapping tournaments.

I had an interesting chat with respected tournament player and PublicHandicapper.com guest editor Christopher Larmey recently about the difference between having to finish in the top 10 percent and in the top 2 percent. He made the point that his strategy going into the contest does not change – he’ll be playing the same horses, that is, the ones he likes as the best value, from the get-go in both formats. Where the two formats change for him is when a longshot comes in early in the sequence.

In the top 10 percent format, he doesn’t worry too much about the early longshot, and he basically tries to stay the course, looking to finish ahead of the other players who didn’t have the early cap horse. In the top 2 percent contests, he will adjust his strategy almost immediately, looking to higher-odds horses that he likes. The idea is that the lead for those who hit the big price early is a lot more significant in a 12-race, all-mandatory contest when you need to finish in the top 4 of 200-plus players. At the same time, I’d add that you want to resist the urge to stab when you’re in that spot. If you know what races are coming up, you can be a bit more careful about where you choose to reach for prices. It’s okay to try to grind back in to contention.

:: Click here to purchase a copy of “The Winning Contest Player” by Peter Thomas Fornatale

In terms of preparation, there is a difference between the two formats, and it might or might not change what you do, depending on what type of player you are. Let me explain. I always start off in a contest with a target number in mind. For a top 10 percent contest, I’d be looking to double my starting bankroll, meaning in a 12-race, all-mandatory, win-place contest, I’d be looking to turn my $48 into $96 or so. If we’re talking about the same format where I had to finish in the top 2 percent, I’d think that I’d need to get my bankroll to 2 1/2 times where it started. In other words, I’d be looking to turn my $48 into more like $120.

Of course, this is all just theory. In the real world, what is the difference between who you play if you’re planning to make $96 and planning to make $120? For many players, there would be no difference at all. But for me, I would be a little more conscious of leaning toward slightly longer prices, even if there was some theoretical value on shorter-priced horses. The 2-1 shot who is 3-1 is probably a play if you have to finish top 10 percent, but if you have to finish top 2 percent, maybe you’d prefer to play the 6-1 who should really be 5-1. But, of course, it’s hard to say anything definitive with these theoretical examples. As always, I advise that as much as possible, no matter what the format, you play the horses you like.

Here’s hoping you make it a Fourpeat,