07/18/2014 1:03PM

Fornatale: Live-bankroll rookie wins pair of seats


The theory has long been that live-bankroll handicapping contests have a steep learning curve, and newer players would be better served by starting out playing in mythical-bankroll events. In fact, one grizzled veteran on the contest scene once warned me, “Never encourage new players to play live bankroll because they’ll just be throwing their money away.”

Try telling that to Eric Israel. Last Sunday at Arlington Park, Israel pulled off a doubly impressive feat. Not only did he get one entry into the top five, assuring himself a spot in one of the major year-end contests, Israel managed to get both of his entries into the top five, first and fourth. He will be attending both the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge at Santa Anita and the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas.

When asked if he thought he might be able to win either of racing’s most prestigious contests, Israel quoted one of his favorite films, “Let It Ride,” saying “You never know ...”

While this was Israel’s first contest appearance, he explained after his big win that he has been a fan and horseplayer for two decades. “My grandfather, Milt Israel, introduced me to horse racing when I was 7 or 8 years old, and I have loved it ever since,” he said. “He owned a few horses that raced at Santa Anita, Hollywood, and Del Mar.”

Israel, 41, regularly attends the Breeders’ Cup with a friend, and his friend suggested that Israel give the Arlington live-bankroll contest a try. Since there was no entry fee – players simply put up their own money and played for five major-contest seats – the decision was a no-brainer for Israel, a regular bettor anyway.

“I approached the contest just like any other day at the track,” he said. “I imagine I was at a disadvantage from a strategy standpoint, considering my inexperience in contests, but I simply focused on maximizing my profits through good money management and by making selections that I felt had fair value.”

The strategy paid off for Israel, who had a nice hit early, $200 win and place on Dardanian at 11-1 at Gulfstream. As it turned out, that score alone ($5,700) would have been enough for Israel to qualify for the NHC, but he kept betting because he wasn’t sure what score would be needed in the end. Israel also decided to dip back into his pocket.

“Initially, I didn’t intend to use my second entry,” Israel said. “I figured I would play with my first one and see what happened. When I went up early on Card A, I started to use Card B to see if I could get one or both of them into contention.”

That’s exactly what happened. Israel hit a nice trifecta at Gulfstream, getting the second ticket all the way up to $5,000. Meanwhile, things got rocky for a while on Israel’s erstwhile “good” card, as his balance dipped all the way down to $1,000. But Israel had a plan. He had his sights set on the penultimate contest race, Gulfstream’s 10th.

“That race was huge for me,” he said. “I hit a 4-1 shot with a big win ticket and had a large exacta with a 15-1 shot to place. That catapulted one of my entries into first place. I felt the last race at Arlington was chalky, so I viewed the 10th at Gulfstream as the play. It helped that I really felt the race set up well for Ghost On the Run, who cleared the field on the turn and went on to win by nine lengths.”

Israel was right – the anchor race of the contest was chalky. A 4-5 shot won, and a 2-1 shot was second for an exacta that paid all of $7. But one of the great things about the live-bankroll format is that you can still take a shot in a race like that. In fact, Dave Gutfreund, the fifth-place finisher, hammered that small exacta to sneak his way into the money.

Here is a look at the qualifiers and their final scores:

Eric Israel-A     $7,072.30 (Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge berth)

Frank Mustari   $6,082.50 (NHC berth)

Joseph Perry-B $5,815.00 (NHC berth)

Eric Israel-B $5,012.00 (NHC berth)

David Gutfreund $4,626.00 (NHC berth)