10/01/2015 11:26AM

Fornatale: BCBC will be a family affair for Downies

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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.