07/16/2014 3:24PM

Ask Pete Fornatale: What are 3 things every contest newcomer should know?


I recently appeared as a guest on Seth Abrams’s racing podcast, “All Day Racing,” available for download on iTunes (make sure you check out the debut episode with Mark Cramer as well). We ran out of time before Seth could ask me one last question, so he submitted it to “Ask Pete” instead.

Dear Pete:
What are the three most important things about contests you’d tell a player before his or her first tournament?
- Seth Abrams

Dear Seth:

Way to cut the chase! Fantastic question. I’m tempted to be cheeky and suggest that potential contest players just buy my book, but I won’t do that. Here are the first three things I would tell a tournament newcomer:

1. Relax and have fun.

While it’s certainly possible to win the first contest one plays in, as evidenced recently by friend-of-the-blog Jonathon Kinchen and even more recently by Eric Israel (more on him later in the week), there is usually a learning curve in tournaments. A first-timer probably shouldn’t worry too much about adhering strictly to a gameplan or about the intricacies of endgame strategy (though in time those things may become important to your play). Instead, enjoy the action and take the contest for what it is: a fun, new way of playing the horses.

2. Choose the right format.

For many people, the right first contest to enter will be a lower buy-in, all-mandatory tournament like the July 26 event on BCQualify.com and the Aug. 2 and 16 contests on NHCQualify.com. Other formats, both online and in person, require participants to choose which races to bet as well as what horses to play. If that’s appealing to you, try one of those. Or, if mythical money, fixed-bankroll contests aren’t enough action for you, then you might look into entering a live-bankroll tournament.

3. Play horses you like.

I often point out that there is a fundamental mindset difference between contests and everyday play, but you still don’t want to be too stubborn about playing horses in a certain price range. You’re going to have more fun – and do better over the long run – by sticking as close to your opinion as possible, unless you’re an absolute, stone-cold, chalk-eating weasel. This is far too general to be completely accurate, but I might tell a contest newcomer to try to find horses in the sweet spot range (7-2 to 20-1) that you think can win and play those.

In formats with all mandatory races, you can absolutely play favorites, so if you have a strong opinion on one, go for it (don’t take this idea too far, however). Only at the very end of the contest should strict math dictate the play – you might be a 10-1 shot away from qualifying, so that’s what you need to play at least. In general, and this bears repeating, play reasonably priced horses you like.

Seth, I had a great time on the show, and I hope this helps.


Stephen Mercier More than 1 year ago
you forgot to mention to bring ear plugs and aspirins ....-:
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Probably not the worst idea, especially for an introverted player!
pshurm More than 1 year ago
After relax and have fun....most important thing for any player is to be prepared. You should have handicapped every race in the contest before the contest starts. If you are handicapping as you are going along or have just handicapped the first part of the contest card, you have no idea if something you like early is better value than plays that might be available later. You also will be able to see if later races are coming up chalky or wide open, which could affect how you play those earlier races. If you know you don't have enough time to handicap the entire card before you start....or at some point you realize you are not going to have time to finish, start handicapping from the back of the contest card forward. That way, as you are handicapping the earlier races you couldn't get to earlier, as the contest goes along, you have an informed opinion as to whether or not use a bullet on that race or hold off to play something else you like later on.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Great point, Paul. From the very outset, preparation is a key. As you said in the book, you can prepare your way to a good mental state. And a good mental state is essential to success.
RJ Seiden More than 1 year ago
Excellent advice! Be prepared!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pete- I had tried to post a question regarding your experience and victories in handicapping contests.It appears the posts are screened by someone who does not feel your experience in tournaments is credible enough to comment on. How is one to buy a book on tournaments from someone with no record of success in same?
John Cook More than 1 year ago
Maybe the same way you'd buy a book about football or basketball written by a journalist who interviews players and not the player themself.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Tx, John. I wouldn't say I don't have a record of success, but whatever success I've had is besides the point when it comes to the book as it's not my memoir -- it's a collection of interviews/conversations with some of the best players out there.
Dan Cronin More than 1 year ago
good stuff Pete
Scott More than 1 year ago
Where is my post?
Scott More than 1 year ago
Pete- I am considering purchasing your book. Can you please give me an idea as to your specific experience and handicapping tournament victories? Thanks
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Hey Scott: Sorry it took me a bit to reply. . .it's a crazy week with the summer meets starting!! My experience in contests is limited to the time since I started working on the book, really. I was never a contest player before but have really taken to them. In the past year I have a few solid wins and nice cashes on Derby Wars. Buy the reason you should buy the book isn't my experience, it's the experience of the 30 or so great players who I interviewed for the Winning Contest Player. They include some of the top pros in the country as well as former NHC and NHC champs. The role I play in the book is more of a moderator between their conversations -- though I do chime in with a few of my own anecdotes from time to time. I hope this helps. Pete
Scott More than 1 year ago
Thanks for your response Pete
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
No worries. Feel free to ask any questions you have.