08/04/2014 9:29AM

Fornatale: Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge worth taking a shot


Two of the most common questions about handicapping contests are, “Why should I play in them?” and “How should I get started?” Last Saturday’s Round 1 event at BCQualify.com provided the answers to both of these queries.

BCQualify.com is the only place where players can win a $10,000 entry into the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, held annually over the two days of the Breeders’ Cup. Not only does an entry to the BCBC mean that you get a great seat at North American racing’s greatest days, but the BCBC also offers one of the great wagering opportunities of the year, with more than $500,000 in prizes in a pool where more money gets paid out than goes in. Plus, there are 15 seats awarded to the National Handicapping Championship, where you can win your share of a $2 million purse.

The appeal of the BCBC for serious horseplayers and those in the Thoroughbred racing industry goes beyond the quality of the racing and the prizes. The BCBC’s live-bankroll format enables a completely different style of play than the typical format of all mandatory races and $2 win-place wagers. At the BCBC, where vertical wagering is allowed, you can make your whole tournament by aggressively betting horses who would be deemed too short in price by many to play in typical contest formats. Serious bettors playing their first contest are more likely to win than players who only know how to play contests but aren’t serious bettors. So, why should you play? Because you can get the best of the odds.

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As for the second question, look no further than this month’s format at BCQualify.com. Assuming you play horses regularly, the $110 buy-in isn’t going to seem like much. It’s still a great deal to just buy straight into the BCBC for $10,000, but it’s also understandable if that number is a little too rich for many horseplayers. But $110? That’s a number in the comfort range of a large percentage of racing fans.

The Round 1 contest itself consists of all mandatory races where you must make a mythical $2 win-place bet in each. In the first-round events, you need to finish in the top 10 percent – in many fixed-bankroll contests, you need to finish in the top 2 percent, so the top 10 percent of players advancing is really a game changer. Why? Because to finish in the top 2 percent, a typical new contest player would really need to revamp his style of play to get a total high enough to win. But to finish in the top 10 percent, it’s a lot easier to simply play the type of horses many horseplayers would normally play. If you have a good day, you’re likely to get there. In the second-round event, you must be among the top eight finishers (assuming full participation) to win your seat at the BCBC.

The way I look at it, the idea behind the two-stage BCQualify.com format is that you’re less luck-dependent to finish in the top 10 percent of two separate contests than you are to finish in the top 1 percent in one individual contest. This means the best players have an advantage over a player who happens to get lucky on a single day.

For an example of this, take a look at the players who advanced in last Saturday’s Round 1 event. The top of the list is dominated by people like Wayne Atwell, Kenneth Fields, and Curtis Meyer, all of whom have had strong years playing in contests online. Douglas Bredar, a Thoroughbred racing industry veteran who just last week qualified for the NHC at NHCQualify.com, was fourth. Michelle McSweeney, a former jockey and current assistant trainer to Tim Hills, finished in the high money at last year’s BCBC. She was 16th on Saturday and will be looking to win her way in once again in Round 2 at the end of the month.

Another industry guy, former trainer Gary Johnson, who has seemingly made it his mission to accrue as many BCBC qualifications as possible, ended up 10th. Johnson can use only one of his entries, as they are limited to one per player – but unlike the NHC, BCBC entries are transferable.

The list goes on and on. Two former NHC champs won into the second round Saturday, John Doyle and Jim Benes. Former NHC Tour champ Mark Streiff also advanced.

Kevin McFarland, denied a three-peat in the Del Mar Betting Challenge last weekend, wasted no time in righting the ship – he will be playing in Round 2, looking to fulfill his ultimate contest goal of winning the BCBC. He and his partner, Nisan Gabbay, will be two of the players to watch at this year’s event.

The quality of the players who play at BCQualify.com gives a strong indication of how good an opportunity this is for all horseplayers. And best of all, you don’t have to beat them all to have a shot to win your $10,000 buy-in to one of the contest world’s greatest events. Don’t miss your chance to advance to Round 2. The next Round 1 events will be held Aug. 9 and Aug. 16. Sign up now at BCQualify.com.

Saratoga handicapping contest

This Wednesday and Thursday is the Battle of Saratoga handicapping contest, with more than $250,000 in purse money guaranteed and a six-figure sum to the winner. Tickets for the event are sold out, with special events/promotions coordinator Brett Tessler expecting a field of approximately 270 contestants.

"This is the most people we've ever had," Tessler said. "Over the years, more and more people have wanted to play, and we're glad we could accommodate so many players this year. We're looking forward to a great and successful tournament."

Players fly in from all over the country for the Saratoga contest, which always attracts an all-star cast. Current NHC champion Jose Arias is among those expected to attend. The contest requires players to make nine $20 bets of either win, place, or show each contest day. Each contestant also must make one $40 win, place or show bet each day. Five of the bets must be on Saratoga races. 

Entries cost $1,000, and the tournament does not have a takeout, meaning that as of now, about $270,000 will be awarded, along with four berths to major tournaments. The top three finishers win seats to the NHC, and the winner gets an additional seat to the BCBC. You can follow the contest action via Twitter at @DRFTournaments and on DRF Live.