10/21/2014 12:18PM

Fornatale: Contest players hit the windows


Dear Pete:

Are the NHC Tour members also regular bettors or are they just interested in tournament play as opposed to playing at the windows?

Mike Adams, @GatetoWire [live link: www.twitter.com/gatetowire] on Twitter

Dear Mike:

While no one denies the betting acumen of contest players who participate in live-bankroll events, there has long been a theory among serious bettors that fixed-bankroll contest players are merely a sub-species of horseplayers and that these “contest dorks” don’t actually put money through the windows. But Mike, I’m here to tell you that stereotype simply isn’t true.

In a word, the answer to your question is YES. With the help of the NTRA’s Keith Chamblin, I dug up some data for this one. When asked how much they bet on a typical day at the track in an anonymous survey, here is how NHC Tour members responded:

Less than $50: 4.9%

$50-$100: 13.3%

$100-$200: 23.0%


$300-$400: 11.7%

$500-$1,000: 17.5%

$1,000 or more: 11.2%

With over a quarter of players putting at least $500 through the windows on a typical day playing the horses, we can now assert that contest players are just like regular horseplayers, only they enjoy the benefits that contests offer: a unique way to compete, the camaraderie of the NHC Tour, and very often a chance to play for lower takeout than what’s available pari-mutuelly.

But this question of yours begs a question from me: Should contest players play at the windows at the same time they are playing in a contest? This is one where it’s up to the individual player. In some instances, especially in a high-stress, million-things-happening-at-once contest like the NHC, putting in other plays can be detrimental because it’s distracting.

At the NHC, you need every ounce of concentration on the matter at hand – winning your share of $2 million. If I were in the NHC, I might put in some pre-plays in the morning if I had strong opinions, but during the event itself I wouldn’t want to have to make extra decisions in addition to the dozens of decisions I already have to make for the contest. I’ve long been a believer in the idea that you only have so many good thoughts in a day before you get tired and reach a point of diminishing returns. I’d prefer to put those thoughts where they are going to help me most and not risk burning out two-thirds of the way through the contest.

In a typical online contest, it’s a different paradigm. The races are chosen for you so that eliminates a lot of decisions for you right there. There can be time between the races as well. This means it’s a lot easier to shuffle over to your DRFBets.com and put in plays while still having enough mental energy to do the 100-percent job in the contest.

Despite this, there are still many players who think you need to be 100-percent focused any time you’re in a contest.  I recall talking to my friend, the late Jeff Sotman, while we were playing in the Santa Anita low roller contest a few years back about this. He said, “When you’re doing this, you don’t want to be doing that.”

On some level it seemed silly to me, the idea that a $40 contest should supersede a normal day’s action.  But as I played in that contest more and more, I came to realize that Sotman’s point was right in a lot of ways.  A distinctly different mentality is required for contests versus real-money play. It’s up to you to decide if you can do the mental jujitsu needed to switch between the two.