07/16/2014 2:24PM

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.