11/04/2015 2:19PM

Fornatale: Public Handicapper Challenge player stays the course

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The Public Handicapper Challenge is an unusual contest in that the real winner isn’t necessarily the player who finishes first – it’s the player who finishes first who was registered for the National Handicapping Championship Tour and wins an NHC seat as a result. For 2015, that man is Ed Peters, who plays as fantini33.

Peters cut his teeth at Rockingham Park. He started playing in contests in 2014 and won his way into the NHC in his first two attempts. From there, he hit a flat spot in his contest play, but thanks to a change in approach – he did extensive research on contest play, including reading “The Winning Contest Player” – he is back on the upswing.

The Public Handicapper Challenge is a six-month contest that lasts from Kentucky Oaks Day through the Breeders’ Cup. For Peters, he saved the best for last. “The most memorable race for me during the contest was definitely Mongolian Saturday in the [Breeders’ Cup] Turf Sprint,” he said. “I knew that he was the horse early on in the day on Saturday that would get me in position to play the horses that I wanted, not the ones that I needed, later on in the card.”

Peters’s contest play was mostly up and down until about the last month. He had one cap horse early to keep him afloat, but with just two weeks left in the contest, he was in 72nd place among the NHC-registered participants. From there, he caught fire.

It started with a 17-1 longshot in the Raven Run at Keeneland and continued with a 29-1 shot in the Ticonderoga at Belmont Park.

“I grabbed Sarah Sis at $36, which moved me up to 22nd with one week to go,” he said. “Then I got fortunate when 8-1 morning-line Invading Humor paid $60.50 the following week, which brought me up to seventh, about $30 out of the NHC spot, entering Breeders’ Cup Saturday.”

After hitting with Mongolian Saturday ($33.80) and Wavell Avenue ($22) in the Filly and Mare Sprint back-to-back early on, he moved to the front, and it was a lead he would not relinquish.

“I knew I had moved to the top and the picks that others had entered would not be enough for multiple people to get on by,” Peters said. “It was a satisfying end to a long, fun stretch of racing.”
Like American Pharoah in the Classic, Peters looked to distribute his energy evenly.

“My goal was to stay within shouting distance of the top throughout the season,” he said. “I figured with it being such a long, free contest, that as players drifted backwards, they would just stop playing, and that if I was persistent and remained steadfast, I could be in range near the end.”

All along, he had his eye on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, knowing he’d have nine chances to make plays in competitive races that could bring him to the top of the pyramid. “My strategy all year was to find horses that I expected to drift up from the morning line,” he said, describing his approach as trying to “handicap the handicappers.”

As a handicapper, Peters is a devoted replay watcher. “I watch lots of races, give them the eyeball test,” he said. “I look for subtle trouble and ground loss and combine that with expected pace flow of a race.”

From there, he’s a pure value player.
“I make a selection based on what I have in front of me,” he said. “I am also a little more forgiving of a bad race or two from an animal than most. I find that to be the most common identifier when finding overlays.”

Peters used that line of reasoning in June to hit with the cap horse Frivolous ($66.20) in the Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs.

You can count on seeing Peters’s name among the players on publichandicapper.com for a long time. “This was my very first Public Handicapper contest,” he said. “It will certainly not be my last.”