06/25/2014 9:50AM

Fornatale: For Moomey, the thrills keep coming

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In 2013, Eric Moomey bought an interest in a racehorse. Moomey was inspired by his interest in tournament play, where he had learned about racing partnerships through Sovereign Stables, one of the event sponsors of the National Handicapping Championship.

Moomey’s first horse, Boston Strong, made his debut at Belmont last Friday, impressing onlookers with a bold run through the stretch to get third. But Boston Strong’s appearance at Belmont accomplished something else besides third-place purse money for Moomey – it led directly to his grabbing $42,500 in the Belmont Betting Challenge.

Like many contest players, Moomey enjoys the social aspects of contests and has made a bunch of good friends and interesting acquaintances via contest play. When he knew Boston Strong was going to run, he called a few of his contest buddies to invite them out to Belmont to watch the debut. One of the men he called was Paul Shurman. Shurman, the 2011 NHC Tour champ, couldn’t make it Friday, but he reminded Moomey about that weekend’s event.

Moomey, who finished fourth at last year’s Aqueduct contest in November, hadn’t realized that the Belmont contest was even happening this past weekend. Thanks to Shurman, he managed not only to secure a spot in the tournament but also to win it.

Despite an eye-catching run in the online contest world, where he is known as one of the game’s most consistent players, Moomey’s previous results in live events had been disappointing, at least by his own standards.

“In on-site tournaments, you need to pick which races you will bet on,” he said. “Last year at Aqueduct, I was leading by a substantial margin on the first day. On the second day, I liked races early in the card and quickly ran out of bullets only to watch three others in the field pass me.”

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Moomey also experienced frustration at this year’s NHC when he failed to place a bet on a horse he liked while he was busy chatting with friends at his table. Before he knew what had happened, he watched the 16-1 shot he meant to play roll home. That was pretty much it for him at NHC 14.

Going into this year, Moomey was determined to fix the holes in his game and improve his in-person play. “I studied my weaknesses and came up with a strategy to improve on my recent experiences,” he said. “It’s all about focus and sticking to your game plan.”

Moomey arrived early Saturday and found a seat in the corner facing the wall to keep distractions to a minimum. He greeted several friends briefly and then quickly got down to business. Despite losing three photo finishes and being 0 for 9 overall, he maintained his focus. “I was so excited when I realized my big play was on the last race of the day,” he said. 

In the New York Racing Association format, with its double bet, you’re almost always in contention when you still have your $40 wager available to play.

He fired his double bet on a 22-1 6-year-old first-timer named Local Motion, a seemingly desperate play. “He was coming off a very strong workout pattern and was facing a weak field,” Moomey said. Despite stumbling at the start, Local Motion powered home to win by almost seven lengths, moving Moomey into seventh place with just one winner.

After what happened at Aqueduct last year, Moomey was determined to exercise patience on the second day. With seven total contest races left, he still had six bullets left to fire. He connected with his own personal rolling double in Monmouth’s ninth and 10th races, and he was in the lead with just two races left. He still had his $40 bet left, and he used it on Starship Windsor in Monmouth’s 11th race.

Starship Windsor fired, running second, but that did Moomey no good. But he noticed that no one in the contest area was rooting the 4-1 winner home, so he knew there was still a chance. “I was thinking I either have won this thing or I have just been beaten by the coolest cat on the block,” he said. 

Despite having only three winners over the two days and going 0 for 10 in the required Belmont plays, Moomey had held on to win by $8. The result was a triumph of shrewd contest strategy. It was also a great example of how your mistakes can lead directly to your successes – an important idea for all contest players to keep in mind.

Moomey hopes to see Boston Strong make his return to the races at Saratoga. But next time, he won’t need Shurman’s help to remember to enter. He has already circled the dates of NYRA’s August contest on his calendar.