10/28/2014 2:16PM

Fornatale: In live-bankroll events, have courage to bet big


With the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge on the horizon, it’s a good time to look at some betting strategies for live-bankroll handicapping contests. The biggest differences between live-bankroll contests and the typical mythical win-place contests are: 1) The money you’re betting is real (i.e., you keep whatever is left at the end); 2) You can bet up to all of your bankroll at any time in the contest (you can go all in); and 3) You have wagers other than win and place available (in the BCBC, you can bet win, place, show, exacta, and trifecta).

So, how does this change strategy? For one thing, in a typical mythical-money contest, a final score of 2 1/2 times your initial bankroll often will get you close to where you need to be. In a live-bankroll event, that will never be enough, especially not in a contest like the BCBC, with its large prize pool. Players are going to be very aggressive in the hopes of cashing for six figures. In the BCBC, 10 times your initial bankroll might not be enough. Last year, the winner, Peter Behr, put up $124,115. That’s 16.5 times the initial bankroll of $7,500.

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

In live-bankroll contests, the money may be real, but you’re better off not treating it as such. Maury Wolff was an active participant in the early days of handicapping contests.

“One of the rules I consider sacrosanct in live-bankroll tournaments is that if you’re not willing to go broke, you shouldn’t play in them,” Wolff said. “Live-bankroll tournaments are heavily biased toward people who are willing to go broke. If you’re not willing to go broke, you’re basically playing with one hand tied behind your back.”

Wolff said players should treat their bankroll exactly as if it were mythical tournament money.

“Let’s say you reach the last race, and your only shot is to bet a preposterous longshot, a horse you wouldn’t bet with counterfeit money. In a fake-money tournament, everyone will bet that horse without hesitation – it’s the only chance to win. It’s a lot harder to bet that horse when there’s real money involved.”

And that point remains true throughout the contest – many fewer players will play longshots who ordinarily would be covered in mythical-money events. As a result, those longshots might allow you to move up the scoreboard alone – like when Peter Behr made a large win bet on 32-1 Ria Antonia at last year’s BCBC.

Another live-bankroll expert, Ricky “the Quiet Assassin” Zimmer, offered valuable advice for live-bankroll events.

“You want to cut down the number of bets that you make,” Zimmer said. “The less you can expose yourself to the takeout, the better. I’m always looking for a way just to try and bet it all on one thing. If there’s nothing I feel that strongly about, maybe I’ll break it up a little bit, but I don’t like making small bets in a live-bankroll format because I feel like you’ll just grind down your bankroll over the course of the day.”

When Patrick McGoey won two BCBCs in a row, he used the same strategy each time – going all in on the last race and having the winner of the BC Classic. Waiting until late and getting very aggressive makes a lot of sense in live-bankroll events – at the end, you have a much better idea of what score you’ll need. The problem is that in some contests, a lot of players wait until the end, and in that case, the edge in doing so is diminished.

Contest guru Noel Michaels described another popular strategy. “A lot of people try to get something big early to set a score,” Michaels said. “Then they know they have their money, so they look to tread water until the last race, and then maybe they let it rip again at the end to close out the tournament.”

Notice that both of those strategies involve being very aggressive late in the contest. Duke Matties, who has had great success in contests, particularly live-bankroll events, offers another variation on the theme.

“What I do is I try to hit something early on to create some kind of bankroll,” Matties said. “A lot of guys will tread water from there until the end, but I go the opposite way. I try to hit stuff at the beginning, and I just keep betting from there. I don’t worry about holding the lead. I don’t want to set a target for them to shoot at. I want to increase my lead.”

Scott Johnson More than 1 year ago
I love the lines "hit one early..." "Hit one late." Cmon. How is that possibly something to PLAN. Luck will always have a big part. A good portion of these people are about even as handicappers go. I'll hit one when one comes my way, and it won't involve SHOW betting, or treading water.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The point that you're missing is that he's saying that rather than sit on his money, he'll keep betting aggressively -- that's the "plan" part. A lot of players will wrap up when they get to the front. Duke must be doing something right because he walked with $60K plus at Santa Anita last weekend. So there's that. . .PTF
Charley More than 1 year ago
Let's face it if horses ran true to form we would all be Millionaires. Last year Peter Behr did win the contest with a lot of racing luck! His 32-1 shot actually ran second and was put up over a very controversial DQ. The fields are big and so will the prices you are not going to win this contest playing chalks. So the horses who look the best most likely won't be played. With that being said who ever gets lucky playing something that the general public doesn't think will win will win.
More than 1 year ago
In truth, if you're willing to go all-in, you can still make some noise at the lower end of the odds spectrum as well. It's a great tourney and I'm looking forward to covering it.
Lounge Lizard More than 1 year ago
I understand the strategies involved but I assume that when the player "treads water" that would be betting a series of show bets in order to meet the minimum mandatory plays on a given day. The BCBC requires you to bet a minimum 5 bets of $600 on day one, and 5 $900 bets on day two. That is the whole $7500 bankroll.
More than 1 year ago
I think the idea is just to make the required bets in a conservative way. McGoey mentioned to me making a three horse exacta box or betting one horse to WPS. The idea is that you're looking to preserve as much bankroll as possible. Show bets would be another way if you had the right opinions.
scott More than 1 year ago
Love these articles Peter.... keep 'em coming. And to all players, good luck this BC.
More than 1 year ago
Tx Scott, I appreciate the support.
Jeff More than 1 year ago
Hi Pete: I loved reading your book. For those of us who do not have 10K to put up, do you know why NYRA ( or any other track) doesn't have a "Low" roller type of contest during the Breeders Cup. I would actually go to the Big A on Saturday if they had such a contest. I believe that it would be a great way to encourage patronage at the track.