11/04/2013 5:15PM

Breeders' Cup contest goes down to the wire


Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge winner Peter Behr

Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge winner Peter Behr (center). Photo by Gary Gray.

You see it every day at the racetrack – horseplayers want to win, but what they really want is a score. On Saturday night, Peter Behr of London, Ontario, landed a score to remember when he parlayed a $110 buy in from www.BCQualify.com into $324,115 at the fifth annual Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

For the uninitiated, the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, aka the BCBC, is one of the most important handicapping contests in the country. Players can either win their way in, like Behr did, or put up their $10,000 and compete. The way it works is simple. Of that $10,000 buy in, $2,500 goes into the prize pool. The rest is a live bankroll you can bet in the win, place, show, exacta, and trifecta pools on any of the races on the Friday and Saturday Breeders’ Cup cards. The highest final bankroll wins, and the winner gets $200,000.

The total prize pool is worthy of discussion because not only does 100 percent of it get paid back to the entrants, but $20,000 is added to the pot; plus the top 12 finishers receive seats to the National Handicapping Championship to be held early next year in Las Vegas. Those seats represent another estimated $60,000 or so in prizes and bring the total value to more than $500,000. As Breeders Cup Betting Challenge director Chris Bahr says, “It’s the best value you can find. Usually in horse racing, players have to worry about the takeout. In this tournament, there’s actually a take-in.”

At the end of the day Friday, it looked like Behr and the rest of the field were in deep water. Kevin McFarland, a 37-year old who won his way in to the BCBC with a victory in last summer’s Del Mar live bankroll tournament, had a commanding lead. The big race for him was the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, where Beholder finished first ahead of Close Hatches and Authenticity, with favored Royal Delta running out. After crushing the win, exacta, and trifecta, McFarland’s bankroll was up to $104,932. At that point, Behr was in 28th place with $12,063.

But Behr and the rest of the field were undaunted. Behr got back into the mix right away in the first Breeders’ Cup race on Day 2. Behr liked longshot Ria Antonia in the Juvenile Fillies. The race itself was an incredible sweat as Ria Antonia finished second under the wire, but She’s a Tiger had drifted over into her and Ria Antonia was moved up to first after a lengthy inquiry. Behr collected more than $96,000 on the win end alone and skyrocketed into first place with a bankroll of more than $120,000

McFarland didn’t go quietly, though, and by the time of the Classic, he had moved decisively back into first with $146,587. Behr sat in second at $128,115.

Typically in a live bankroll contest, one needs to have the winner of the last race to be crowned champion – but this was not the case this year. McFarland fired $26,850 and missed. Behr bet $4,000 and lost. Still, McFarland’s bet was large enough that he ended up dipping below Behr into second place, while Behr won it all with a final bankroll of $124,115.

“What was so amazing to me was that Behr started off by winning a $110 buy-in contest on BCQualify and parlayed that into nearly $325,000,” Bahr said.

In fact, four of the top 10 finishers qualified via BCQualify.com.

Participation numbers for the BCBC were up this year, from 138 players in 2012 to 182 in 2013.

“It’s the fastest-growing tournament in the country,” said Ken Kirchner, the tournament’s founder and administrator. “Uniformly, when I talk to players, they talk about the first-class amenities they receive as well as the chance to bet their bankrolls on the best horses in the country, the likes of Groupie Doll and Mucho Macho Man. It’s a horseplayer’s dream. As one of the guys said to me, ‘If this is heaven, I want to stay.’ ”

Peter Thomas Fornatale is the author of the forthcoming book, "The Winning Contest Player." His new blog for DRF.com will keep horseplayers updated on handicapping contests from around the country.