04/15/2015 10:35AM

Fornatale: Maloney makes time for contests


If there were a Mount Rushmore of American horseplayers, Mike Maloney’s face would be on it. Maloney is a professional player, but he also likes to dip a toe into the contest world from time to time. This past weekend, he finished in the top 10 at the Keeneland contest, winning a $2,500 entry fee into the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

Why would a guy who bets at the professional level still want to spend the mental bandwidth to compete in contests? For Maloney, the answer is simple.

“The biggest thing for me is the chance to qualify for the [National Handicapping Championship] tournament in Vegas,” he said. “I’ve played in it three or four times, and it’s a great experience.”

Like many players, Maloney’s favorite part of the NHC is the camaraderie on display during the event.

“You meet a lot of people that are like yourself, serious, hard-core horseplayers that have spent years and years handicapping and taking the hard knocks at the racetrack,” he said. “There is a bond there.”

Travel is the major obstacle keeping Maloney from playing in more contests than he does.

“That’s a big consideration for me, the time factor,” Maloney said. “My day-to-day work takes up so many hours that it’s a big deal for me to fly across the country, play another track, and then come home to try and catch up on all the information that I missed in terms of track biases and trips.”

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

Maloney certainly is not the only professional player to play in tournaments, and he rejects the idea that contest players are just a subspecies of horseplayers who don’t have the chops to make it betting through the windows.

“I certainly think they are very, very good at what they do,” he said. “And there are a lot of them that either are everyday players or would do very well as everyday players.”

At the same time, he recognizes the obvious differences between the two pursuits.

“Contest play is a totally different world,” he said, citing the methods of preparation as an example. “Most contest players can get the past performances as soon as they’re available, and they’re going to work those as hard as they can for as long as they can. Whereas, a guy like me who is playing every day, there’s more of a grind involved. I take two or three weeks off a year, but the rest of the time I’m playing nearly every day and putting in maybe 70 hours a week, sometimes longer.”

It was somehow reassuring to learn that even a player at Maloney’s level can face the same bad beats the average horseplayer experiences on a regular basis.

Going into the last race at the Keeneland Grade One Gamble on Sunday, he had a plan.

“I had keyed the 12 horse at 5 to 1,” he said. “And in my actual play, I keyed in all four spots in the super. The contest doesn’t allow supers, so I keyed in the trifecta. I ended up fourth, beaten a neck for third, and if I catch that neck, I projected myself to be second, and I win an NHC seat and a full BCBC seat. But those necks are part of racing, and they don’t always go your way.”

Despite the potential for distraction, Maloney plans to participate in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge at Keeneland this year.

“I’ll try to play the contest as as much of a sideline as I can,” he said. “I have to make my regular wagering my top priority, but I’ll try to come up with a strategy to play the tournament in a smart way as well.”

The idea of playing in more contests appeals to Maloney.

“They’re very enticing,” he said. “There is a big part of me that wants to jump more into contests, especially after I play in one and get those competitive juices flowing. Every part of me wants to go compete against those guys again the next week.”

In the end, the factor that just might get him more involved is the prize money.

“It could get to a point where the purse money is so large that I felt like I had to do it,” said Maloney.

Perhaps the advent of simulcast sites participating in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge will help increase purses to the point where we’ll be seeing Maloney’s name on leaderboards more and more. If we do, the contest world will be a richer place for it.