05/08/2014 10:42AM

Fornatale: Experienced player tries to qualify for the 2014 Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge


Christopher Larmey knows what it’s like to lose a million dollars by a nose. Back in January 2012 at the National Handicapping Championship, Larmey was advising Dave Flanzbaum, who was famously on the wrong end of the Glorious Dancer photo that vaulted Michael Beychok to his seven-figure score. Larmey is philosophical about it.

“It’s helped me as a player since because nothing fazes me," Larmey said. "When you’ve felt the sensation of losing a million dollars by a nose, everything else seems trivial.”

The 53-year-old who lives in Kennewick, Wash., has an impressive résumé. He’s been playing horses since he was old enough to bet. His biggest score was a six-figure haul in the 2013 Players’ Challenge in South Dakota. He’s qualified for the National Handicapping Championship nine times (and you can bank on him upping that number to a nice, round 10 this year). At the NHC, he’s twice finished in the top 15, in addition to his helping out Flanzbaum finish second in 2012.

Larmey is also one of the editors at PublicHandicapper.com where he goes by the name of Derby1592, a tribute to the great Secretariat’s record Kentucky Derby time. Additionally, he is a member of the NTRA Players’ Committee.

Last Sunday, Larmey was one of 17 players who advanced to Round 2 of this month’s BCQualify.com contest. He’ll be playing again this Sunday (you can sign up to join him today at www.bcqualify.com/buy_advanced.aspx) under the same rules – the top 10 percent of finishers advance to Round 2 on May 25.

His strategy doesn’t change radically in the two-stage BCQ format, but it does change somewhat. “In an all-mandatory format with 200 players where I have to be in top couple to win, I just have to start stabbing if a bomb comes in and I don’t have it. But if I just have to finish in the top 10 percent and a bomb comes in early, I don’t have to change my strategy. I’m not trying to beat the people who had the bomb; I’m trying to beat everybody who didn’t have it.”

At the same time, if Larmey is one of the players who has the early bomb, he will stick to his initial game plan and resist the all-too-human urge to get conservative, “There are two advantages to staying aggressive once you’re ahead. Another longshot may still come in and that brings a bunch more people back up to you. Plus, I’m still competing with the other people who had the longshot and I’m hoping a lot of them do get conservative. The only time I’ll get conservative is at the very end. If I’m borderline to make it, then I might go for a lower-priced horse because all I need at that point is the most likely winner.”

:: Click here to purchase a copy of “The Winning Contest Player” by Peter Thomas Fornatale

The rules of the Round 2 BCQualify contests are exactly the same as the Round 1 contests – but Larmey has been missing a crucial element in his past attempts to qualify via the two-tiered BCQualify setup: luck. He hopes this year will be different, “I’ll be crossing my fingers and praying to the racing gods. Strategically, nothing will change. I’m a longshot player even when I’m betting – I’m always trying to beat the favorite and to look for value.”

Larmey’s favorite contest of all is the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. He says, “I’ve played in most of them. I think it’s by far the coolest contest because you’re at the Breeders’ Cup and you’ve got a great setup there. They really treat you nice and you’re watching the best horses. And it’s some of the most challenging racing to bet on. All around, it’s just great.”

A multi-time participant in the BCBC, Larmey finished in the money at the very first one back in 2009, but he recognizes how the event has evolved over the years, “It’s gotten kind of crazy now. That first year when I finished in the top 10 I had $25,000. Now $25,000 might not get you in the top 20 and you probably have to get $125,000 to win. People bet crazy and there are enough big prices that someone is going to hit it big. You have to be really aggressive.”

The live-bankroll formats – like the BCBC and the Players’ Challenge – remain his favorites. “I like live-bankroll formats because then I can really leverage value in races where I have a strong opinion. Plus, you can really separate yourself with one good play. Whereas in a standard win-place format with all mandatory races, even if you love a horse, there might be 100 other people who hit it just because it was a longshot, even though you really loved the horse. In a live-bankroll contest, you can maximize your opinion and get rewarded for it in a way you don’t in a fixed-bankroll contest.”