03/24/2014 10:17AM

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


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.