11/18/2013 1:16PM

Free contest rewards consistency, not luck

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What if I told you there is a handicapping contest where you can compete for cash and cool prizes, including National Handicapping Championship seats, for little or no money?

So far in this space, I’ve focused on contests where a buy-in was required. But what if you’re a new player, or at least new to contests, and you’re not sure if you’re ready to put up your money and compete? Or what if you’re an experienced contest player looking for an extra chance to qualify for the NHC by playing races that you’re likely to be playing anyway? In either case, you really have to check out the website PublicHandicapper.com, where you can compete and win cool prizes without putting down any money at all.

In its recently concluded season-long contest, the Public Handicapper Challenge, Public Handicapper sent two players to Las Vegas, Vincent James Alpino and Kyle Allaire. The winner of this season’s contest, J.C. Baumann, won $1,500 in cash and a yearlong subscription to DRF Formulator past performances but won’t be making the trip to Vegas because he did not sign up before the contest for a $50 NHC Tour Membership (Note to self: Come January, remember to renew NHC Tour membership).

It’s a simple format. Every player starts with $2. Each weekend, Public Handicapper selects four contest races – the highest-quality races available. You can play as few or as many of these races as you want, with $2 win bets only. When you miss a pick, you lose $2. As you pick winners, your bankroll grows. Winning scores vary, but the average score of the past six winners is right around $203.

Public Handicapper, which Daily Racing Form has entered into an exclusive licensing and operating agreement with, is different from other contests in other ways than just its format and lack of entry fees. For one thing, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The main contest – where NHC Tour members are competing for seats in Vegas – lasts about six months, starting with the Kentucky Oaks and running through the Breeders’ Cup. Picking a couple of long-priced horses over two days isn’t going to be enough. This contest rewards consistency. As Public Handicapper founder Scott Carson points out, “This is the Belmont Stakes of handicapping contests.”

This is the only contest I know of where the races are chosen for you but you also have the option to pass if you really don’t like a race or need a weekend off for some reason. The winners typically do play almost all the races, as you might expect. In this past season, 113 races were offered, and the winner played 107 of them. In some years, the winners have played fewer races, but never fewer than 85 under the current format.

In addition to the main contest, Public Handicapper offers two much smaller contests (no NHC seats in these). The next one, the Winter of Our Discontent, is for players looking to keep their tools sharp over the winter and covers December through January. The Public Handicapper Prep runs from February through April and covers most of the key Triple Crown prep races. It also provides an excellent prep for the Public Handicapper Challenge.

The field sizes on Public Handicapper are enormous (3,900 players made at least one pick in 2013), but I’m not so intimidated by that simply because the season is so long. You don’t need to have just one miracle day or two days – you can still focus on value and be successful. Carson makes an excellent point: “It doesn’t matter how many people you’re playing against, because you just have to pick winners.”

Public Handicapper also is an excellent learning tool for new players for a couple of reasons. All picks are public, so you can see exactly who is betting what from the moment the picks are made. There are some very sharp players on the site, and season and lifetime returns on investment are posted right there in black and white, so there is no sugarcoating the numbers, Vegas-tout style.

Also, players have the option to do little write-ups about their picks, describing the handicapping fundamentals and others angles they used to make their selections. So, you can see exactly what the best players are playing, and in some instances, you can get a full explanation as well.

Whether you are looking for a virtual free roll for an NHC seat or are a handicapper or fan looking to stay involved with racing without the commitment of betting every day, Public Handicapper is worth checking out.