12/19/2014 12:51PM

Fornatale: Perrotta adds to long list of racing feats


John Perrotta’s résumé didn’t have many holes in it. In his half-century in the game, the man has done it all. He walked hots; was an agent for 30 jockeys; he was the racing manager for champions Dehere and Deputy Minister; he bred Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold; he launched a successful racing radio show, “At the Races,” with Steve Byk; he helped write a racing show, “Luck,” for HBO; and he just penned a racing memoir, “Racetracker.” But until last Saturday, he had never qualified for the National Handicapping Championship.

Perrotta has played in NHC Tour events all year and was in 82nd place on the Tour going into last weekend.

“I had enough points that I figured I’d be in the top 150 and qualify on points,” he said, “But I wanted to make a push to finish in the top 20 and get in the money. I don’t just do this for fun – I want to make money.”

Perrotta has played in poker tournaments since the early 2000s, but has only been playing in handicapping tournaments for the past couple of years.

“I think tournaments are a good idea,” he said, “They make it more of a cerebral exercise that people are eager to participate in.”

Certain aspects of contest play are true across poker and racing.

“You know what you’re committing financially ahead of time,” he said, “And you know you’re always a longshot. Sure, you’ll see a lot of the same really good players showing up a lot, but in any one tournament you’re always at risk of amateurs having great days and beating you – look at what’s happened with the World Series of Poker.”

Perrotta has respect for various marketing efforts racing interests have attempted over the years. Many marketers believe that if you can just get people to the track, they will enjoy the experience and then want to get involved in the gambling side. Even so, Perrotta would like to see this idea turned on its head – and thinks tournaments might just be an avenue for doing so.

“People out there are not necessarily that interested in horse racing per se,” Perrotta said, “But they are interested in gambling. Maybe it makes more sense to draw people in that way – through the gambling – and once you get them to come to the track, maybe they see the appeal of the sport as a whole.”

Another issue with marketing racing is that it can be a difficult sport to portray for the outside world – with all the jargon involved, you almost need to learn another language in order to understand what’s going on. This is an issue Perrotta faced with “Luck” as well.

“I think it’s important to stay in the vernacular,” he said. “You can’t dumb it down too much. People get an intellectual satisfaction from figuring things out themselves. And if you present something that’s interesting – even if it’s a little bit esoteric – then so be it. The ones who stay with it will become emotionally invested. They’re on board.”

Despite the way things ended with “Luck” – it was canceled while filming its second season – Perrotta has no regrets about his involvement with the show, which was created by David Milch.

“It was a terrific experience,” he said, “And a heartbreak when it all fell apart. But Milch is a wonderful writer and it was a wonderful experience to work with him.”

His most important takeaway from working with Milch was that screenwriting is more of a craft than it is solely an art.

“You can learn how to write for the screen,” Perrotta said, “And if you have any imagination you can see where you go from there.”

Given his abundant experience at all levels of the game, it’s no surprise Perrotta the screenwriter has come as far as he has.