07/01/2014 2:07PM

Fornatale: 4 things every contest player should know


When it comes to number crunching in the contest world, Christopher Larmey is the man. He is an engineer by trade and he shows a keen understanding of the mathematical underpinnings of handicapping in the analyses he writes for Public Handicapper and in the work he’s done as a member of the NTRA Players’ Committee.

Larmey recently concluded a project that will be of great interest to contest players – an examination of the data on NHCQualify.com in an attempt to answer basic questions that horseplayers might have about tournaments. The answers below are based on his analysis of all the NHCQualify.com contests in 2013 and through mid-June 2014.

1. Are contests becoming more popular?

The answer is a resounding “yes!” Larmey explained. “The average number of entries per contest has risen by almost 50 percent when comparing 2013 to 2014. Where else in racing have you seen 50 percent growth in one year? And this growth is probably understated because the number of contests is also on the rise.”

2. What should be my target score to win a contest?

Right around 120 points, which translates into about 10 points per race or about 2.5 times the total mythical $2 win-place wager. While winning scores in Larmey’s data ranged from a high of $238.70 to a low of $78.40, Larmey notes that 75 percent of contest winning scores were between $100 and $150.

3. What should be my target score to finish in the top 10 percent of a contest?

This one takes on relevance for two reasons: The top 10 percent of finishers advance in the two-stage format popular on BCQualify.com, and NHCQualify awards Tour points to the top 10 percent of participants. The top 10th percentile scores in Larmey’s study ranged from a high of $116.40 to a low of $49.60 – basically just holding serve with starting bankroll of $48. However, to finish in the top 10 percent, you typically need about 70 points – 75 percent of the top 10th percentile scores were between $60 and $90. That translates into about 6 points per race or about 1.5 times the total mythical $2 win-place wager.

4. Do multiple entries provide an outsized advantage?

According to Larmey, whose research shows that second entries perform no better or worse than first entries, second entries don’t provide an outsized statistical advantage.

Let’s look at the numbers. In NHCQualify events, a player’s first entry is labeled 1, and a second entry, if he/she choose to play one, is labeled 2. According to Larmey, just less than 20 percent of the total entries are second entries (although that has dropped a bit in 2014 as the total number of entries has risen). These second entries win about 20 percent of contests (suggesting that they perform similarly to first entries). Second entries make up about 20 percent of the top five finishers in contests and finish in the top 10 percent about 10 percent of the time (again, suggesting that they hold no statistical advantage over first entries). In other words, whether a contestant plays one or two entries, each entry has the same chance of success.

Larmey notes: “In general, but not always, second entries tend to do a bit better than normal when a lot of longshots come in – particularly in early or late races – and a bit worse than normal when the races are very chalky. However, it all appears to average out so that second entries perform just about the same as first entries overall.”

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This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy a second entry. Players that purchase second entries and play them properly will have twice the chance of success for twice the cost. Since they’ve already done the work and dedicated time to the contest, it might make sense to play two entries in many cases. So while playing a second entry does not provide a statistical advantage, it can be more time- and work-efficient to do so.

Additionally, the player buying two entries has the same effect on the field’s chance of winning as if another player of the same ability purchased a single entry.

As Larmey said, “It’s just one more entry you are competing against in either case.”

Bottom line: no advantage in this format.

Bob More than 1 year ago
Players should always purchase a second entry if they can afford it. The individual entries may not perform any better than average but having two chances to win is better than having one chance to win, as any grade school kid knows. Otherwise this guy is spot on in his analysis which is consistent with a statistical study I did years ago when I was playing regularly in many of the large tournaments in Vegas. What I found was that regardless of whether or not the contest winner had connected with at least one long-priced winner, the winning score for most contests would be within about 10% of the winning score for any contest that used a similar scoring format, which suggests one of two things: Either the winner of most contests would have connected with at least one longshot winner or the winner was simply a superior handicapper who was able to connect at a high enough win rate to overcome the score of a player who had connected with one or two long-priced winners but had little else in the way of success at picking winners. During that era of handicapping contests the preferred strategy seemed to be to buy as many entries as the rules would allow and swing for the fences with longshot picks on every one of your entries. If you managed to connect with a really big bomb early in the contest on any one of the entries then you could chalk up and coast into the money in most instances. If you were a decent handicapper you could use your early scoring advantage by settling in and picking off as many short-priced winners as possible and those 6-5 favorites suddenly became your best friend as they allowed you to pad your lead with high probability plays.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Interesting stuff, Bob. Thanks for sharing.
Ron Rios More than 1 year ago
Thanks pete, good article, always perfer facts over opinions… now if only could get stats on players, keep up the good stuff...
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Did you know that if you go to the NTRA site and look under the Tour leaderboard you can see a selection of the contests the top players have played in and where they finished? You might be able to derive the player stats you're looking for from there: http://www.ntra.com/nhc/files/NHC%20Tour%20Leader%20Player%20Points%20062714.pdf
Dan Cronin More than 1 year ago
Great article until #4 that just defies logic and simple math
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
yea, there's some words missing there! should say in the question "do multiple entries provide an UNFAIR statistical advantage" and again in the first sentence there, "don't provide an unfair statistical advantage." As I say later in the piece, there is a clear advantage as second entries double one's chance of winning -- but no more than that as some have claimed. Tx for pointing out the error, I'll fix.
Dan Cronin More than 1 year ago
you da man Peter I love this portion of DRF about tourneys and I think you do a great job
Joe More than 1 year ago
Great article except one thing he is NUTS to think a second entry doesn't give a statistical advantage. I have degree in Accounting and statistics is my thing. The reason a 2nd entry is a HUGE advantage is early in the contest being able to take high odd shots. It is not a matter of how far down the 2nd tic finishes . It is about the increased chance of that player winning with 1 or 2 entries. His data is flawed. Go research the winning player and the number of entries he will admit too then average that and then go figure the number of players with only 1 entry and how many won the tourney. You will see a dramatic difference. If you look at the winners of the NHC qualifiers you will see it is extremely high percentage that the WINNER had multiple entries. That fact can not be disputed and Larmey has completely missed that.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Yes that was a typo that has since been corrected. Of course, it's an advantage, but the main point is that it doesn't allow an advantage over another player of the same skill level purchasing an entry. Therefore, it's not something you need to worry about if you're a single entry player, any more than a singe-entry player should sweat whether he or she is playing against 224 or 225 opponents.
derby1592 More than 1 year ago
This is the logic defying nut responding to some of the comments. I am sorry about the confusion. Let me try to be as clear as possible. Having 2 entries essentially doubles your chances of winning or doing well in the NHCQualify format. No more. No less. Given that anyone can purchase up to 2 entries and that a second entry costs the same as a first entry – this does not seem to provide any sort of an inherently unfair advantage to those who purchase a second entry. That is all we were trying to say. Here is an example that may or may not make it clearer. Imagine that you have a friend that was as equally skilled as yourself in handicapping contests. You both agree to each purchase a single entry and split the winnings if either of you wins. No collaboration just split if you win. Having that “partner” just doubled the chances that you will win the contest. Now, imagine that instead of that agreement, you decide to simply buy 2 entries and play them both yourself. Once again, that doubles your chances of winning in the same way as having an equally-skilled partner doubled your chances. There is essentially no difference in regards to your chances of winning the contest in either instance. Hopefully, that clears things up a bit. Cheers From the logic defying nut ( have been called much worse) also known as Christopher Larmey
michaelcancilla More than 1 year ago
It's very simple, one entry per player evens the playing field somewhat but will Not stop some players from bringing wives, relatives to have more than one entry. A problem without any real solution.