03/29/2016 11:46AM

Fornatale: How the Big 3 took down the Rainbow 6

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Former NHC Tour winner Brent Sumja pulled quite the double on Saturday. Not only did he take first in a National Handicapping Championship Tour qualifier on NHCQualify.com, he also was one of three prominent contest handicappers to take down Gulfstream’s Rainbow 6 for $89,456.54.

It should come as no surprise that Sumja, who bets professionally, has a contrarian way of looking at the world. This played into his Rainbow 6 hit on Saturday. Sumja has an interesting way of approaching mandatory payouts in general. “I have a mathematical formula I use to evaluate the proper amount to invest,” explained the former trainer. “I determine the amount by estimating the total pool, dividing that number by a percentage and then multiplying that number by the percentage of dead money to the whole new pool.”

There obviously is a little guesswork involved in Sumja’s formula, but his equation usually puts him in the ballpark. The idea of tailoring one’s investment to the opportunity at hand is smart but nothing new, but when it comes to how to construct his bet, Sumja breaks some serious ground. Most sophisticated players approach a bet like this by labeling their contenders as As, Bs, and Cs and constructing multiple tickets. From there, they adjust their tickets to fit their bankrolls.

Sumja does something completely different. “My theory is to find the horses who can't win so I get my ticket up to the range that my formula says should be played to make the investment a full swing,” he said. “It goes back to my belief that, while I might not be good enough to find that one ‘separator’ winner everyone is seeking, I firmly believe from my history that I am plenty good enough to pick the horses that will not be that one.”

For this approach to work, you need a bankroll and a gambler's mentality to swing hard when the time is right. “Those of us who do this to survive, drool for days like this,” Sumja explained.

In his opinion, 33 of the 68 runners in the sequence could not win. From there, he constructed a 7 x 5 x 4 x 9 x 3 x 6 caveman ticket for $4,536. “Eliminating every horse in the sequence allowed me to construct a bet that was exactly in my monetary range,” he said, “I realize many other people hit it more traditionally and with a lesser investment but this approach just works for me.”

Sumja is a major proponent of Thoroughbred aftercare and he’s putting his money where his mouth is after his nice hit. He is donating $4,000 to four separate organizations: Friends of Ferdinand of Indiana, GEVA of California, Second Stride of Kentucky, and The Prodigious Fund of Washington. “Anytime I make a big score I want to share it with the athletes who made it possible,” he said.

Dave Gutfreund is more known these days as a poker player than a horseplayer, but perhaps that’s changing once again. On NHC weekend, he won over $100,000. Last weekend, he added the Rainbow 6.

He started out Saturday in a lucky spot – sitting in the Eddie Logan Suite at Santa Anita, where last year he’d won his way to the National Handicapping Championship via a DRF Bets contest. “I could have chosen to sit in the hotel room and play online,” he said, “but mindset and environment are relevant when it comes to gambling, and for me it’s pretty damn good at the Eddie Logan Suite.”

Gutfreund  played six tickets totaling just under $1,400 using an A-B structure with main contenders and backup horses. He considers himself lucky with the Rainbow 6 result. “I didn’t prepare enough and I didn’t construct the tickets nearly well enough,” he said, “and given the opportunity that was there, I didn’t bet nearly enough money.”

His problem was that he got too skinny in the fourth leg. “I never should have been in a spot where the top tier in that particular leg only had two horses in it,” he said. “When I tiered that race, I didn’t think of the repercussions of what I was doing.”

He described the wait between the third and fourth legs as agonizing. “Given what my opinion was, I never should have been in a position to miss hitting that,” he said, “and I would have been appalled with myself had it gone wrong.”

His actual opinion in the race was on Favorite Heir, who was nowhere, and he only threw in the winner, Bippo, because he couldn’t bring himself to single there. Logically, he should have spread more with As, but when Bippo won, he had gotten away with it.

The sequence was bet-of-the-year type stuff for Gutfreund, between the 20 percent overlay in the pool ($10.78 million bet in, 13.15 million paid out) and the preponderance of turf races. “Some people would say I’m just a grass kind of guy,” he said.

Pro player Duke Matties has numerous contest wins and cashes on his resume but he’d never hit a Rainbow 6 before Saturday. He had a lot going on. “My head was spinning between playing all the tracks I usually play, the Pick Sixes at Gulfstream and Santa Anita, and an online contest,” he said.

Matties put together four tickets for around $800. “On three of them, I singled Harmonize in the turf stakes because she just looked obvious to me,” he said. On another ticket he singled 2-1 morning line horse Prime Time Tommy in Race 9. He really thought both of his short-priced singles would win. “If that horse won, I would have hit it multiple times but would it have payed a lot less, obviously,” he said, adding that he didn’t invest more because he thought those singles meant it would be chalky.

His specific ticket that hit was a 4 x 3 x 5 x 5 x 1 x 3 combination that cost $180. In retrospect, he wishes he had taken a slightly different approach. “What I should have done was to try to hit the bet multiple times,” said Matties, for whom $800 was a modest investment given the opportunity at hand. “If I sat there and really thought about it and invested, I might have hit it 25 times.”