05/07/2014 10:03AM

Fornatale: The secret to value in the last race of a contest

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Christopher Larmey is one of the most respected contest players there is. Tomorrow there will be an article in this space about him and his attempt to qualify for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge via BCQualify.com (registration for Sunday’s contest is open now). Today, Larmey shares some strategic insights, including the secret to finding value in the last race of a contest.

I’ve found that the very definition of what value is changes when you’re talking about a contest as opposed to cash play. Do you agree?

Sometimes the same horses are who are value on the totebaord are also value within the contest but not always. You might have to throw the usual concept of value out the window, especially when it’s late in a contest. You might have to either stab at a longshot who isn’t a good value play or maybe play a likely winner who is no value at all because all you need is the most likely winner. It can get very tactical based on where you are on the leaderboard.

Interesting idea. Tell me more about how that works.

Practically speaking, in the last race of the contest, if you’re 30 points away from your goal, you’ve got to play a horse that’s going to get you at least that many points. So that’s going to take most of the favorites, maybe half the field, out of play. And then, depending on where you are on the leaderboard, that same logic applies. There are going to be tiers of people. Some online contest sites will show you who everybody played right when the race goes off and you can see the picks are in clusters – the same horse will show up for a bunch of people because that was the logical play based on where they were on the leaderboard.

Isn’t the right move in that spot to reach a little longer than the minimum you’d need in theory?

It’s really hard to predict. You would think you would want to play higher than you’d need but then, I’ve noticed everyone tends to do that. Sometimes the ideal play in that spot is to look for the horse that opens up lower odds than you need who floats up to past where you need. Most of the other people aren’t going to look again at that horse who opened up at 5/1 if they need a 10/1 horse. But a lot of times that horse who opened at 5/1 is 11/1 by post time. All of a sudden you might be the only one in your situation playing that horse.

That's brilliant. How do try to stay aware of those types of horses?

I have my own odds line on the horses I like so I pay attention to those. Especially if a horse is 12/1 on the morning line and opens up at 5/1 or 6/1. I pay extra attention thinking maybe he’ll float up. I’ll do that even if it’s not the last race. On the horses that I like, I’ll watch their odds all the way to post time.

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Is that something you try to do in every type of contest?

It’s a lot easier to do that in an online contest when it’s all mandatory races because you only usually have one race to worry about at a time. Where it gets trickier is when you’re at the NHC or the Orleans’ contests where you’ve got optional plays and eight or nine tracks and it’s all happening at the same time because in the great wisdom of the thoroughbred industry, nobody coordinates post times. In those contests, you’re bound to miss something and some people will beat themselves up over that. I just try to stay as organized as I can and not worry about it if I miss something.

How do you stay so philosophical about that?

Well, half the time, if you miss them, they’re going to run badly anyway and when that happens I say, “OK, great. I would have played that and I missed it so actually, I lucked out.”