10/27/2015 2:22PM

Fornatale: For Larmey, handicapping is a fight


There are a lot of reasons why people play in handicapping contests. Among the most cited are the camaraderie, the competition, and the chance to make money. For 26-year-old Alex Larmey, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves, playing in contests serves a very different purpose.

Larmey left active duty in 2014. He was a combatives instructor for the Army and taught hand-to-hand combat to hundreds of soldiers. He had deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, where his primary job was clearing routes of improvised explosive devices and flushing out Taliban fighters waiting to ambush coalition forces. He was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism in combat while in Afghanistan, a fact that Larmey neglected to mention himself but was reported by his father, noted contest player Chris Larmey.

His time overseas was intense, to say the least. “Once I returned home, I was having withdrawals from the lack of adrenaline in my system,” Alex Larmey said. “I had spent every day in a heightened sense of alertness. Once it faded, I felt like an alcoholic quitting cold turkey. I knew I needed something to fill that adrenaline and high-intensity decision-making gap.”

Larmey chose two pastimes to fill that hole. The first was cage fighting. “I have had several fights as an amateur mixed-martial-arts fighter,” he said. “I also regularly compete in kickboxing and submission-grappling tournaments. Fighting puts all your skills to the test; it is physically, emotionally, and psychologically draining.”

Photo credit: Sean Rayford

Handicapping contests also played a crucial role. “Handicapping, and especially high-dollar contest handicapping, is a wonderful conglomeration of intellectual analysis and chance,” he said. “To stand a chance at this game, you have to analyze every variable from weather to rumors of drug use. Each consideration comes into play, and then you are forced to make a decision, often at the last minute, as those variables continue to change.”

If it seems surprising that contests can provide anywhere near the adrenaline rush of a mixed-martial-arts fight, it shouldn’t be, according to Larmey.

“Handicapping is far different than MMA fighting, but it has its own grittiness and unique beauty,” he said. “You only have to watch a horse race on the rail one time to feel the force of those animals running as fast as possible all after the same goal. It’s a fight all the way.”

And that sense of competition transfers into the contest room. “Cheering a longshot in is an adrenaline-packed ride,” Larmey said. “When you win, it's as if you rode the horse yourself.”

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Unlike many family teams in the contest world, Larmey the son and Larmey the father are always in competition.

“My father and I compete, and it is always fun to beat him, but going against my dad in horse racing is a horrible, horrible bet nine times out of 10,” Larmey said, likening their relationship to the film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” “I am Harrison Ford, and my father is Sean Connery,” he said. “Horse racing is his holy grail, and although I might one day find the grail, it will entirely be due to my father’s life work. He loves racing, and it's hard not to get excited when you talk to him about it.”

Horse-racing tattoos seem to be gaining popularity by the minute. Andrew Beyer wrote a story this week that mentioned how trainer Maria Borell has an image of Sunday Silence in full flight between her shoulder blades. National Handicapping Championship Tour leader Jonathon Kinchen notably has Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and Barbaro tattooed on his left arm. Larmey’s ink isn’t horse-racing-related yet – at least not directly.

“I have a lot of tattoos,” he said. “If you ask my father how many, he will probably say, ‘Too many.’ I have no regrets, but every tattoo I have is symbolic of a particular time in my life, during which I continue to learn on a daily basis. Across my stomach, I have tattooed the word ‘relentless.’ I will relentlessly pursue all my goals, winning the [Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge] included.”

Larmey won his $10,000 buy-in on BCQualify.com. Even though he’s a first-time participant, it would be unwise to count Larmey out. He also has that most elusive and important of contest-player traits – absolute confidence.

“I am founded in intellectual analysis but not afraid to make the risky move,” he said. “I am not conservative, so watch out: As long as I have money in my bankroll, I am a threat. In the cage, on the battlefield, or in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, you do not want to be my opponent.”