03/24/2014 11:17AM

David Gutfreund overcomes early mistake to qualify for Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge

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Two old friends of the blog had good showings in Saturday’s BCQualify contest. Unfortunately for Cara Yarusso, who was interviewed in this space last Monday, she came up just short. She fell victim to two common contest maladies. For one thing, she split her tickets – a very solid day overall on one; one nice winner on the other. The combined score would have gotten her there. She also lost an unlucky photo. If Harry’s Holiday’s nose gets down on the line instead of We Miss Artie’s in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway, Cara qualifies.

Our old friend David Gutfreund, a contest veteran and partner at Derby Wars, fared better. He overcame a mistake and got himself qualified for his first Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

Do you prefer the two-round BCQualify format to the one-day format?

As I said to you when you interviewed me for “The Winning Contest Player” and as I’ve said many times before: As long as the rules are the same for everybody and they don’t change them, I don’t care what the rules are.

How does the two-round format differ for you in terms of your approach?

Strategically, it’s totally different because first and seventh pay the same and that means you’re playing a totally different way. So many contests, you have to really try to finish first or second because that’s where all the money is.

I hear what you’re saying: If you only have to finish in the top 10 percent of the field, maybe you can play horses you like in the sweet spot range of 4-1 and 10-1 and worry less about hitting horses nearer to the cap. Is that where you’re going?

Absolutely. There’s no point in trying to win the thing because first and seventh are the same – you’re just trying to get there.

In the past we’ve talked mostly about strategy in fixed bankroll tournaments. Are you equally confident in your abilities when it comes to a live bankroll contest like the BCBC?

My local contests at Hawthorne are live bankroll contests, and I’ve done very well in those over the years and qualified for the [National Handicapping Championship] many times there. I’m a lot more confident with live bankroll contests than my girlfriend is – she wants me to cash in the $7,500 right now.

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

Will you be tempted to cash out at some stage? Or are you in it to win it?

Without question, the right way to think of your bankroll in the BCBC is as funny money. Actually sticking to that during the heat of the moment is a whole other story. I can’t honestly tell you what my financial circumstances are going to be six months from now, but if I can play it optimally, the bankroll will be treated like play money.

You’ve also had a lot of success in the poker world. What comparison leaps to mind between poker contests and handicapping contests?

People know that patience is a massive virtue in poker tournaments and it needs to be used more by people in horse racing tournaments. Patience really helped me Saturday because I made an early mistake but I stayed patient and that’s what got me there. I picked three low-priced winners in the second half of the card to come from behind when I think most people’s instinct would have been to stab a little and try to get there with one horse.

What was the mistake you made?

I was deciding between two horses and I did what you normally should do in a contest when you’re stuck between two horses – I went with the longer price. But I didn’t really know what was coming up at that point and when I looked closely, the last half of the contest figured to be really chalky – a four-horse field, a race that scratched down to eight, a Gulfstream turf race where the favorite looked like a cinch. If I’d known what was coming up, I would have known that getting points on the board at that point was more important than trying to get a bigger price.

So you were close going into the last?

Going into the last race I was in eighth place – top seven get spots. It was a tightly bunched field – the four players in front of me were separated by a total of $7. In the last race, the feature at Santa Anita, I really liked a first-time [John] Sadler horse, Quotient, who was 6-1. The favorite in the race was 6-5. If I was just making a bet on the race, there was only was horse I would ever bet: Quotient. And I originally put my contest pick in as Quotient. But I ended up saying to myself something else I told you when we talked for “The Winning Contest Player”: Tournaments are not really about picking horses, they are just a game with numbers. It’s a math contest. If it comes down to the last race and the results will be the same no matter who wins, as long as you have the winner, and you’re choosing between a 6-1 shot and a 6-5 shot, I don’t care who you like, you have to take the 6-5 shot. [Gary] Stevens was on the favorite, Enterprising, and he steadied turning for home, and it looked like Quotient was going to go right by. But somehow or another Stevens found something and Enterprising held off Quotient by a nose.

As someone who works in the industry, what’s your perspective on what’s been happening in the contest world?

The year-over-year growth that’s happening everywhere is impressive. Contests are selling out all over the place. Contests are a real growth area, and I’m happy to be a part of them as both a player and also as a partner in Derby Wars.

mikey More than 1 year ago
Pete I hope you saw the horse players BC show last night.Hellmers not only put his mother in the contest he made the big last bet of 22,000.The other players were talking about his stunt as well as his other so called partnerships.Having partners is ok, but betting for a beard opens a never ending problem.Maybe they will keep an eye on this .Cox ans Conte were a little fed up.We need a show called THE LADIES OF THE TRACK so we can see who is real and who is not.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I did see the show. . .am reserving comment until I have a chance to do a little further research about rules. And I'd like to take Christian up on his offer to speak with me as well. So this will get written about at some stage, just not sure when. I am still considering trying to find a way to do an invitation-only women's contest for charity as part of the blog . . .haven't quite sorted out the how or when of it. . .could be fun and raise awareness of how many women out there can hang with the men when it comes to picking winners.
LAturfking More than 1 year ago
Peter T.I recently read somewhere that NHC has done away with letting the fans in on the final table picks before the race starts. I am sad to hear this, I think it made the event more exciting & got everyone involved... Do you know why this was done?, Also do you know how they are going to approach this going forward? Thanks for all you do in bringing light to a positive segment of horse racing we need more of this.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I hadn't heard that but really it's the only sensible solution. By revealing picks prior to the race, there is the possibility a player could make a big bet and manipulate the odds to his/her advantage. Don't worry about the lost drama, hopefully there is a way to reveal the picks to the public just as the race starts so things will be just as exciting. I appreciate your kind words.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Just give them cards numbered 1-12.As the horses leave the gate they hold up the number they bet on.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
This is another topic I'll be writing about at more length in the near future. . .
KMart4503 More than 1 year ago
I had the exact same conversation with myself in the last race of last weekends BCQualify event. Except I liked Royal Banker and Enterprising. I was in 3rd before the last race and only up $6 on 7th place. Obviously, managed to luckily hit Enterprising as well to lock up 2nd place overall.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Nice. Indeed it's very important to be able to differentiate between when you have the protection of the chalk and when you don't. If you don't, and you agree with the betting market that the chalk is the most likely winner, then that's the correct play, regardless of who you might have "liked" a priori. . .
DavidM9999 More than 1 year ago
Peter in the last paragraph David mentions he was in 8th place one spot out of a berth. His logic was take the 6-5 shot instead of the price horse he would have bet in a win pool. I see that part. However, what am I missing? Assuming the other 7 in front of him are logical wanting to only hold their berth positions why wouldn't all of the leading 7 play the 6-5 shot too. It seems they are only interested in the berth right? Was there prize money at stake for first few spots? Can you clarify the winning strategy of David in this instance for me. Thanks.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
A very good question, David. There was no prixe money -- 1 through 7 got the same. On one hand, you are absolutely right -- you would think that the four folks in front of him might have all considered playing the chalk there just from a mathematical point-of-view but I know from my experience that people are very unlikely to play optimally in that spot -- they are more likely to play whoever they picked going in and not adjust. I would imagine that one of the folks ahead of DG played the fave there, but definitely all four wouldn't -- and one not playing the chalk was all he needed for an opening. It's such a cultural of "who do you like?" that most players get married to their initial picks and no contest player would ever want to play that chalk going in. It was Dave's ability to let go of his opinion in favor of making the optimal play that got him there. Makes sense? Thanks for the thoughtful question.
KMart4503 More than 1 year ago
I completely agree with Peter... I think it all really depends on your perception of what you think other players will do. For instance, if all players outside the top 7 assume that the top 7 are all going to take the favorite, in an attempt to protect their lead, then people outside the top 7 have to take longer odds horses... But in return this mean there is actually not as much value in leaders taking the favorite if that assumption holds(outside of the math). Because now if the favorite wins they just extend their lead and no one catches them. That fact can in turn make leaders choose the horse they like the most... But again this is what opens the door for people close to the top 7 to take the favorite and get in... So it's a circular argument, but an interesting one for sure. Does that make sense?
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Makes perfect sense -- it all gets back to game theory. It's one of the aspects of the $2WP format that I personally love. What do you do because you know that they know that you know what they're *supposed* to do. Fact is, though, that not many players take it to the level of game theory and are actually very predictable by and large -- for now anyway. I cover this area extensively and with specific examples in the book.
DavidM9999 More than 1 year ago
Thanks Peter. Clearer now with your explanation.
Jeff More than 1 year ago
Pete: I just wanted to let you know that I took your advice and entered the $50 contest last Saturday. I feel that I did ok by finishing in the top 10 %, however, I have nothing to show for it. Do you have any advice for dealing with the frustration of doing well but having nothing tangible as a result?
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Great question, Jeff. It's really sooo frustrating sometimes. When you are starting out especially, I think you just have to be philosophical and take solace in the fact that making a good showing shows you are doing something right and / or are on the right track. You don't want to overdraw conclusions from one -- or even a few contests -- but definitely track your results and try to learn from them. Some good but not great players do have a tendency to "middle" along, always ending up with points but never cashing because they play too conservatively. I'm not saying that's the case with you but that's the type of thing you wanna look out for. I could go on but I'm going to save this topic for an upcoming column. Tx for the idea and keep on grinding and finding, as I like to say.
Michael Foster More than 1 year ago
Peter- I only recently started focusing on contests, your book gave me some great insight on the different mindset needed. I used some of your advice to help me take Saturday's NHCQualify credit contest, my biggest win to date. Thank You.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
BOOM! Now that's what I like to hear. . .ICongrats! I will reach out to you soon to discuss more at length. Many thanks for letting me know. . .
Russ Jenkins More than 1 year ago
Peter....i've been a pretty serious horseplayer for about 20 years, but i only started playing any type of contests last year on TwinSpires.com (i used to be a "live" horse player or bet at OTBs exclusively). I just wanted to thank you for these articles. Some of the strategy you talk about i had already come to on my own, but much of it is really interesting and gets me to thinking. It's always good to hear perspectives from others and that's what your articles accomplish for me. Please keep up the good work.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Thanks, Russ! I feel like I've seen your name on a few leaderboards here and there. I agree that even if you already know something -- it's great reinforcement to hear it again in an articulate way. That's exactly how I felt when I typed up my notes on this interview.Thanks for chiming in.
Russ Jenkins More than 1 year ago
I've 'decided' i'm going to win one of the $5k saturday tourneys this year on Twin Spires....I mean, yes i'd like to win and/or qualify in the $10k, but i'm in this for the money (i love handicapping, don't get me wrong). So far, i have a 3rd place, a 7th, and an 8th ($1600 in prize winnings)....but winning a Saturday $5k would cover the entire year and more of contests. I feel like i'll get there, just has to be my week.
Russ Jenkins More than 1 year ago
(I already feel like i've gotten extremely close.....a few weeks ago, one of my top 10 finishes, i had Alonso Quinonez on the 1 horse one of the days that Santa Anita was wet/fast or sloppy....at 14-1......he looked like a serious thread turning for home and somehow missed 2nd by a nose, the win by about a length. If he had won, i feel certain i would have won the contest--i finished maybe $17 out of the win--had he even placed, i woulda been in the top 5. I'll get there.) :)
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Your attitude is exactly right. Just have to keep plugging away and making good decisions. There's a very cool contest coming up this weekend through DRFbets as well. . .Thursday's column will describe it in detail. . .
Kimberly More than 1 year ago
Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy reading your column and your book. I hope to make it to the NHC one day. Thanks for the insight and look into the strategies of successful contest players.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Thanks, Kimberly! That is a smart and attainable goal. The NHC is a really fun experience. I hope we can meet in person out at the Treasure Island in January. For a complete list of places to qualify for the NHC, check out www.NTRA.com. And as an added bonus, if you qualify through NHCQualify.com, then I can interview you for the blog. . . :)
John Herzberg More than 1 year ago
Any pick and pray formats coming up?