03/06/2014 11:24AM

For couples at tournaments, handicapping is a team effort


At live handicapping contests around the country, you see a number of couples playing together. Bryan and Judy Wagner have been playing together for a long time. More recently, Kevin and Nicole Cox have been showing up at tournaments nationwide.

Another interesting couple to make a mark on the tournament landscape is Bob Hansan and Kate Borges. Hansan won the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge in 2010, and Borges also is no stranger to success, having made a nice run in the Saratoga Betting Challenge in 2013. Borges also is a semifinalist in the Ms. Racing Queen Pageant at Gulfstream Park.

The winner of the Ms. Racing Queen title will receive $100,000 and appear as an ambassador on behalf of The Stronach Group at such major events as the Preakness Stakes, Florida Derby, and Santa Anita Derby. The runner-up will receive $50,000.

Hansan and Borges spoke with me this week by telephone from northern Virginia.

Kate, how did you discover horse racing?

Borges: Bob introduced me to the exciting world of horse racing about three years ago. I’ve been to tracks all over the country, and I love it. We’ve been to the Derby, the Preakness, two Breeders’ Cups, and Saratoga, which is my favorite, along with Santa Anita.

Bob, tell me about your Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge win in 2010.

Hansan: I knew I couldn’t out-handicap those players. But I thought maybe because it was a live-bankroll event, where you can put emphasis on certain opinions, that I could out-gamble the field. Going in that year – and I know this now sounds odd with how high the score was this year – but I figured I needed about $35,000 to $45,000 to win. I had the idea to make my mandatory bets as show bets and preserve as much of my bankroll as possible to bet it all on Blame in the Classic. I liked Blame in the race, and I knew he’d be good value because Zenyatta was certain to be overbet. And I was able to do that, and I won $185,000 or so.

Kate, what’s your highlight as a handicapper so far?

Borges: While I’m not as good of a handicapper as Bob, I have had some success. I was in second place after the first day last year in the tournament at Saratoga. On the second day, I didn’t do so well, but I still beat Bob, so that was a great achievement for me. That was my first tournament ever, and it was very exciting for me.

Where did you guys meet?

Borges: We met at work. I just came back from living in Brazil, and I applied to work at Bobby McKey’s, which is a dueling piano bar that Bob owns outside of D.C. And I got a job as one of his managers. And he asked me out, and I said no. But then he offered to take me to the track, and I fell for it!

Kate, what is your approach to picking winners?

Borges: I have different methods of trying to pick winners. I look at the pattern of the last few races each horse has run, and I’m looking for horses who have won or at least run well recently. I also like to look at the morning workouts. You can tell a lot about a horse from how they’re working. But mostly for me, I like going to the paddock and seeing how the horses are reacting, their body language. That tells me a lot. I can’t see what I need to see on TV. I need to be down by the paddock. That makes all the difference.

How do you guys approach playing together?

Borges: We love playing as a couple. He’ll be handicapping, and I’ll run to the paddock and come back with my report, so we work as a team in a way.

Hansan: Any weekend, anybody can play, and anybody can win. That’s what makes it fun. I’ve been doing this a lot longer than Kate, but she made that great run at Saratoga, and I was like, “How did you do that?” On the second day, going into the last race, Kate was in a position where there was a horse she liked, but if she played a cap horse, she had a chance to win or at least finish in the high money, and I was helping her out at that point, so I asked her what she wanted to do.

Borges: I said, ‘Go big or go home,’ so we switched my ticket, and the horse I played was leading almost the whole way, but then the horse I liked came up at the end and won. It was very disappointing. It’s a sensitive subject.

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Tell me about the Ms. Racing Queen contest. Why did you enter?

Borges: I thought it would be fun. I love horse racing, so my attitude was, “Why not?” It’s a great idea to try to find ways to get younger people excited about horse racing, and it surprised me that a lot of the other contestants come from a pageant background and don’t know that much about racing. And I feel like I’m the opposite – I know my way around the racetrack, and I don’t know anything about pageants.

What ideas do you have about how racing might reach out to women?

Borges: I think women are generally more careful with their money. To appeal to women, I would promote racing as an affordable activity for the whole family. And I would promote the idea of going to the paddock. Who wouldn’t want to see these beautiful creatures up close? And if you’re female and you’re single, it could be a great place to meet somebody. There are a lot of eligible bachelors at the track.

◗ Follow along with Kate’s quest to be crowned Ms. Racing Queen over the next three Saturdays at Gulfstream Park. And you can try to qualify for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge this Saturday at BCQualify.com.

Judy Wagner More than 1 year ago
Fortunately for me I have a husband that believed in me, took the time and introduced me to handicapping. He gave me the basics and encouragement to test the waters. Handicapping IMO is a lifetime of building blocks - you are always learning. Thru the years our handicapping has evolved in different ways. We analysis a race but our individual approach compliments the other's. We both have different strengths. Especially playing in contests we immediately identify who does FTS, FT on a surface, cheap claiming, distance races, etc. I found it interesting in your article Pete, you mentioned Kate liked to go to the paddock and read the body language. This is a perfect example of handicappers finding their own way of handicapping a race. Re the beard situation - I agree an almost impossible situation to enforce. Personally I fear a strong handicapping team much more so than a player with 3,4,5, etc beards. They are spreading instead of getting all plays on one ticket. Although I was opposed to 2 entries in NHC, I understand that is the rule and I can live with it. I did not continue to pursue a second entry into NHC once I had a spot. I have been burned in contests with 2 tickets that total enough to easily win a tournament but yet neither ticket was strong enough to win. I did play in Last Chance contest only because I won an entry in an earlier contest. Concentrating on one entry overall has proven successful for me. Although I did not make it to final table this year at NHC, I did have an "in the money" finish again. This was accomplished with one entry going against approximately 50 players with 2 entries and many beards. As E Wright pointed out the rules for NTRA contests are stated and clear. As difficult to enforce as they are, I believe more tournament directors are alert to this. I personally played in a tournament about a year ago where an entry was disallowed after contestant "beard", came in, paid her money and went to work while sponsor player was to put in plays. Although this is impossible to eliminate it is getting less flagrant than years past. Pete, enjoying your regular articles. Keep them coming!
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Fantastic stuff, Judy. Always an honor to have a former champ in the comments section -- I must be doing something right :) I definitely want to interview you again soon for the larger piece I'm working on about women in tournaments.
JJIII2 More than 1 year ago
Alot of guys dont have the patience to teach someone the ins and outs of handicapping-especially a woman,myself included. I did wind up teaching my wife and she has become a pretty decent handicapper. The issue that always comes up though is MONEY. I am at the track yes to have fun but most important to make money.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Making money is definitely part of the equation. . .but for the 99% of players who don't, they better make sure they're having fun :)
mikey More than 1 year ago
Pete. AT this years NTRA i spoke to a guy who had 2 spots and 1 for his wife.I said 90 % of the females are just extra spots for them or someone else.He told me his wife is a great handicapper.She entered the last chance looking for cash or a second spot.By lat in the day she was in 10th place.The only problem was she never left her seat all day.I know many guys do this.The rules are clear and the only thing no one is allowed to bet for someone else.She kills it for many ladies who are very good handicappers.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
There's no doubt that there are beards of both sexes at contests. Any rules meant to thwart the practice would be unenforceable anyway and therefore, to my mind, irrelevant. But the stereotype of the wife/gf as beard has never been less accurate -- many sharp female players out there and hopefully even more soon. I'll be writing more about this. Stay tuned.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Thank you for your answer.Looking foward to your follow up.
Starks43 More than 1 year ago
Peter, I agree that it is almost impossible to enforce. However, I would like to see the Tour take a position on this, I think the rules should prohibit beards (and I agree that there is a steorotype ) and say if caught player subject to disqualification. Now again I understand this would be very hard if not impossible to enforce but it would put a line in the sand. That or go other way and say you an have as many beards are you want we don't care. Lets be transparent. This issue plus the multiple qualifers impacts integrity of the contest. I don't think its a simple as saying no multiple qualifiers won so its not an issue or winner clearly didnt have a beard so not an issue. The single qualifer without a beard is at a disadvantage. How big that is will leave to people smarter then me. The perception is definitely not good. Again transparency and clarity would go a long way here. Thanks for hearing me out.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
my own view is that if players are good enough to get extra entries, good luck to them. . .there is no realistic way to enforce the rule another player cited. If you don't like it, there are plenty of other ways to play where it's less of an issue.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Well why not allow a player to get as many spots as they can.If someone spends the money why stop at 2.The room have more room.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I don't disagree really Mikey. It's one of the reasons I supported the two entries allowed this year.
Starks43 More than 1 year ago
Just dont like the positiion if you dont like it lump it. Thats answer to too many racing issues. If you dont like dont play. Thats an unfortunate position and frankly not one i would expect here. I know many do not like it. Again you are focusing on catching speeding tix. Should some be allowed to speed and not others? Forget enforcement. Is it right? Lets start there.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Good point, and I certainly didn't mean to blow you off. Apologies if it came off that way. It's a super complicated issue, especially when you start talking about what's "right." Since partnerships are allowed -- and fully ethical in the $2wp format as far as I'm concerned -- I can't say it's unethical for someone to run a type of partnership where one player is the controlling force. Again, just my opinion.
Turnbackthealarm More than 1 year ago
Starks43, You raised the exact same issue I did immediately after the NHC and I got the same "blow off" answer. This is the racing way. You don't like drugged horses, don't bet. You don't like rules that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, stay in one. You think that take out is too large, find another outlet. I am 100% in agreement that the tour needs to address syndicates, beards and all the other edges that players take in these contests. Just take a stand. But certainly don't throw up you hands and say it's "unenforceable", because it is enforceable. The powers just have to get tough.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I'm trying to reply to turnbackthealarm here, not sure where the reply will end up as this thread has gotten a little confusing on the site. I'm happy to engage more on this issue of enforcement -- I've thought about it and talked to others and I don't see how it could be effectively done. You think it could be being accomplished, "The powers just have to get tough," you say. Sounds cool. And easy to say. But what does this actually mean in the real world? And from an ethics point of view, doesn't that mean you'd have to ban legit partnerships as well -- where/how is the line drawn? I would be vehemently opposed to a partner ban to the point where -- wait for it -- I would simply choose not to play in many contests. . .anyway, very curious to get your thoughts and if I agree with them, would be happy to present to "the powers." Thanks for taking the time to comment.
Starks43 More than 1 year ago
where is it less an issue?
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
In contest terms,, I think it's a lot less of an issue in some of the bigger cash online contests for example. I suppose, in truth, the same thing could happen but I've never heard of a beard winning one of those. But then again, they are fairly new so maybe that's why. Parimutually, it's a major issue in jackpot type bets but not much of one in the win/place/exacta/trifecta pools (a small guy can play those just as optimally as a big group imo). The more I think about it, syndicates are just part of the game and my honest advice is that it's not in the nature of a winning player's mindset to worry about them. Basically you have three options: 1) play your own game/contest, don't worry about others 2) avoid situations where you fear you're at an unfair advantage 3) start a syndicate of your own. Thanks for getting me started about this, will be a whole column in the near future!
Starks43 More than 1 year ago
I can honestly say I don't spend much time worrying abt it. I hate to use analogy abt drugs in racing but I will. I hate them for variety of reasons. Do I let their existence drive me to distraction when wagering? No but at same time I don't put my head in the sand denying their reality. Maybe I am being too literal but I thought award was for handicapper of the year not handicapping syndicate, Im guessing ntra is not necessarily thinking the latter but they can speak for themselves. Appreciate the discussion looking forward to future piece on.
EDWARD WRIGHT More than 1 year ago
Mikey, I agree with what you said but it's more than just females as extra spots in contests and I pray the female beard percentage is not that high. There is an NHC rule that is enforceable if the powers that be chose to apply it. "All wagers must be placed personally, and in-person, by the Player. To avoid being disqualified, no person shall, directly or indirectly, act as an intermediary, transmitter or agent in placing wagers for the Player, unless prior authorization is given by NHC Officials." If someone (male or female) is playing casino games, shopping, sightseeing, etc. and still manages to place wagers in the NHC that's a blatant rule violation that should result in disqualification. There are wife beards, husband beards and the more prevalent MCI beards (friends and family). In many of the well known wife/husband handicapping teams the wife is the better handicapper. But on lesser known teams the wife/husband/MCI does little more than show up. In either case I see no problem, other than how it affects the true female handicappers, as long as all beards follow the rules and place the bets chosen for them. More beards equal more bucks. Sadly the top female handicapping contest players have the misfortune of being painted with the same brush as other women who are contestants “in name only”. Those are the women who are wives, girlfriends, daughters and sisters, etc. of other male players who do all of the handicapping and sometimes all of the wagering. There is even a family from California who qualified their octogenarian grandmother and brought her to Las Vegas for the HPWS. I personally have no problem with this practice other than how it negatively impacts the true female handicappers, minimizes their accomplishments and deprives them of the recognition and respect they truly deserve.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I think it's up to us to celebrate the many women who do an excellent job in all aspects of handicapping and wagering -- I'll be writing a piece on just a few of them soon. . .
Judy Wagner More than 1 year ago
Ed, the powers that be were very alert at NHC in Jan as I know of situations where identity was confirmed. It is difficult but not a situation that is being ignored.
Terry Kirichenko More than 1 year ago
please talk to my wife
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Come see me at a book signing somewhere along the line and I'd be happy too -- the family that gambles together, stays together ;)
Gary Peacock More than 1 year ago
I agree with Edward. My tournament experience is limited, but why not photo I.D.'s snapped the first day? Live tellers or collectors of selections, of course.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
It wouldn't matter, Gary. The beards are there in person and could just as easily go up to the windows to place their "own" bets. I do find it hilarious that someone using a beard didn't take the precaution of doing this in the first place though! If I had an extra entry in a friend's name, that's how I'd play it. . .
mikey More than 1 year ago
That was the old way. Now you can bet at a machine.I know guys who had women in contest and they were in the casino or shopping.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I'm sure the logistics are a mess but in theory it would really be in the tournament's best interest to have someone checking IDs every time to avoid the appearance of impropriety. . .though, on the other hand, it's kind of a waste of time and resources because the workaround is so easy, ie, just have the beards make the plays themselves. It could get very sticky if/when a beard "wins" who half the room knows wasn't even in the contest areas half the time and/or was reading People magazine while someone else bet in his name. Tricky call but definitely an interesting issue for discussion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yeah , its gonna be funny when Momma Bertalucci stops up there to accept the one million , lol