10/14/2015 12:55PM

Fornatale: Trezza approaches contests with three-pronged attack

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Anthony Trezza grew up in a baseball family. His uncle was Brooklyn Dodgers player Tommy Brown, and he played for Seton Hall University in 1980. His father was a racetrack guy. “He was very into the Daily Racing Form,” he said, “and I always kind of absorbed it but never loved it.”

Trezza preferred baseball and contests to racing, but racing was always kind of in the background of his life. He organized a local and national fantasy sports company in the 1980s. “We sold it for peanuts before it exploded,” Trezza said. Later, he went to school to be an optometrist, a job he still does to this day. But he kept playing contests, mostly of the fantasy football and fantasy baseball variety. He had some success and took down a few high-stakes games.

Two years ago, he saw the television show “Horseplayers.”

“I said to myself, ‘This is something I have to look into; it connects the contest stuff I’m doing with horse racing,’ ” Trezza said. “And I thought that since it was pretty early on in the growth of it, that maybe I can grab an edge.”

Trezza started playing contests in May 2014 and learned the game quickly. “It was really my contest skills that helped me wiggle around and win some games, and my handicapping is still evolving,” he said. “I think it helps that I don’t have any previous biases about trainers, or jockeys, or angles,” Trezza said.

As a result, he is open to anything. “My mind is always thinking about the big picture in contests – it’s not about cashing tickets, it’s about winning the game, so to speak. That’s what it comes down to, and a lot of people that I’m in contact with just don’t get that it’s a game.”

Trezza is always thinking strategy first, not handicapping. “This past weekend, in one tournament I was only up by $2 or $3 to win a $5,000 tournament. I chose a heavy favorite for a block. In the other tournament, I was worried about people coming up from way back to get me, and I ended up playing a much longer price.”

If he’s playing in four contests, Trezza might play four different horses, whereas a lot of players might just play the one horse they like across all four contests without thinking about the big picture. “That’s where I maybe have a little bit of an advantage over the next player,” he said.

Another part of his edge comes from looking at the races in a way that few others do: by actually looking at the horses. Trezza learned about visual handicapping from renowned contest player Barbara Bowley.

“She reached out to me, and we started chatting and sharing some ideas,” he said. At first he wasn’t sure about visual handicapping. “What is she, some kind of horse whisperer?” Trezza said. “Is this really happening? Can you just look at a horse and figure out how it’s going to run?”

Bowley and Trezza started sharing their skills – each rare enough in the contest world – and they each benefitted. “At night, I would just watch the races,” he said. “I didn’t want to know the odds. I just wanted to try over and over again to pick the best-looking horse. It just evolved from there. The more I dove into it, the more I knew I needed it in my arsenal.”

His friendship with Bowley took a turn in a business direction. “One day, we got on the phone and started talking, and that evolved into a website called The Tournament Edge,” he said. Former National Handicapping Championship winner and “Horseplayers” star Michael Beychok joined the team as well. “Our mission is to be a hub for the contest world,” Trezza said. “We want to create a community of contest players. We feel like there are a ton of people out there waiting to jump in, just like I was, and we want to provide a resource for them. We want this sport to grow.”

On Sunday, Trezza qualified for the NHC for the first time, and visual handicapping played a critical role. The big race for him was Belmont’s seventh. “It was a maiden race, and there was an unraced first-time starter who looked great,” he said. “He was on his toes, he had his ears pricked back, and he just looked fit to me. He looked like a distance horse.”

Shaken Not Stirred paid $46 to win and ended up being the longest-priced winner in the sequence. “Once I grabbed the lead, it was just a matter of positioning myself with my contest skills to keep above everybody else,” he said.

For Trezza, success in contests is a three-headed monster. “It’s reading the Form, it’s contest skills, and it’s visual handicapping,” he said. “That’s your package right there.”