11/06/2015 11:27AM

Fornatale: Reviewing the Public Handicapper Challenge


Public Handicapper Challenge first-place finisher Darryl Brenes has learned his lesson. The Public Handicapper Challenge is a six-month contest where participants must pick the winner in four selected races each week. Had Brenes ponied up the $50 to join the National Handicapping Championship Tour back in April, he’d be competing for a share of $2.5 million at the NHC.

“I feel like I got kicked in the gut for winning and not being a member,” Brenes 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 already has his eye on next year. “Before next May, I will join the NHC Tour,” he said. “The National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas would have been an incredible experience, and I feel I have the ability to win it. Maybe someday I’ll get the chance to compete there and see how I measure up with the nation’s top handicappers.”

The Public Handicapper Challenge wasn’t a total loss for Brenes. He did win $1,500 and a one-year subscription for Daily Racing Form past performances. Brenes is no one-hit wonder. This is the third time he’s finished in the money in a Public Handicapper contest since he started playing in 2005, and 2015 has been particularly good to him. He was third in the Public Handicapper Prep earlier this year.

As for the strategy that led Brenes to the top, it was pretty simple. “I wanted to beat the favorites,” he said. “It just made more sense to me to pick $20 horses instead of $6 horses. If I wasn’t on the favorite and it won, it wasn’t a big loss in this format.”

A few more notes before we close the book on the 2015 Public Handicapper Challenge:

◗ Ed Peters and Lawrence Harned finished first and second among the NHC-registered players, and both will receive seats to the 2016 NHC. Peters was profiled this week. Harned had a great run, moving into first early in the contest and battling on or near the lead throughout. “I have no illusions of being a great handicapper,” he said. “What I look for are longshots that have a legitimate chance, horses that have run well against similar competition or slightly less. I don’t usually bet low-price horses.”

◗ Overall, 3,725 players made at least one pick in the PHC. Only 1,085 of those registered for the NHC Tour. Of those tour-registered players, 27 percent finished with a positive ROI for the season. Of the 2,640 non-tour players, 24 percent of them returned a profit, though non-tour players accounted for the top three spots. Over the six months of the contest, 399 players played all 112 races.

◗ To qualify for prizes, players had to play at least 60 races. There were 1,575 players who did this. The top 373 all receive NHC Tour points; the top 122 all won at least 2,000 tour points. This could be significant when it comes to the race for the top 150 on the tour and the automatic NHC seat that goes with that.

◗ PH honcho Scott Carson finished 90th, which was good for 2,266 points. Impressively, four of the six PH editors posted a profit: These guys know what they’re doing. The editors play a little contest among themselves that was won by “D.Wade,” aka David Matheny, with a profit of $90.90. He hit three winners on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, including Mongolian Saturday.

◗ The DRF podcasting team didn’t fare as well, with all three of us failing to post a profit and Mike Hogan the only one who qualified for the prize pool. We’ll do better next time.

◗ “CrusaderRabbit” was in second in the contest going into the Breeders’ Cup but did not make a single pick. He had a family emergency and never made selections. Luckily, his family member turned out okay.

◗ NHC Tour winner Ed Peters (fantini33) got $127 of his $162.90 profit in October. Brenes (g-bird) got $120 of his $185.10 total in October.

◗ Carson was impressed by the number of players who stuck it out until the end. “A record 1,944 people made picks on the Classic,” he said. “Normally, many more people have dropped out by this time.”

He has seen a relationship between the PH contests and the NHC Tour develop over the years. “We had many more tour players this year,” he said. “Public Handicapper is the only free qualifier that lasts more than a day. You can truly learn as a player from it by playing every week. People start playing for free on Public Handicapper, get some confidence, then join the tour.”

◗ To see the full standings for the 2015 PHC, go www.publichandicapper.com/standings.cfm. The next PH contest, the 2015-16 Holiday Handicap, begins Dec. 5.