10/01/2015 12:26PM

Fornatale: BCBC will be a family affair for Downies


There are a number of handicapping-contest families who will be represented in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge – contest players are used to seeing multiple McIntyres, Meyers, and Hellmers on various leaderboards. A new family is taking a swing this year: the Downies. John Downie, his wife, Jackie, and his daughter, Caitlyn, will be competing this year at Keeneland. John and Caitlyn both qualified for the BCBC from last weekend’s BCQualify.com Round 2 event.

“Handicapping for cash takes discipline, luck, and the guts to go all in,” said John Downie. “Handicapping for a tournament magnifies that by 10. It’s very strategic from start to finish with little room for error.”

Downie said he couldn’t be more excited about heading to the Breeders’ Cup. “I could have just stayed in New York and played my BCBC entry [at the New York Racing Association satellite]. Instead, from Day 1, I wanted to share this amazing experience with my family. Them having additional entries makes it only that much better. We are going to Keeneland to enjoy the festivities and create memories.”

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There is no rule against handicapping families at the BCBC or in any other tournament, though the BCBC monitors wagers to make sure there is no collusion. While there are players who look at the families cynically, thinking they have an unfair advantage, Downie has never been one of them. “I’ve played in a lot of contests with the McIntyres,” he said. “When I see their names, I think that I really need to step up my game because they are good players, not that they are manipulating the system.”

Downie doesn’t spend much time worrying about people who think he isn’t playing fair. “I have no comment for those people, and I know that should one of us be fortunate enough to win, it will be with the highest level of integrity,” Downie said. For those who still aren’t sold, contest director Tim Schram is ever vigilant. “We’ve had families before at the BCBC,” he said. “In the case of the McIntyres, they are indeed a family, as well as a tight group of friends, who enjoy the hobby of tournament play. This is not one person, with one goal, searching for loopholes to manipulate the system.”

Schram considers it his job to make sure the playing field is level. “I will oversee tournament officials who review and audit wagers to ensure the integrity of the BCBC,” he said. “Ultimately, the officials will do their job, which is to trust but verify. There will always be players that think the world is out to get them. Our job is to ensure them that it won’t occur on our watch.”

As for Downie, earlier this year he earned a first and a third in tournaments held at his home track, Monmouth Park. Several factors have contributed to his success in 2015. “I feel as though a lot of luck has been bestowed upon me, with a sprinkle of good strategic handicapping,” he said. Downie is optimistic about the future of tournaments. “We have all seen how fantasy sports have grown leaps and bounds,” he said. “If we promote horse racing the same way, we could all benefit.”

Stakes-heavy weekend contests

Speaking of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, Saturday is one of the last two chances to qualify online for the BCBC. The buy-in is $400, and up to seven full $10,000 spots plus a $500 travel allowance will be awarded. The contest will be limited to 224 players.

Over on DRFQualify.com, the buy-in is $90, and up to two $4,000 seats to the Oct. 17-18 Santa Anita Autumn Championship are on offer. That contest is limited to 116 entries.

Here are the races for both of Saturday’s contests (all times Eastern):

3:25     Keeneland 5 (G3 Woodford)

3:43     Belmont 7 (G1 Frizette)

4:00     Keeneland 6 (G2 Thoroughbred Club of America)

4:18     Belmont 8 (G1 Champagne)

4:35     Keeneland 7 (G1 First Lady)

4:53     Belmont 9 (G3 Hill Prince)

5:00    Santa Anita 3 (downhill MSW)

5:10     Keeneland 8 (G1 Breeders’ Futurity)

5:45     Keeneland 9 (G1 Shadwell Turf Mile)

6:00     Santa Anita 5 (maiden claimer)

6:18     Keeneland 10 (maiden claimer)

6:30     Santa Anita 6 (G3 Eddie D.)

The spacing should be terrific, with all the action coming from Saturday’s three most important tracks: Belmont, Keeneland, and Santa Anita. The weather at Belmont is expected to be bad or else there would be more than the three races, one of them turf, that are scheduled from New York. There are nine graded stakes races in all, though the end of the sequence uses maiden claimers from Santa Anita and Keeneland, so there will be an opportunity for some chaos late.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think there should only be one entry allowed for all contests even for families. Let them all work at picking the horses for that one entry in the contest. The problem with multiple entries is they favor the people with big money that can afford to buy those multiple entries. Keep the playing field level which will keep it fair. Just look at the fantasy leagues where less than 2 percent of the players are winning the big money because they are allowed to buy up to 200 entries or more. Any one that reads the WSJ have seen the articles where Draft Kings and Fan Duel are beginning found out to be running an unfair contest where only a small amount of the same players win including the employees that work at those companies. Mistrust ruins these contest eventually.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's an interesting topic and one where I know there are a minority of players who feel as you do. However, you have to realize how completely unenforceable any such attempted rule would be -- it would be easy enough to just play in other people's names. Then you're creating a far more unfair environment. Allowing families but monitoring for impropriety in live-bank contests seems a good real world solution. As for mythical contests, same issue: ban multiple entries, people could simply beard it and then it's really unfair because you don't have the option yourself. The other things you have to realize are these: multiple entries are one of the key things fueling the growth in purse of contests. This means two things: 1) it's not going to change 2) if it did, it would reduce purses significantly, something nobody wants. Last point, as I've studied and written about ad nauseum, in mythical contests, multiple entries don't provide an outsized edge. They provide an edge that is bought and paid for and available to anyone, a fair edge. I'll give you an example. Say there is a contest with 50 players all single entries. You have a 2% chance of winning. Now say there is a contest with 50 entries, 15 double entries. Research shows that indeed, the double entry players have a 4% chance. But they're feeding twice as much to the prize pool. The key is you still have that same 2% chance and you're paying half as much. The smaller the field of course, the greater your chance. Against 25 players your chance would be 4% to start. The second entries don't hurt you any more than another random person signing up for the contest would -- your chance based on the total field size not the amount of multiple entries. The best players are playing multiple entries not to get an unfair chance but simply to maximize their chances of getting a result when they've already done the work, pure and simple. All this said, I agree that the optics aren't ideal, but this is the real world. To me, the best solution is to get over it and spend time worrying about things that will actually make you money. But if you can't get over the multi-entry thing, play in other formats, like head-to-head, or formats where all picks go in beforehand, or even live bankroll. Or just bet through the windows. Anyway, I hope I've convinced you to stick around in the contest world and thanks for raking the time to comment.
Tommy Massis More than 1 year ago
change the rules to allow multiple entries.
Dan Cronin More than 1 year ago
OK I agree with benefit of the doubt myself and my father playing this year , but getting entry for your daughter looks fishy ...maybe the wife and daughter bet horses and its more money in pool but it just doesnt smell right. I am sure he is a good guy and looks are deceiving and its just a family having some fun ....at least he doesnt have like 12 entries like some guys in 2wp contests.....