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.

Chuck Seeger More than 1 year ago
Question for you Pete on a totally different type of contest: If you were playing in a football survivor pool (winner take all) where there are only 8 players left, and some players want to take half the pot and divide 8 ways, meaning everyone is getting 6.25% guaranteed money, but now everyone is playing for only half the pot, would you agree to it or keep chasing the original pot?
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
That's an individual decision where there is no right or wrong answer. Personally, I like the idea of knowing I'd get at least something for finishing in the top 8.
Paul Aussenhofer More than 1 year ago
I've seen a couple of posts complaining about "Good Handicappers" getting beaten by lucky cap horses. I worked in Vegas tournaments for several years and participated in a few too. I can tell you, the Handicapper who picks 4-5 20-1 shots is a great handicapper. If not, why are the same cappers in the top 20-30 over and over. The art of handicapping a long shot is evaluating a horses real chances vs his betting odds. Technically, a 2-1 shot should have at least a 10x better chance of winning than a 20-1 shot. That is what the paramutual betters are saying with their hard earned $$. The trick is finding the 20-1 shot that really is a 5-1 shot. How? Finding a hidden advantage others don't see. Pace advantage (lone speed or lone closer at long odds), hidden trouble (not listed in the form) or hidden track bias. A friend of mine won $69K a few years ago on an inside rail bias on the Gulfstream turf. It's not always that easy but every pick was logical and way way overlaid. The Great Tournament players know this which is why they are cosistant. FYI. If you are picking 15 $12 winners in two days, you are a great handicapper too. You should be playing real money because you would be at least tripling your $$ based on 30 selections. Any ROI of 3-1 is outstanding and my hats off to you.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Thanks, Paul. I'd say that's a pretty astute analysis. . .
Paul Aussenhofer More than 1 year ago
Peter, are the contests available in states without online wagering (like Texas)?
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I'll look into this for you and post back here shortly.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I'm happy to report that you can play on PublicHandicapper, NHCQualify and BCQualify no matter what state you live in. DerbyWars, too. So there are lots of options. . .
Lenny Mamola More than 1 year ago
What contests are there for playing on line and if you are residing out of the country ????
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Good question. . .I am honestly not sure. But I will look into this for you. ..
Sinatra Jeter More than 1 year ago
There are contest restrictions on winning prizes if you are a resident of a country outside the U.S. in many on-line contest. You may be able to enter but you should always read the rules, I've seen many contest rules on contest originating in the U.S. that the prizes are only for U.S. residents. Only Godolphin had a World Wide prize for contestants. TurfRuler
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
My research says that both BCQualify and NHCQualify are open to non US residents. . .so those might be a good place to start.
Bob More than 1 year ago
Sounds interesting, Peter. I quit participating in handicapping tournaments several years ago precisely because they were structured in such a way that in order to win you had to be the one lucky contestant who landed on the right 30-1 longshot winner. This type of format sounds much more realistic.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
As I've said many times before, no matter what your preferred way of playing is, if you like hard enough, you're likely to find a format that suits you. I'm glad PublicHandicapper fits that bill for you.
Wayne Gunter More than 1 year ago
Good article Peter, I love PHC but wish it was win and place because I cant seem to win a photo................Ican not remember any great handy capers. I bet that is why Bannananose wanted to be a bookie.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I think we can all relate to those lost photos! I like win/place myself but I think the idea is to replicate the exact challenges that actual public handicappers -- like the excellent ones here at DRF -- face every day. . .if your top pick doesn't win, it doesn't count for your ROI.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Public Handicapper allowed me to meet not only some of the best handicappers, in the country, but also people that are to this day, very dear friends as well--I read about PH on the DRF site back in 2005--started playing, keeping tabs on the analysis of the Editors and fellow handicappers, and was lucky enough to qualify for Vegas back in 2007--that trip allowed me the opportunity to meet handicappers (and Scott Carson), and we try to find any opportunity to talk Horses, and meet trackside whenever possible--- It's truly as Scott say's the Belmont of handicapping skills--not a one shot wonder when your handicapping over a six month period---Great Fun---(Harry Seaman--aka "race")
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Tx for commenting, Hank. Your stuff on PH is some of the best stuff on there for sure . . .
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
Peter please give me information on the book release and purchase info. thanks for your correspondence
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Book will be available for purchase on this very website in a few weeks time. . .keep checking back in this space, I'll be happily touting the heck out of it. . .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great new blog, PTF! I was surprised that not only 8 of the top 10 finishers weren't NHC, but just how many overall played PH and hadn't sprung for the $50! In addition to the Belmont of contests, there are other freebies throughout the year, looks like about 25-30 seats go in free online contests. (if that's your kind of thing) For whatever reason, it appears that various blogs at DRF have considerable numbers of "selection oriented" players, and I find it amusing that these types are the ones who seem to bash the contest formats most frequently... anyway, happy to have found your new blog, and want to let people know that your Six Secrets should be mandatory reading for anyone who ever places a bet on anything, anywhere. p ensign
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Wow, thanks! I appreciate the kind words. . .hope you like the new one as well, which is in some ways a Six Secrets sequel (try saying that five times fast. . .)
Shawn Turner More than 1 year ago
Where I got my start...Scott Carson is AWESOME
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Is this Shawn Turner of Maryland? Or Shawn Turner of California. Or a different Shawn Turner? I am experiencing Shawn Turner confusion, an ailment similar to John Conte confusion, also a peril of writing about handicapping contests. . .
Steve S More than 1 year ago
The same as the other contest. These guys pick all 25-1 shots and have 4 horse that pay $50 over the umpteen tries, while I pick 15 winners that $12 and only end up with $180. Seriously, is this guy the better handicapper? ROI is one thing, but being a better handicapper is another. REAL handicappers are not geared to "take shots" and hope to get lucks. They prove themselves day in and day out and are very well off, thank you.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Glad you got your caps lock key fixed, hope that didn't run you too much. Perhaps it's time to accept that contests aren't for you and stop commenting in this space about how much you hate contests? As great a handicapper as you tell us you are, surely there's a track you could playing somewhere. Does Yavapai have a meet this time of year?
a a More than 1 year ago
Peter, Don't play with stray dogs.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
LOL. But stray dogs make the best pets!
Brian Herrity More than 1 year ago
Peter: I bumped into to your column about McFarland, then the BC Contest and now about the Public Handicapper. All good stuff. I play contests year round, so reading the articles have been enjoyable. Do you write weekly, monthly or when a subject comes up that you like writing about? Will your columns be tournament-themed most of the time? Like I said, good stuff, keep it up, as I now find myself checking in to see if you have a different column out. BH
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Hey Brian, Tx for your interest. I will be writing about contests exclusively (for now at least) and my blog will be appearing on the DRF site on Mondays and Thursdays (and in the Wednesday and Saturday editions of the actual paper. . .
ghost2_ More than 1 year ago
If they're able to pick enough 25-1 shots that win and put them ahead of your earnings, then yeah... I would say they ARE better handicappers than you. This contest sounds like fun. I'll give it a try.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Very cool. . .welcome aboard!
mikemc1177 More than 1 year ago
Well then go ahead and start picking long shots.I think you will find out real quick it's not as easy as all you "I pick 30% winners and get beat by 2 cap horses" think.Tired of the great handicappers thinking percentage = better when long shot bettors are already at a disadvantage in most contests by getting capped at $50 or whatever.You guys get a handicap and still complain.It's not getting lucky when you have reasons for landing on a long price although It might seem that way for someone who thinks the fastest looking horse is always supposed to win.