07/01/2014 1:07PM

Fornatale: 4 things every contest player should know

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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.