11/21/2013 3:31PM

NHC seat winner looks for live longshots


I spoke with Vincent James Alpino this week about qualifying for the National Handicapping Championship by winning the Public Handicapper Challenge.

How long have you been playing on Public Handicapper?

Only the last three or four years. My father got me involved playing on the site. He’s been taking me to the races out in Southern California since I was 10 years old, and I’m now 37. Everything I’ve come into in horse racing has been because of my dad.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your dad about playing horses?

He taught me to not worry about the odds. The odds are only one point of reference; they don’t need to be something you have to pay attention to absolutely. Just because a horse is a long price, that doesn’t mean it can’t win, and you shouldn’t be scared off. I can remember when I first started to get serious about playing the horses about 10 years ago. I had a pick three, and in the second leg, there was a horse called Punk Alley, and he came in at 60-1. I didn’t end up hitting the pick three, but I remember that feeling of holding a ticket that the payout would have looked like a telephone number had it hit. That was the first real longshot I ever picked.

Do you have an established style of handicapping?

I read [Steve Davidowitz’s] “Betting Thoroughbreds” years ago, and that’s a book that I’ve gotten a lot out of. I think it’s the best foundational book a handicapper can read. It taught me how to read the form, how to look for key races, how to look for trainer moves. And it’s so far reaching. Later, I’d read whole books about a single topic and then refer back to “Betting Thoroughbreds,” and he’d cover the same topic just as well in one chapter.

Recently, I’ve come across pace handicapping, and while it’s very new to me, it’s proving to be the most interesting method I’ve found so far. I’ve always done okay picking winners with other methods, but with pace handicapping, for the first time I’m finding it easier to figure out who the top three or four finishers might be. Sometimes you can see the race on paper exactly as it turns out, and it’s amazing.

Where did you learn about pace handicapping?

Definitely from the book everyone reads, “Modern Pace Handicapping,” by Tom Brohamer. It’s the Sartin methodology that I’ve been using, trying to look at the race as three separate races and then trying to figure out what’s going to happen overall.
What does it take to do well in the Public Handicapper Challenge?

I’m a longshot player. If I look back at my scores over the contest, one-third of my take was from one horse, a $50 horse. I also had a $30 horse and a $26 horse. In my mind, longshots are the way to win handicapping contests. I know some players get irked when someone hits a $50 horse and shoots to the lead, but I’ve seen it happen time and time again in contests. I’ve never seen anybody win a contest picking 20 chalks. You’re much more likely to win hitting three out of 20 who are decent longshots.

Will you ever play favorites?

When I was high up in the ranks toward the end of the Public Handicapper Challenge, knowing that the guys just below me were closing in, I started to play more conservatively. Groupie Doll was the horse I hit who put me in position to get the NHC seat, and she was only a $6 horse, very unlike the other stuff I was betting. I probably went too far in that direction, though, over the last three weeks, where I was playing a lot of favorites and didn’t have any other hits. My dad had warned me to think about how I’d gotten to where I was in the first place and told me not to get conservative just because it was toward the end. And I think in retrospect he was probably right.

What do you like most about Public Handicapper compared to other contests?

I like that it’s an ongoing thing that you live with for a long time instead of something that’s over in one day. That’s really cool. You get kind of a sense of community where you see the same names every week, and you see them go up, and you see them go down. It’s also great having a contest that focuses on all the greatest races that happen during the year. This contest is connected to the biggest moments in horse racing all year. It offers you everything a contest could offer.

I understand that while this will be your first time playing in the NHC, it won’t be your first time attending the NHC.

My dad’s qualified the last three years, and he’s qualified again this year, so this will be the first one we’re playing in together. But I’ve been sitting with him for the last two advising him, so I’m very familiar with the contest. My dad’s more of a hunch bettor, plain and simple – always has been. I probably know more about the ins and outs of handicapping than he does, and he’s been doing it 50 years. If I give him advice, it carries some weight, but he has a gut instinct that can take precedence.

Have you put together any strategic plan for how you’re going to attack the NHC?

This is going to be the most work I’ve ever done in handicapping for a contest. I’ve already noted what tracks will be open the days of the contest, and I’ve already started collecting results. I’m compiling all my own track-bias information, becoming familiar with trainers, jockeys, stories about what’s going on. It’s a big job. I’ve already put many hours in, and here we are months away.