06/24/2015 4:55PM

Fornatale: Quigley plays key role in Santa Anita contests

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Santa Anita Park hosts the Gold Cup Betting Challenge this weekend, a two-day, live-bankroll handicapping contest with a $5,000 bankroll. A prize pool of around $100,000 in cash and seats to the National Handicapping Championship and Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge is expected. This is Santa Anita's third live-bankroll contest this year. The first two were won by Steven Wells and Gary Johnson, both of whom qualified on DRFQualify.com.

Contest director Nate Newby has a secret weapon when it comes to running Santa Anita's contests – VIP player concierge Tom Quigley, 55, known around the racetrack as “TQ.” Quigley has a long history of contest success as a player, including four major tournament wins, the largest of which came when he took down $100,000 in the old Gulfstream Park Turfvivor contest, which used a modified head-to-head format.

Another of Quigley's big wins came at South Point Casino in 2007 in a mythical-money contest that didn't have an odds cap, an oddity at that point. "Most of the players were hesitant to play over the cap," said Quigley. "I had only four winners over three days, but all of them paid at least 50-1."

This ability Quigley has shown – to be flexible and create a unique strategy for each tournament – is one that would serve all players well. "Players have to understand that there are so many different formats that they really have to look at the rules," Quigley said. "From there, they have to figure out what Frank Scatoni calls the ‘game theory of the tournament’ and see what they can do to separate themselves from the pack. A lot of players get stuck in the usual rut without really thinking through what it's going to take to win."

Quigley's role at Santa Anita limits his play these days. "Part of my job is to help recruit players for the tournament," he said, "so the last thing I want to do is show up and beat guys I've encouraged to play."

In addition to being Santa Anita's VIP player concierge, Quigley has two other prominent roles at Santa Anita. He hosts the prerace paddock seminars and offers race-by-race paddock analysis via Twitter (@Quigleys_Corner).

He also played a small but important role in the founding of the NHC. Through his role as the founder of The Horse Player Magazine, Quigley was friendly with many of the people who helped found the NHC, including Keith Chamblin, Ken Kirchner, and Jeff Sottman. He also knew Will Hall, then the race and sports book director of the MGM Grand, who was an advertiser.

"Together, we helped convince Will that it would be a good idea to host the very first NHC," Quigley said.

Quigley is still a fan of the NHC, for which he has qualified four times. But these days, his heart lies mainly with live-bankroll contests.

"Back in the day, when I was in magazine publishing, Del Mar's VP of marketing, Craig Dado, wanted to create a live-money tournament, and I offered some suggestions to him," Quigley said. "The idea was based on the old Cal Neva format, with the added idea that you could invest your entire bankroll at any time."

Based on the success of Del Mar's initial live-bankroll tournament, Quigley brought the idea to Santa Anita. Since then, as Del Mar's live-bankroll tournaments continue to thrive, Santa Anita has also been running multiple successful live-bankroll contests each year.

"I like the live-bankroll formats because they mimic a day at the races more than any other format," Quigley said. "The format forces you to be a good handicapper but also a strategic thinker. At the end of the weekend, you can say with some confidence that the winner was strategically the best player in the field."

There is also a business reason to embrace live-bankroll contests. Quigley said, "Starting bankroll this weekend is $3,500, and we know on average players will bet 1 1/2 times their bankrolls. And these are so-called 'golden dollars,' where the track gets the biggest percentage. That also means the horsemen are getting their cut. It's win-win for the player and the track."

Quigley is looking forward to seeing the best players converge at Santa Anita this weekend. "There are so many tracks, but there's only one Santa Anita," he said of the place he gets to call his office. "The racing is going to be great, the dirt will be fast, the turf will be firm. Players will get to wager on multiple graded stakes races with Hall of Fame jockeys and trainers."

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One of the less-subtle aspects of contests play is how great it feels to compete and win. "The whole mindset of playing the horses is that it's an ego game," he said. "If you come and play here, you not only get to experience all The Great Race Place has to offer, but if you win, you know you're beating the best players in the country – not only the regulars, some of whom are the best contest players anywhere."

In closing, Quigley paraphrased the great Ric Flair: "If you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best."

Players will have a chance to do just that this weekend at Santa Anita. For full coverage of the contest, check out DRF Live and the @DRFTournaments Twitter feed this weekend.