03/17/2014 1:34PM

Cara Yarusso stands out in a male-dominated contest world

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Cara Yarusso isn’t just one of the most well-liked and respected female players on the contest scene. She’s one of the most well-liked and respected players period. This past weekend she won her second entry into next weekend’s Round 2 BCQualify.com contest.

Tell me how the two-day BCQualify format works.

The two-round BCQualify format requires you to finish in the top 10 percent of one of three Round 1 contests, which have a low entry fee of $110. This allows you to advance to the exclusive Round 2 contest where full $10,000 BCBC packages are awarded to the top 10 percent of finishers. I like the two-round format as you only need two strong performances, not one “perfect” performance as would be typical in a single-round qualifier.

Do you know what your approach will be to playing two entries in the BCQ contest next weekend?

I play horses with my dad, Mike Yarusso, who taught me to handicap when I was a kid. When we have a single entry in a contest, there is much debate that goes into that final selection. We sometimes land on the same horse due to our similar style of handicapping, but we often need to decide between his horse and my horse and we don’t always make the right call. Having two entries will allow us to each control an entry and then we’ll start conferring on decisions as we hopefully get one or both entries into contention.

Is it ever awkward being female in such a predominantly male world like contests?

It has never felt awkward or intimidating to be a female in the male-dominated world of contests. The experience is overwhelmingly positive. The tournament community is incredibly welcoming of everyone. I’d say players probably try even harder to make the women feel at home. I have made some of the best friends of my life through playing contests. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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

What can be done to try to attract more women to play in contests?

I think women who are interested in tournaments just need to give it a try. There are so many places now where you can practice and build your tournament skills with very small entry fees. For those women that are already attending tournaments with a husband or boyfriend but who never pick up the Racing Form, take advantage of that opportunity to learn and participate. Almost anyone can win on any given day – and beginner’s luck can be powerful!

I like the show “Horseplayers” but I think it has perpetuated a stereotype that female players seem more focused on the looks aspect of handicapping than the paper aspect. Why do you suppose that stereotype exists, and what can we do to change it?

You are right that “Horseplayers” has made it seem that women are focused on the physicality of the horses and can’t absorb the math and analytics behind the game. The stereotype of women not understanding math and instead being steered towards learning softer skills is the same reason my field of engineering is still male-dominated, but it is slowly changing. Women can easily understand the analytical side of the game. It’s simply a matter of giving it a try and investing some time to learn along the way.

Any other thoughts on “Horseplayers” in general? I'm really hoping they get a second season and that there's a woman as a regular in the cast.

I really enjoy watching “Horseplayers.” They do a nice job of capturing the excitement (and heartbreak) of tournament play. I, too, would like to see them add a female handicapper in the mix. I was happy to see Emily Gullikson on a recent episode at Saratoga, albeit in the background. The producers finally found a female that truly handicaps and can compete with the best of them. Next time they need to turn the cameras on her!

When we spoke for “The Winning Contest Player,” you mentioned not being super comfortable in the live bankroll format. Have you taken any steps to try to improve in this area?

I competed in both the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and the HPQualify Player’s Challenge last year. I learned some lessons at both. In both cases, I had a key race where I felt strongly about something and should have capitalized on my predictions. I let earlier poor picks rattle my confidence and I shied away from going in aggressively in those key races. Had I been aggressive, I could have made some very nice scores instead of walking away with small to moderate bankrolls. The key is to learn from every experience. I am working to qualify to both the BCBC and the Player’s Challenge again this year and hope to make a stronger showing this time.

How did you qualify for the BCBC last year?

I qualified for last year’s BCBC in the same two-round qualifying format on BCQualify. The first-class experience of being in the BCBC far exceeded all my expectations. Being up close with champion horses and competing against some of the best handicappers in the nation was incredible. Without a doubt, I know I need to be there aga