05/04/2016 12:36PM

Fornatale: Public Handicapper Challenge starts with Oaks


The Public Handicapper Challenge – where you can qualify to the National Handicapping Championship for free – starts this Friday with the Kentucky Oaks. The PH Challenge is a marathon contest that runs through the Breeders’ Cup.

The top two finishers who are registered for the NHC Tour will receive berths to the NHC, the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping contest, where they will be eligible to win their share of $2.5 million and an Eclipse Award for Horseplayer of the Year. The overall winner of the PH Challenge also receives $1,500 and a one-year subscription for Daily Racing Form past performances.

The PH Challenge is a contest unlike any other. Every week until the Breeders’ Cup, four contest races are selected (for the BC, contestants play eight races). You can play as few as zero races and as many as all four -- $2 win bets only. When your pick does not win you lose $2. As you pick winners, your bankroll accumulates and the highest scores at the end of the contest win. For contest purposes, there is a 30-1 cap on the odds, meaning no horse can pay more than $62.

The contest has been run every year since 1999, with similar rules for the last 14 years. In that time, the average winning score is $192.25. The best score ever was posted by Ron Reisner in 2008, when he went a little crazy and finished up with $265.90.

Another great feature of the Public Handicapper contest is that participating players get a 25 percent discount on Daily Racing Form past performance packages. Sign up for Public Handicapper at https://www.publichandicapper.com/signup.cfm.

To be eligible for the seats, you must be an NHC Tour member. Signing up for the Tour is easy. Simply go to the NTRA site, provide the requested information, and pay $50. Membership makes you eligible for all NHC seats awarded in 2016 and enables participation in a series of free, one-day NHC qualifying contests hosted by the NTRA as well.

Last year’s winner, Darryl Brenes, chose not to sign up for the Tour and thus was denied his chance at a life-changing score. “I feel like I got kicked in the gut for winning and not being a member,” he said. “My cheapness got the best of me again. I’ve had some bad beats at the track for trying to be thrifty with my wagering, but this might be the baddest.”

Brenes will be back this year. “The National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas would have been an incredible experience, and I feel I have the ability to win it,” he said. “Maybe someday I’ll get the chance to compete there and see how I measure up with the nation’s top handicappers.”

Joining Brenes in the field will be Kyle Newcomb, the winner of Public Handicapper’s most recent contest, the PH Prep. Newcomb has dabbled in contests since the late 90s but has stepped up his play of late.

“The tournament scene has become more interesting in recent years,” he said, citing the NHC and Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge as the main draws, “but tourneys also offer a complement to everyday play. Public Handicapper plays to my strengths, which are grass and stakes racing. I like the way [PH Founder Scott Carson] curates player records. I'm looking forward to the main contest starting Friday.”

Public Handicapper is also an excellent learning tool for new players for a couple of reasons. All picks are public so you can see exactly who is betting what from the moment the picks are made. There are some very sharp players on the site – season and lifetime ROIs are posted right there in black and white so there is no sugarcoating the numbers. Also, players have the option to do little write-ups about their picks, describing the handicapping fundamentals and other angles they use to make their selections. You can’t help but learn something reading what others have to say, whether you agree or disagree. And doing these write-ups can be an education in itself, forcing a level of detail-oriented work that can translate directly to your ROI.

Lastly, the PH Challenge presents an excellent opportunity for players already chasing the NHC Tour, either vying for contention at the top of the standings or trying to back-door their way into the big dance via finishing in the top 150 on points. Tour points go up according to field size, and with several hundred Tour members certain to compete in the PH Challenge, that means a top 10 percent finish here could prove invaluable.