11/26/2013 11:12AM

Peter T. Fornatale: Modern-day player has plenty to be thankful for

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As we approach Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to take a few minutes to write about five things that contest players – all horseplayers really – should be thankful for. Feel free to add reasons of your own in the comments section of this piece at www.drf.com.

1. Better data

In horse racing, like in so many other industries, computers have revolutionized the way the game is played. In doing the research for my new book, “The Winning Contest Player,” I spoke with successful tournament veteran Mark McGuire about how technology, specifically DRF ’s own Formulator, has made his life easier.

McGuire said: “Formulator does in minutes what it used to take me hours to do. Back in the old days I’d have all the tapes on VHS. I’d have to fast forward just to find the races I wanted. Then I’d go back through old Racing Forms to find charts and make comparisons. It could take eight hours to handicap a card. With Formulator you now have all of that stuff at your fingertips.”

Gone are the days of using a pair of scissors and a magnet to affix a horse’s past performance to your refrigerator, hoping you’ll notice when he’s entered again. Whatever your style of handicapping, it’s safe to say that computers have made your life easier.

2. More convenience

Computers have helped save contest players thousands upon thousands of dollars in travel expenses. In the old days, one would have to travel across the country to various live venues to play and hopefully qualify for the NHC. These days, it’s as easy as logging into one of the many contest sites out there like NHCQualify.com, BCQualify.com or PublicHandicapper.com, among several others.

Of course, it’s not only contest players who have reaped the benefits of being able to wager online. I, for one, will not miss the bus trips out to the Meadowlands I used to have to take a decade ago just for the privilege of betting on the full card in California. Now I can roll out of bed and watch European simulcast racing in my pajamas.

3. New California claiming rule

One of the toughest things about betting claiming races is the guessing game. Is the horse dropping because connections want a win or is he dropping because of a physical issue? I asked former successful trainer and current contest enthusiast Brent Sumja about this.

“Some of the guessing in those situations is being taken out of the equation with this new rule in California, where if a horse is claimed [and] he’s unsound you can give the horse back,” Sumja said. “I think it’s the greatest rule in terms of promoting the safety of the animals and also for handicappers as well. Over time these guys are going to learn that you can’t enter an injured horse because he’s going to be coming back to you anyway.”

Anything that’s better for the horses and better for the players is something I think that we all should be thankful for.

4. 100% payback tournaments

In horse racing, the economic engine is takeout: The percentage of money deducted from every dollar wagered. Certain contests provide players with a workaround that allows them to not only avoid takeout but, in some instances, actually allow you to play in pools where more value is being paid out to the players than is going in to the pool in the first place. These contests include the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, the Wynn Handicapping Challenge (held in early August in Las Vegas) and the three New York Racing Association contests (Belmont in June, Saratoga in August, Aqueduct in November). I recommend you try to play in as many of these type of tournaments as possible. If the buy-ins are beyond your scope, put together a syndicate. You won’t find better opportunities.

5. Low-takeout pick fives

Even die-hard contest players aren’t going to be able to find good opportunities every day. The low takeout pick fives can be contest substitutes, as they are a bit like mini-tournaments themselves. You must survive to advance, and good longshot picks can be rewarded in a big way. Pick fives also allow players to focus on a limited number of races and play in a low-takeout environment. It’s the best parimutuel bet in racing and I’m extremely grateful for its existence.

Del More than 1 year ago
I am also a big fan of formulator. I am interested in using it on a smart tv which I'm preparing to buy. Anybody with an opinion on this idea? Is that inferior to simply hooking up a computer to a flat panel tv? The reason for my interest is that my eyes get fatigued reading the formulator and I think it'd be easier to read on a large tv. I'd like to see an article on how people maximize their experience with formulator by incorporating smart electronics. Let people comment on their own setups. I e-mailed customer service but I thought you (Peter) might be able to forward the idea to the editor in chief.
Wayne Gunter More than 1 year ago
HI Peter, I guess the article I sent Monday was too strong to print. Sorry about that, but the race in questiion cost me a good chance to finish high in Horse Tourneys contest. My selection was leading until Bee and Cones horse swep by on the outside. Ithink my horse would have finished 2nd Instead of 4th. I altered my play selection and after this and finished out of money. Anyhow i hope what goes around comes around.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I actually never even saw your previous post. You used one of the "magic" words that causes the site to block comments. I'm glad you tried again. As for things coming around, I'd say that's right. If you know what you're doing, your time will come.
Lenny Mamola More than 1 year ago
And much much more
Lenny Mamola More than 1 year ago
It tales a lot more than what you wrote about...You have to know training procedures know the jockeys and their styles suited...You have to know the "Class" factor...You have to take notes off the replays......You have to know the various tracks and there grade status from where they ship from...You have to realize a eastern speed horse will improve on a west coast track...And on and on it takes a lot of experience and on the job schooling...Even breeding sometimes enters the picture....And the trainers...they are a important issue .............
Eric More than 1 year ago
While I could be thankful for the recent success I have had playing tournaments, I am most thankful for the friendships I make while at these exciting events. Like minded people that share some of the same passions in life. Happy Thanksgiving my friend and to all contest players out there both new and old! - Eric Moomey
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Hey Eric: Tx for joining in the conversation here at DRF. And good luck wherever you are playing this weekend!
Hello Newman More than 1 year ago
Question to Peter. The European way of reporting a horses performance is a frickin nightmare. All you get is where they finished and a comment. Rated towards rear, could not sustain bid. Why do they do that? Why will they not adapt to the way TRackus or DRF reports a race. My point is.. I will not bet on European races. That is a loss of revenue to them.. their loss.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
You can find a lot of great information on European races if you look in the right places. I use websites including attheraces, racinguk and racingpost.
Hello Newman More than 1 year ago
Thanks for replying. that blows me away when a person with a busy sched makes themselves accessible. For me "Pace makes a race" So I look closely at fractions, posts, track conditions and all culminating in the right trip. You just can't get that from European racing forums. thanks again, Newman
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
My pleasure, Newman. The narrative blurbs on the racingpost site give you some idea of pace, as can watching the race replays. But if you want charts like we have, you'd have to make them yourself, an arduous task! Even more arduous would be to make your own sectional times for Euro races -- which I know some players do. Pace oriented players are probably better off sticking to the USA stuff unless they want to put in a lot of extra work. Of course, the extra work might be worth it because then you'd have proprietary information -- like having the Beyer figures before they were printed in the paper. . .
AllanW More than 1 year ago
betting in Europe takes a completely different handicapping, first of all no dirt racing. only synthetic and turf. pace might make the race in America but in Europe, ALL the jocks save horse for the end. Late energy wins quite a few more races in Europe than in America. Lone F trips? very rare in Europe.
Boyd Cord More than 1 year ago
I find racingpost to be excellent. Check their international statisitics, you can list the top horses by country, distance by it's RPR rating. They are accurate with non-US horses( imho). Also international federation of Horse Racing authorities has some good information.. In Europe I've learned to use Video from Youtube. For instance I watched vdieo of Treve race before the arc de trimpohe. It was no surpirse he crushed that field. Also learn the tracks, France Gallop is a good site for France. About half of their top horses train , at one track (chantilly I think). And learn the owners. it's a group 1 game of privledge over there.
Boyd Cord More than 1 year ago
I would like to know what their final 2 furlong time is. Since it all comes at the end in their racing. I play a lot overseas. It took me a long time to understand it in a way that I could have good days. For years I wanted no part of it because of the program too. 1. Overseas on Grass is about Form and Class in the average races. If they came in 13th in the last race , they don't come back to win by 5 lengths like they do in the US. Usually it means they're outclassed. Relative Final Time and Surface condition are important.. I'll try to group past performances by track, time, and surface condition. 2. You have to read the intentions of the connections and know the connections. In Mutil-million dollar races do not be afraid of a horse running for 2nd-3rd in previous 200k races while the others have been running for 2 mil. They're prepping the horse for the big race, they're much more patient than Americans. They tend to stick to a plan. 3. racingpost is very good.
Sinatra Jeter More than 1 year ago
Group I, Group II, Group III and Listed races are where the best Europeans and world class (foreign countries) run their better stock. When you seen the Racing Post Figures in the 115-140 then you are seeing the best runners. Don't let an Argentine GR I fool you into thinking that they are not competitive in the U.S. There are many foreign horses that never make it to the U.S. but when they do don't let the running lines fool you if you don't consider the above factors.
T More than 1 year ago
Love reading your blog and look forward to buying your book. There's been nothing written on contests since Noel Michael's Handicapping Contest Book.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Thank you! I am very pleased that Noel has been an active participant in my book. There would be no book of mine without Noel's groundbreaking work.
John Murphy More than 1 year ago
Other than the 3 sites listed, are there other online opportunites that will lead to the National Handicapping Championship?
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Oh, yes, lots of them. The best place to find a complete list of qualifiers is on the ntra website. Navigate to the NHC tab and then click on NHC tour schedule for a full list.
Adam More than 1 year ago
What am I thankful for? I am thankful that not as many people as you imply are in favor of the asinine new California claiming rule. Buyer beware. Duh. That's the game. And as I remind horseplayers in all discussions of horse treatment morality (including, for example, the lasix debate), if you want to be pure and holy don't race these horses at all. That's what's best for the animal. Otherwise keep quiet and let the market dictate the rules.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
If horses weren't raced at all, there would be a lot of dead horses. That's not something anybody wants. I want to try do what's best for the animals in the context of our sport. As far as that goal goes, I think the Cali claiming rule is great. As for your idea I should "keep quiet and let the market dictate the rules," all I can say is you missed your calling: you'd make a great politician.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
OK, so DRF enters into some agreement with these tourney sites and yours is now the most prolific blog on this website. Why not throw us a bone? How about a promo code for a free card if we take the plunge for a contest? BTW, does DRF create a composite card for a contest if it includes races for multiple tracks? Apologies if that has been asked and answered.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Several good ideas here. I will run these up the flag pole and see if anyone salutes! As for my being prolific: I write better than those who write fast and faster than those who write well I guess ;)
Wonderagain More than 1 year ago
I know Brisnet has a custom card feature which allows you to build a pdf file of pp's of interest. It's a cool feature though you are charged for each track from which you pull pp's. So, no $ value to the player. Not sure if DRF has this feature. But, in this age of simulcasting and in-home wagering, I'm not playing one track. In my case, I'm interested in and potentially playing turf races across several tracks w/the occasional interesting dirt race. The ability to buy and/or build a custom file of pp's at a discounted price would be a popular feature w/today's players, including contest players.
Wonderagain More than 1 year ago
I find it interesting DRF blocks my comment just for mentioning a competitor. Anyway, a nice feature to add to DRF's offering of products would be a customizable pp file at a discounted price. Contest players could build a pp file w/races in the contest and players like me (in-home simulcast player) who prefer turf racing could build a customized pp file of turf races of interest and include the occasional dirt race of interest across several tracks. Your competitor has a custom card building feature but you must pay for each track pp's. I've suggested offering a custom card product for one discounted price. Note they weren't interested in this customer's suggestion. Pete, it would be great if you ran that up the DRF flag pole, also, Thanks!
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
No blocking wonderagain -- at least not for that! I have to approve comments manually and sometimes it takes me a few hours to do so. I am allowed to have a life after all :)
Wonderagain More than 1 year ago
Absolutely - my apologies for jumping gun.
IRANIANMULLAH More than 1 year ago
I'm not a tournament player, only played about a dozen tied for first in one years ago and split a 5k pot.. I never got into it. Rule 3 I did not know that, will look into that. Lower-takeout on every bet would be nice
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Agreed, that is the #1 main benefit of contests to me personally. They can be a great way around the takeout.
Edward Wright More than 1 year ago
Who do I contact to learn the reason my comment was not posted?
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I moderate this forum. I didn't reject any comment of yours that I know of but I do reject comments occasionally if I deem the tone nasty or I don't think it contributes anything to the conversation.
Edward Wright More than 1 year ago
Regarding physical and financial convenience contest players and horse players are also thankful for platforms like Horsetourneys.com and Horseplayersqualify.com as vehicles to qualify for numerous onsite and online contests.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I agree those are two excellent sites as well.