10/07/2015 8:13AM

Koury uses experience to win Players' Challenge


Joe Koury isn’t just a guy who enjoys handicapping contests – he is a true student of the game. When Koury won the Players’ Challenge in South Dakota last weekend, netting over $115,000, it was a very popular result amongst his fellow players.

The Players’ Challenge is a live-bankroll contest where players start with $5,000. Koury ended up with $23,300, plus over $80,000 in prize money and a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat. “My strategy was to try and grind away and maintain my bankroll to hopefully be in position to win take a shot late,” Koury said. “Over the two days my bankroll stayed pretty consistent, never going below $4,000.”

Practice makes perfect, according to Koury. “Four years ago when I first played in this event, I’d have needed a miracle to come out on top because I wasn’t comfortable making the large wagers required to win,” he said. “The importance of experience cannot be overstated.”

He played an assortment of bets consisting of short-priced winners, longshot place horses, and saver exactas, ultimately building his bank to $8,000 going to the last race.  “I had handicapped the race for more than an hour earlier in the day and figured that Story to Tell was the horse who wouldn’t be favored that seemed to make the most sense to center my play around,” he said. “When my friend Mark McGuire texted that he also liked Story to Tell, my decision was made.”

Koury bet $1,000 win on Story to Tell plus a $100 exacta with Story to Tell and Great Lou along with some savers, risking $1,500 total on the last race.  “As they came down the stretch, Great Lou took the lead from Story to Tell and they were well clear of the rest,” Koury explained. “Story to Tell kept fighting and in the final 70 yards he edged back in front to unbelievably get the win. I’m now 1 for 100 when that happens.”

Koury, a 51-year old chief financial officer at a major healthcare company, has been playing in contests for more than 15 years. “My first contest was 1999 in the Fall Classic at the Orleans,” he said. “For many years, we had an annual guys’ football weekend in Vegas.  That year, none of the regulars could make it.  I had gotten a contest brochure from the Orleans and decided to put up the $500 and give it a try.  I talked a couple friends from work into joining me.  They had fun but haven’t been back.  I haven’t missed.”

His passion for racing began at age 10, when his dad took me on him on a trip to Penn National.  “I bet $2 win on three horses and the last of the three paid $6.20.  I won twenty cents for the day and was hooked.”

By age 12, Koury was a regular every Sunday. “Penn National had some really good horses run there and Sunday afternoon was their big day, so I saw most of them,” he said. “I saw Told set a world record on turf, I saw John Henry run there, and others like The Very One, Sensitive Prince, and my all-time favorite Jiva Coolit, who held the track records for five and a half furlongs and six furlongs.”

The jockeys also made an impression on young Koury – and one of them was even on-hand in South Dakota this weekend. “I also saw great riders like Eddie D[elahoussaye] and Willie Shoemaker at Penn, but the all-time best memory was Steve Cauthen Day on a rainy day in April 1977,” he said. “Naturally, I saved the program.  Who’d have known that some 35 years later Steve would autograph it for me at the Players’ Challenge?”

The appeal of tournaments runs deep for Koury. “Contests take horse racing to another level,” he explained. “They offer a chance to win a big prize against a finite number of players in a strategic competition.  Because of tournaments, I’ve enjoyed VIP treatment at the Breeders Cup, been to all the great racetracks, went to the premiere of Luck, met Hall-of-Famers like Steve Cauthen and Laffit Pincay, and made many great friendships.”

One of those friends, former trainer and NHC Tour champ Brent Sumja, underlined the importance of Throughbred aftercare to Koury. “I pledged a donation and mention it solely to urge others to consider even a modest contribution after a nice hit,” he said. “It really is the least we can do for these amazing athletes.”