01/20/2015 2:07PM

Fornatale: It's all or nothing for Moomey at NHC

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For Eric Moomey, the 2015 National Handicapping Championship is an all-or-nothing proposition. Every one of the more than 500 players at Treasure Island in Las Vegas is playing for a lot of money – first prize nets $750,000 – but for Moomey, the NHC Tour winner, you can add in a $2 million bonus should he top the field this weekend. Asked about his chances, Moomey sounded more like a Calvinist minister than a horseplayer.

“I believe that this contest is already determined before I show up in Vegas,” he said. “If it’s my day, I’m going to win.”

Moomey’s style has always been to play aggressively in contest formats where the payout structure is top-heavy, like the NHC, but here he’ll be more forceful than usual.

“I’m going for first or I’m probably not in the top 50,” the U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel said. “My finish line is finishing first. Not in the top 10 – first.”

At this year’s NHC, approximately 80 players will have two entries in the field. Moomey is one of them, and he plans to use this to his advantage.

“There are a lot of ways to play two entries, and a lot of people get frustrated when they end up with decent scores on both but not a great score on one,” he said. “I’m going to be playing to ensure I have a great score on one or I’m not doing well at all. If I get two tickets into the top 50, I’m going to be very dangerous.”

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This will be Moomey’s third NHC, and he’s learned important lessons each time. In 2013, he got away from his original game plan – to pick price horses – late on Day 1, choosing to play chalk chasing day money instead.

“I learned to keep my sight set on the finish line,” he said.

Last year, his problem was distractions. He got caught up talking to friends, spaced on a 16-1 winner he meant to play, and was never the same after.

“When something goes wrong early in a tournament, it takes a lot of resolve to stay focused,” he said.

In his contest play this year, Moomey wanted to take what he knew he already did well – playing in online contests – and adapt that to brick-and-mortar events. By any measure, Moomey accomplished this. He won two of the eight live contests he played in, at Belmont in June and Monmouth in December, to wrap up the Tour. The first thing he had to do to succeed online was conquer the foe that toppled him at the NHC: distractions.

“At Belmont the first day I put myself in a corner, facing the wall,” he said. “I had no one in front of me, and it was easy to focus 100 percent on the contest.”

On the second day, he saw friends from the contest scene and they asked him to sit with them. With some reservations, Moomey acquiesced.
“I thought to myself, ‘Well, this is my test. This is the next level. Can I continue to play my game while in a distracted environment?’ ”

Moomey passed the test, taking down $42,500 and an NHC seat in the process. But there was more to Moomey’s successful transition to on-site play than learning to deal with socializing while playing.

“Before this year, I didn’t appreciate the complexities of an on-site game,” he said, “Online, I switch my picks a lot, often right up to post time, trying to make the best use of all available information. On site, you have to make your decision early – there can be long lines at the windows – and when you make a decision you have to stick with the decision.”

Despite all the success he’s had, Moomey’s unorthodox style has drawn some criticism.

“People say I’m lucky, or that I don’t handicap, or I just do well because I take so many entries,” he said.

Taking the last point first, Moomey did take 14 entries in a Monmouth tournament earlier this year. He did nothing wrong, the rules allowed for this. He bombed out at Monmouth, but he still made more than $5,000 profit that day from playing contests online.

Moomey explained, “I saw a chance to play the equivalent of seven live contests in one day and figured why not?”

It is not accurate to say that Moomey does not handicap. It is correct to say that he doesn’t look at traditional past performances.

“I handicap long-term trends, and I handicap fellow players,” he said. “I’m not focused on the individual horses in a given race – looking at past performances actually takes me out of my game. People have a hard time understanding how that works, and that’s okay – that works to my advantage. The main thing I’m trying to do is be different.”

What is Moomey’s secret sauce? He wouldn’t elaborate much on that point for obvious reasons, but he did offer the following: “My game relies on statistical trends and analysis. From the data I’ve collected over thousands of hours of research, I can tell you which conditions are likely to provide what type of price in which type of race.”

Pressed further about his selection-making, he said, “I look at four different systems, and what’s really powerful is when they all line up together.”
As for the final criticism about his supposed good fortune, Moomey is sanguine.

“There’s a sign that hangs above my desk,” he said. “It reads: ‘Luck is believing you are lucky.’ ”