04/29/2015 10:41AM

Fornatale: Free Public Handicapper Challenge starts Friday

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The Public Handicapper Challenge begins Friday. It’s an easy, fun, and free way to qualify for the National Handicapping Championship. Last year, $2.3 million was awarded at the NHC, and the prize pool this year is expected to be the same or higher. To be eligible for the seats, you need to be a member of the NHC Tour.

Additionally, the winner of the PH Challenge will receive $1,500 in cash plus a one-year subscription to DRF unlimited past performances (Formulator or classic). There are consolation prizes down to the 20th spot.

To play, sign up at https://www.publichandicapper.com/signup.cfm, then click over to the “Make Your Picks” tab at https://www.publichandicapper.com/makepicks.cfm. The races for this weekend will be available shortly after the Saturday card at Churchill Downs is drawn.

Each weekend, Public Handicapper selects four contest races, usually the highest-quality races available. You can play as few of these as zero or as many as all four, with $2 win bets only. When you miss a pick, you lose $2. As you pick winners, your bankroll grows, and the highest scores at the end of the contest win. Winning scores vary, but the average score of the last six winners is right around $200.

Public Handicapper is different from other contests in other ways besides format and free entry. For one thing, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The PH Challenge lasts around six months, starting this weekend and running through the Breeders’ Cup. As Public Handicapper founder Scott Carson said, “This is the Belmont Stakes of handicapping contests.”

Contestants have the option to pass if they don’t like a race or need a weekend off for some reason. The winners typically do play most all races, as you might expect. No winner has played fewer than 85 races in the current format. To be eligible for the top prizes, you have to play at least 60 races over the six months (with four races per week, that is about 100 races to choose from).

It’s best to start at the beginning of the contest, but players are welcome to join in at any time since there are weekly and monthly prizes as well. The player with the best score each month gets a 30-day unlimited DRF past-performance subscription. And any player who picks all four winners in any week wins 10 DRF past-performance cards.

The field sizes on Public Handicapper are enormous, but you can still focus on value and be successful. Carson said, “It doesn’t matter how many people you’re playing against because you just have to pick winners.”

Public Handicapper is also an excellent learning tool for new players. All picks are public, so you can see exactly who is betting what from the moment the picks are made – the site even translates the picks to an odds line, which can be helpful when trying to figure out how the crowd might bet in a given race.

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There are some very sharp players on the site – season and lifetime ROIs are posted right there in black and white, so there is no sugarcoating the numbers. Additionally, players have the option to make write-ups about their picks, describing the handicapping fundamentals and other angles they use to make their selections. You can’t help but learn something by reading what others have to say, whether you agree or disagree. And doing these write-ups can be an education in itself, forcing a level of detail-oriented work that can translate directly to your ROI.

Each week, the Public Handicapper editors, a group that includes Carson and nine-time NHC qualifier Chris Larmey, try to get their selections and analyses in early, and there are some gems to be found. Just two weeks ago, editors D. Wade (aka David Matheny) and Stivo (aka Steve Simonovich) put Dramedy right on top in their analyses, each making the case that Dramedy was a big overlay going into the Elkhorn. Dramedy won and paid $63.60.

The Public Handicapper races also form the backbone of the racing discussion on the DRF Players’ Podcast. Each Wednesday, Matt Bernier, Mike Hogan, and I review the previous week’s races, and on Fridays, we discuss the upcoming weekend’s races.

Whether you are looking for a virtual freeroll for an NHC seat or are a handicapper looking for a way to stay involved with racing without making the commitment of betting every day, you should sign up for the PH Challenge today.