03/17/2014 1:34PM

Cara Yarusso stands out in a male-dominated contest world


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

mikey More than 1 year ago
Horse player's last night put the ladies down in the handicapping world.Mr Hellmers one of the best tourney players put his mother in the Breeders cup tourney .He said he needed a second seat so why not mom.This is a slap in the face to the true female player.This kind of action (all legal except for betting for her) is a joke.Ladies like Ms Yarusso, Judy Wagner etc.are as good as any man in the game.Mr.Formatale this is the base for your upcoming beard blog.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I haven't seen it yet but I'll check it out. . .oh man, am I going to have to write another blog entry about Christian? This blog is becoming all Hellmers, all the time LOL!
tim blake More than 1 year ago
I don't think tournaments are for me but Cara sounds like someone worth pulling for. I am amazed by the talent of some of the consistent winners. There is a lot to be learned from them, that's for sure.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Pete thankyou for telling Mr Wiener how he could have been DQD.As i said he is one of the top handicappers in the game.The ntra will not allow anyone to bet for someone.My wife qualified about 10 years ago.She just got out of the hospitial 3 days before vegas.She had to make all her bets by herself (I KNOW RULES ARE RULES).This like a guy who got caught for doing something and tell the police i never have done this before.Let it be known that i feel any player that can win a contest/seat ought to have as many seats as she or he can get.This just shows that i told you and the other players the truth.Thank you for being very fair to us and the game we play and love.
Brett Wiener More than 1 year ago
This is my last comment here. This blog is about Cara and touches on females in the contest world....which you seem to not beleive that any female plays for themselves. Then you were "corrected" that my wife plays her own entry and then you turned it to who "hit the buttons." Back to the "female" aspect.... I invite you to play in the contests on horseplayersqualify.com. On there you will find Cara, Michelle H, Michelle M, Barbara B, Cheryl M, + others who play for themselves (how would you fare?)..... and to your point of traveling "alone"...... A few of the ladies did travel alone to the players challenge in SD.....but if they came w/hubbies or friends....does that make them less of a competitor? Part of the fun of the tournament world is traveling, with you partner, to the great race places/contests and meet other people with common interests.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Brett i said that you are one of the best.Yes this is a game where men have no advantage and there are many great females playing.i was happy to see you tell the truth that takes a big man.I fail to see how someone can pick longshots and fear the machine.That is like someone who can swin but is scared of water.Good luck to you and your wife in the HPWS.P.S i have played this game longer than you are alive.
Russ Jenkins More than 1 year ago
Disclaimer: i've watched 3, maybe 4 episodes of Horseplayers, and it did seem to get better as it went along. My gripe though was the 'dumbing down' of the program. I don't get it and never will.....regardless of who Esquire WANTS their audience to be, who their audience IS is serious horseplayers.....and we don't need to be talked to as if we're first-time-at-the-track people. I want to watch a show that talks about serious handicapping angles, ticket construction, etc. Horseplayers seems way too focused on the egos of the principals and telling us that "lone speed is dangerous". Yeah...we know.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Yes i agree i met these guys at the NTRA and they are the real deal.The show is good but when was the last time you went into the jocks room before a race and ask Johnny V about his horse.
Chuck Berger More than 1 year ago
Back about twenty five years ago, Debbie Forte was a regular player in tournaments. She won the big tournament at Penn National and was quite successful in many others. She more than held her own against the boys. There's no need to have a separate tournament for the ladies. Many of them are more than capable of competing with any and all.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I absolutely agree that a women-only contest isn't necessary but i think it could be a fun thing for me to run as part of the blog just to create awareness and continue to shine a light on an underrepresented group of excellent players. . .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cara and her Dad, Mike are two of the nicest people you will find on the tour and she is a great long shot handicapper, a very valuable talent for tournament play.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
absolutely. . .longshot picking ability is the gift that keeps on giving.
Brett Wiener More than 1 year ago
Peter, it was great hearing you on Steve Byks' show on SiriuxXM last week. You were very entertaining and it was nice to put a "voice" to the words you write. I appreciate your efforts to promote the tournament side of horse racing and it can only lead to increased interest, entries and higher prize pools.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Tx man! I loved being on with Steve -- sharp guy, great host -- and I hope we do that again some time. I might have to sign up for Sirius XM just so I can hear him every day. . .
Brett Wiener More than 1 year ago
Cara is far from a "beard." She travels alone to most of the live contests. She is a great gal and competitor. Last year alone I played against her at the Players Challenge in SD, Wynn, BCBC, NHC and others and she has the full respect of all entrants ... male and female. She is also on the NTRA players commitee.
Joe Koury More than 1 year ago
Cara owes no one an explanation and she can handicap as well or better than any of the competitors in the event. She's also very smart, humble, friendly, and a great ambassador of the contest circuit. And when she wins an entry to the BCBC this week, we'll drink a victory toast next week at the HPWS!
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
She's got a lot of fans! I know I'll be rooting for her. . .
Mark Mcguire More than 1 year ago
cara is one of the true ambassadors to the tournament world, her ability to handicap horses ,especially maidens is only surpassed by her generosity& kindness to all .!!but anybody that has meet her already knows this .if you haven't ..reach out your world will become that much brighter .!! I only have one question ...when does the calendar come out !!!!1
mikey More than 1 year ago
I hope she get's her do.Until the day there is a women's tourney she will be thought of as just another beard.Put the ladies in another room with no 2 way devices and let them show how good they really are.I have no doubt that better tan 50% will hold their own againt the men.When they play poker it is one on one with no help.Racing is as hard if not harder than poker.Hold a ladies only tourney in Vegas with them locked away form us men and then they will get the respect they deserve.
Amy Hurley More than 1 year ago
News flash: Separate but equal was discredited in 1954.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Mikey, your post makes no sense to me for a variety of reasons but I elected to post it to get the conversation going here -- I don't think a contest limited to women is the worst idea I've ever heard, if only to draw awareness to how many excellent female handicappers there are out there. Perhaps I'll organize a women-only invitational on the blog around Oaks Day. The winner can pick the charity and I'll pay out of pocket. . .more on this idea to come.
Turnbackthealarm More than 1 year ago
I like the idea of a women's only contest. For the most part, horseracing and handicapping is a male dominated endeavor. If younger women saw how many older accomplished respectable women participated, it could be much less intimidating. I get the separate is not equal sentiment, but we are talking about a one time promotion of a sport and a skill, not keeping women separate from men in all competitions.
Brett Wiener More than 1 year ago
As much as I enjoy "horseplayers," I think they missed big opportunities to promote the tournaments to novices and females. In the upcoming episode at Gulfstream, my Wife won the contest (yes Mikey, with her own picks and she won it 2/4 yrs) but they did not mention or show that to the viewers. The viewers see the guys losing and have to be saying "if the past NHC champions and the other top handicappers can't win, how can I?" Promoting the success of the females in our contests can only lead to good things. Looking forward to your future discussions on the topic.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Great points, Brett. I see their conundrum from a storytelling POV but I do think a bit more could be done to demystify the process. I think that's the aim of the webisodes they've done but I haven't seen any of those yet.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Brett try to tell the truth.Your wife played the last chance at TI.She just missed a second spot.The only problem was you bet for her.She never left the seat.You had 2 seats she had one so why were you using the self betting machines.Pete Brett is one of the top players in the country but lets keep it REALI respect all the women who come to the tourneys.When was the last time a group of women went to a contest by themselfs.Pete this all goes back to your beard story.Thank you for posting posts you feel will get the way players feelings out.Keep up the great work and we need another book soon.
Brett Wiener More than 1 year ago
Mikey, you are sooo wrong. My wife picks every single horse at all live contests. She tells me who she likes, and I "ok" the pick with reference to odds and her placing in the standings. At the NHC, she wss on Soma for a bad back, had a never ending migrane and the flu, so I put in the picks for her. Becsuse she doesn't wager thtough machines, she is scared to use them becsuse she eill make a mistske. She did run to the windows quite a few times. At the BCBC when she tells me she "loves Rookie Sensation" I do place the bets on the machine because she is real scared to bet $500wp. She comes up with longshots at an alarming rate snd since I have my entries to worry about, we always play hers with no hesitation. Ie...Freddie the Cap in the NHC 2yrs ago (put her in the lead early) and 2max tix for place @ GP in the both times she won there. Just because she seems to finish ahead of you (it seems to bother you) please don't make accusations, I will put her agsinst 85% of the players out there. See you at the HPWS and watch for her to be near the top.... just for you Mikey.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Brett, not to break your chops, just to share info: I'm pretty sure that technically at the NHC you are not allowed to place a bet for another players and I believe it might even be grounds for disqualification. So even though your reasons for doing so were solid, you were on thin ice there. In future, all players should be physically placing their own bets. Imagine if your wife won and Mikey came out of the woodwork saying that? Could be a $750K mistake. . .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
sorry for the side note The Official mandatory Rainbow 6 payout is on Payout is June 29 as per David Joesph from Gulfstream..
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Someone had the fun idea that i should write a bit about the R6 as it is a type of contest in and of itself, maybe one of these days I'll get around to it.
Daniel Peters More than 1 year ago
Played against her for years at Canterbury Park. She is a great Gal. Dan