08/14/2015 10:52AM

Fornatale: Wiener shifts strategies to win Saratoga contest


Brett Wiener won the Saratoga Betting Challenge on Thursday. Wiener came into the day at the top of the standings, and while he briefly lost the lead in the middle of the day, he never was far from the front. His winning score of $99.20 was $19.20 clear of Joe Pettit in second place. They both received cash prizes and seats at the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and National Handicapping Championship.

Wiener almost didn’t show up to play this week.

“I was diagnosed with cancer two weeks ago,” he said. “My surgery is Monday. It’s second-level skin cancer.”

A friend gets credit for Wiener deciding to play.

“I took my buddy John [Gamane] here, whose nickname is ‘Saratoga’ online,” he said. “If not for him, I wouldn’t have been here. I would have had my surgery last week, but we had this trip planned, and I didn’t want to disappoint him.”

Last year, Wiener finished second on the NHC Tour, and while he’s had success this year, he hasn’t devoted as much time to his play.

“This is the first time all year when I’ve been able to plan my day out,” he said. “Even big-money online contests, I’ve just been putting my picks in and seeing what happened. It’s too important to me to spend time with my wife, especially now with my sickness. I’ve learned life is too short.”

Like many successful players, Wiener is known for his aggressive style, but he took a different approach in this tournament due to the New York Racing Association tournament’s rules and an abundance of chalk.

“I didn’t hit any big horses to win this time,” he said. “It was all place and show bets.”

His big scores on the first day came in the place pools. He had two place horses at Delaware for $15 and $11.60.

“In this contest, there’s not that much difference on the cap between win and place [15-1 vs. 10-1], so I played my longshots to place,” he said.

On the second day, he took a wait-and-see approach, saving all his bets until late. As the contest neared its end, Wiener was in an interesting position. He was in front but possibly could have bet himself out of first with losing wagers. In the new NYRA format, losing wagers are deducted from one’s bankroll.

“I basically put on a dress and hit the place and show buttons,” he said. “I hit the last five winners, all with place bets.”

At Arlington, he used his double bet to place on a favorite.

“I couldn’t afford to lose the $4 from my bankroll at that point because the scores were so tight,” he said.

The last race at Saratoga worked out particularly well for Wiener, and he was able to increase his score while none of his closest pursuers did.

“The 8 was the favorite, and I bet the 2 to place,” he said. “I needed it to come in 8-2, and it did.”

Many players believe an onsite win in a large-field tournament will be required to win the NHC Tour this year. Wiener has that now, but between his health situation and his general outlook, he said the tour isn’t on his radar this year.

“I never, ever think about the tour,” he said. “I go to tournaments because I enjoy playing tournaments. Whatever happens on the tour happens on the tour.”

Wiener’s motivation goes beyond the financial gains he’s received in the contest world.

“I don’t play for money,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of health issues over the years. I can’t play sports anymore. I’ve already been successful and very lucky in business. At this point in my life, the contest play provides me a platform on which I can continue to compete. I also play the contests because I enjoy meeting with my buddies and making new friends and contacts every trip and all usually at great venues.”

Final standings

Rank Name Score Prize
1 Wiener 99.20 $100,000 + BCBC + NHC
2 Pettit 80 $35,000 + BCBC + NHC
3 Vinges 78.30 $25,000 + NHC
4 Franklin 77.20 $15,000
5 Cook, Sr. 72.90 $9,000
6 Cahalan 71.60 $7,000
7 Labriola 69.60 $5,500
8 Browning 68.60 $4,500
9 Cook, Sr. 66.90 $4,000
10 Filoso 65.90 $3,000

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