04/14/2015 12:47PM

Fornatale: Weizer has earned the title 'comeback kid'

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Just call him the comeback kid. Twice in the past six months, Paul Weizer, a 49-year old provost at a university in Massachusetts, has been down to the nub of his bankroll and ended up with a major score in a handicapping contest.

Weizer was no stranger to contest success before his recent run. He won the Wynn contest in 2009 for $60,000 and has had numerous collections throughout the years, including an outright win at Hawthorne. But there’s no doubt he has stepped up his game of late.

Last November, he finished second at the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, collecting over $180,000. He backed that big win up this past weekend with a strong second at the Keeneland Grade One Gamble, where he won $7,500 and seats to both the 2016 National Handicapping Championship and this year’s BCBC.

Weizer has been playing in tournaments for about 12 years, “The first contest I ever played in was at Bally’s, run by John Avello,” he said. “I was vacationing in Las Vegas at the time, decided to play, and had a lot of fun.”

Three weeks later Weizer played in his second contest and won his first seat to the NHC. “I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Weizer has now qualified for the NHC 10 times. He missed out on qualifying one year and another year he decided not to try to qualify because a work commitment meant he couldn’t attend anyway.

As his recent success suggests, Weizer is a big fan of live-bankroll contests. “It’s not just handicapping it’s betting, too. You have to have both skills to succeed,” he said. “I also like that as long as I have a good contest I know I’ll walk away with the money in my bankroll. It’s frustrating in mythical contests when you do well but not great and don’t have anything to show for it at the end of the weekend.”

Weizer believes he has a competitive advantage when it comes to live-bankroll events. “There are still a lot of players who don’t play optimally in live bankroll contests,” he explained. “Players who end the tournament with $700 or $900 have no real chance to win. They are more worried about going home with some money than they are with winning. I’ll play against them anytime.”

Weizer also points out that in one important sense, the bar for success in live-bankroll contests is lower. “In live-bankroll contests, you can be wrong a lot and still do well,” he said. “All you need to have is one great opinion that you leverage properly through good betting.”

Both of Weizer’s recent successes underscore that point. At the Breeders’ Cup, he was down to his last $900. He scored out in the penultimate race, the BC Mile, hitting Karakontie to win and backing that up with a Karakontie-Anodin exacta. His $900 became over $57,000.

At Keeneland this past weekend, going into the second-to-last race he was down to $750, which he converted to $5,200 on the strength of a good opinion. Keeneland rules required he bet half his bankroll going to the last race. “I didn’t have a strong opinion but I ended up hitting it pretty well,” he said. “I gave myself a chance to get second if my horse won and I still had a good chance for the top six if she ran second or even third.”

Weizer’s strategy made particular sense because of the Keeneland contest's prize structure, which is much less top-heavy than most tournaments. Typically, there is an outsized reward for hitting the top spot in a contest, whereas at Keeneland, the difference between first and sixth is only $8,500. “Had there been a bigger difference in prizes I would have played more aggressively,” Weizer said. “As it was, I would have been very happy just getting sixth and getting the BCBC spot and the NHC spot.”

Naturally, he was thrilled with the overall result. “Jim Goodman" -- Keeneland's contest director -- "runs the best tournament in the world,” Weizer said. “It’s a phenomenal setting and they pay all the money back.”