11/26/2013 12:12PM

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.