11/05/2014 3:59PM

Fornatale: Public players score at BC Betting Challenge


Being a racing analyst can be a thankless business – you’re only as good as your last selection. You might have several winners one day but still earn the ire of the public with a tepid performance the next. The 2014 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge shows just how good a lot of players who give selections and/or cover horse racing can be.

Four of the top 10 spots on leaderboard were occupied by players who cover the sport or have covered the sport: third-place finisher John Conte (total haul: $124,958.50), Nick Tammaro ($104.674.80), Matt Bernier ($72,154), and Kenny Mayne ($51,863).

Tammaro, a 30-year old who handicaps the NYRA circuit for Saratoga Bets, is no stranger to contests. He won a seat for the 2008 National Handicapping Championship by winning a one-seat live qualifier at Sam Houston. He also played in the BCBC in 2012 and thought enough of the tournament format to pony up the cash to buy in again this year.

The extensive trip work Tammaro does for the NYRA circuit paid dividends this weekend. He also had a unique hook when it came to the wagering side of things. “My strategy was to play trifectas exclusively,” he said. “They give you the most bang for your buck and fit my own approach because you can spot live horses who may have finishing third, or perhaps second as their ceiling.”

After a poor day one, Tammaro hit several tris on day two to vault into contention. He is convinced the BCBC is the greatest handicapping contest in the world. “You have a huge bankroll to play the most competitive races of the year, and that will always make for a huge experience,” he said. “Even if you’ve fired mostly blanks, you can reach contention with one race.”

John Conte, a cast member of the “Horseplayers” television show and former turf writer who won the 2010 National Handicapping Championship, resembles that last remark. Down to the nub of his bankroll, he went all in on his strongest Day 2 opinion, Karakontie in the Mile, and got up off the mat and into contention. “I used to write a column called ‘The Grass is Greener,’ ” he said, “and thanks to Karakontie that’s true for me once again.”

Conte’s “Horseplayers” castmate Matt Bernier, now a Daily Racing Form employee playing for the benefit of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, finished an impressive sixth. Like Tammaro and Conte, he didn’t have much going on Day 1, but took some shots on his strongest opinions on the second day.

Bernier was the only player in the tournament whose picks were published before the races went off, but he didn’t feel at a disadvantage. “I don’t think the competition was paying any attention to what I was doing – there’s just too much else going on,” Bernier explained. “Maybe I was a little distracted with the other work I had going on with DRF and NBC, but I don’t think that changed anything. All my work was done at that point.”

ESPN’s Kenny Mayne played in last year’s BCBC and definitely benefited from the experience. “I had a little more of an idea of what was going on this time,” he said. “Just like the experts, all horseplayers are going to have great days and bad days.

Mayne is no stranger to racing. He’s been playing horses since he was 9 years old. “I tried to play a conservative yet winning game,” he explained. “I made large bets to show as opposed to trying to go for bombs.

In the BC Mile he liked Anondin and mixed things up a little. “I had a huge show bet, but I also bet Anodin in exactas with all on top and bottom.”

When Anodin ran second to Karakontie, Mayne was on the leaderboard to stay.

Mayne’s status as an insider actually hurt him a bit in the contest. Before the first race he texted Bob Baffert about a race in which he had three runners. Mayne was leaning toward Chitu but something Baffert said in response talked him off. Of course Chitu won. “After the race I texted Baffert again,” said Mayne. “I said, ‘You’re an idiot. I’m never listening to a trainer again.’ ”

Mayne believes the key to success in racing is, “Follow your own instincts and don’t listen to other people.” He’s looking forward to playing in the NHC, “I recommend tournaments to everybody. They are a lot of fun and a there’s a weird camaraderie between competitors.”

Mayne’s performance impressed his fellow handicappers. As Nick Tammaro said, “Having watched and been enthralled by Kenny Mayne for all these years, I’m now certain there is nothing beyond his scope.”