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.

Eric More than 1 year ago
Consider this: if you like a 50:1 in a 15:1 or 20:1 cap contest do you also play it with cash? What if it wins and you still don't win the contest. It's all about efficiency. If I can earn the equivalent of the top prize amount in one wager in a horse I believe in why wouldn't you. Just make sure that your wager doesn't deflate the odds so much that it changes your score in the contest. If you like two horses equally, you can cover both. Also, don't forget contest hosts make their money on the side wagers. No wagers...no contest.
More than 1 year ago
Great point, Eric! That's a topic we'll have to cover more fully at a later time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A few years ago I sat next to a guy who like myself was in a live money contest at Prairie Meadows. I noticed he was watching a dog race on his tv at Tampa. I could tell he had more than a interest in the dog race and asked him if he played it. He smiled and said yes and I thought to myself this is the type of guy I want in the contest. It's what is known a race track degenerate as long as he is betting it doesn't matter. I knew his mind wasn't on the contest he just wanted the feeling of gambling. There are all types of contest players and a lot will bet real money on a horse and not have it in the contest. I see this all the time you asked them after they win if they had it in the contest and they say no! Personally I think if your in a contest you should be concentrating on the contest. If your not your the type of person I want in the contest I'm playing in.
More than 1 year ago
LOL the dog track. As I've talked about before, game selection is an important element to gambling success for sure. . .
Ed Kay More than 1 year ago
There is one situation where a contestant would definitely want to place real bets - to insure his victory. This actually came up at a recent NHC. In the last race in the contest, a mandatory race, the guy in second place had the winner of the race, a bit of a long shot, and so he won the NHC. The leader going into that last race could have insured his victory - by placing real bets to eliminate long shots. The situation was something like this: an 8 horse field at Santa Anita. So the average win odds would be about 6 to 1. (The mathematicians in the crowd can easily calculate the exact average win odds given the track's win takeout and estimated size of the pool). The leader was far enough ahead so that 6/1 would not be enough for the 2nd place guy to catch up. All the leader had to do was to bet every runner so that the odds on each would come out about 6/1. He might also have to bet the place pool. At the time I calculated that less than $40,000 would do the job. But the assured payoff would be several hundred thousand, after taxes. While the chances of this scenario ever coming up AND the contestant makes these bets is probably as close to zero as you can get, the folks running the NHC should never let it happen. All they have to do is make the last race NOT mandatory and make sure there is a large selection of optional races.
Dan Cronin More than 1 year ago
60% by your numbers play under $300 in a day that isn't very much if at all so I think your research shows the majority don't really play. I can tell you the contest guys I know that holds true also a few play a little and most don't play much at all. To each his own I dabble in tourneys but real money wagers is what I like best but I don't fault guys who would rather put up $165 a week times 3 entries to take a trip to Vegas .
More than 1 year ago
I guess my point was it's a myth that nobody plays -- i think those numbers show that most do. But I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder and a question of semantics. Tx for commenting, Dan.
rvraynmary More than 1 year ago
I like your observation that you are allotted so many good thoughts in a day and you may suffer diminishing returns. Go tell this to stockbrokers. Many think your best thoughts come at the end of the trading session. Ray
More than 1 year ago
I'm a firm believer in that. As for when the best thoughts happen, I think it depends on the person. For me, the best thoughts come early typically.Or very late night. But I recognize it's different for everybody.
jbluft More than 1 year ago
At the Horse Player World Series last March, the live teller windows crashed for a couple of hours. Most of the players migrated downstairs to the race book. The place became a ghost town until the live betting returned. So yeah, contest players bet through the windows too.
More than 1 year ago
I remember hearing about that! I'll have a few good stories abt playing cash during contests (I hope!) for the DRF Live feed during the BCBC.