06/23/2015 11:02AM

Fornatale: DeVito hangs on to BCBC spot


Basil DeVito is a great supporter of tournament play who has been featured before both in the pages of Daily Racing Form and as a guest on the DRF Players’ Podcast. On Saturday, he achieved a first for himself by winning a seat to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. His experience on BCQualify.com illustrates a few valuable lessons about contest play.

Sometimes you can actually do a lot better in a contest when you’re not worried about the end result as much as you are the races at hand. Halfway through the contest on Saturday, leader Roger Cettina had built a seemingly insurmountable lead. “Somewhere around the seventh race, the leader was so far ahead, I stopped worrying about trying to win,” DeVito said, “I said to myself, ‘Okay, let’s just try to pick a few winners,’ and lo and behold, three winners later, I was in the thick of it.”

Earlier in the contest, DeVito had already dealt with the greatest frustration that a competitor playing multiple entries must face: He split his tickets. In the second contest event, he played Golden Wheels on his good ticket, getting that one up to $38.20. DeVito is not above using hunch plays in contests, and he’d originally used Il Vagabondo on the same ticket. But after hitting Golden Wheels, he switched.

“The only reason I’d used that horse was because I love that restaurant – I’ve been going there since I was 18 years old. I said to myself, ‘I can’t use a hunch bet here, I’ll use it on the other ticket. If I’d left it where it was, maybe I end up with a shot at first.”

DeVito quickly recovered after blowing off a little steam and got back down to business. After his third straight winner in the contest’s penultimate race, DeVito had a 10-cent lead over John Fisher for second. The last race was unusual for a contest race, particularly an anchor leg. It was a short field due to multiple scratches, and it featured an odds-on favorite – Stellar Wind. There were two other horses who were obvious contenders – Sheer Pleasure and Tara’s Tango – and the rest longshots.

How did DeVito decide to play it? “The short answer is, I played very poorly,” DeVito said. “I was totally wrong. From my handicapping, it looked like Stellar Wind would win. But my thought process was, if I play a 1-5 and it wins, and the second place horse pays more to place than than I get for the win and place on the 1-5, I’ll never be able to live it down. Enough people I know are either playing, too, or following along with the leaderboard that I knew I’d have to defend myself if I’d taken a 1-5 and lost. In that moment, I couldn’t defend the pick.”

DeVito played Sheer Pleasure, who ran out, and Tara’s Tango ended up giving Stellar Wind everything she could handle but ended up beaten a nose. The place points were not more than the combined win and place for Stellar Wind.

“I’m pretty good at figuring payouts, but there wasn’t a lot of time,” DeVito said. “With the short field, it should have been obvious to me that all I needed was to have the winner there but it wasn’t. If I’d had more time or somebody to talk to I think I would have landed on the favorite.”

Despite that, DeVito still managed to hang on to the spot. John Fisher, who ended up an unlucky third, played 17-1 longshot Scat Means Go, trying to catch overall leader Roger Cettina to win both an NHC spot and the BCBC spot. You don’t often see this dynamic in DRF-run contests – typically the prizes are the same for the various qualifying spots. But because Saturday’s contest had two levels of prizes, it made sense for Fisher to try to get the larger award – plus, he might have still gotten the BCBC seat had Scat Means Go just placed. DeVito was just happy to be in with a shot for the BCBC seat.

Even if Fisher had been content with shooting for second, he was still at a disadvantage. When making his pick, he still had to consider the possibility – some might say likelihood – of DeVito going with chalk there. That would have made it a lot harder for Fisher to play the chalk for fear he’d be blocked and thus drawing stone-cold dead. This is a lesson in the power of having the lead – any size lead – in the endgame or even earlier in head-to-head matchups.

For his part, this was not a victory DeVito was planning to brag about. “I got very lucky, obviously,” he said, “but I’m excited to play in the BCBC.”

He doesn’t quite have his game plan in order but there’s time. “The online live formats really work well for me,” he said “and I’m going to have to do some investigating about how I want to play live bankroll.”

In any case, you’ll continue to see his name on the DRF contest sites. They’re great,” he said. “Three hours of fun on a weekend afternoon.”