Updated on 11/11/2016 11:37AM

Bernick's BCBC dream comes up short


Craig Bernick of Glen Hill Farm made a tremendous run at the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. Heading to the Classic he sat third with $56,042.50. He liked California Chrome, and he was willing to risk his whole bankroll. Still, with two players ahead of him, he had a decision to make: Which pool should he attack?

“I was going to bet it all to place, which in hindsight would have won the tournament,” Bernick said, “but there were a lot of people who were within $20,000 of me and I thought at least one of them would bet everything on Chrome or Arrogate to win.”

On one hand, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get nearly 8-1 on an odds-on shot no matter which pool he chose. But as decision time loomed close, he feared that the place money wouldn’t be enough. “If my opponents bet to win, then I would have lost no matter which horse won,” he said. “I thought I might even get passed for third.”

Keep in mind that’s no small thing: First got $300,000, second $200,000, and third $110,000.

Also consider that Bernick knew he had Vic Stauffer right in behind him. It was obvious to any contest veteran that Stauffer was going to push all-in. He’d saved exactly $50,000, and he was playing for a $1 million bonus. His personal odds on Chrome to win would have been more than 20-1! That’s the value bet of the young century.

Game theory dictated that Bernick’s call to bet to win was the right one, given all else that was happening. Stauffer did in fact lean heavily on Chrome. He very cleverly managed to catch a $500 saver trifecta to preserve $37,000 and an NHC spot.

Bernick would have almost surely finished top three had he bet place, but like all successful horsemen, he doesn’t run to finish second or third. He plays to win.

Plus, he’s a rabid Cubs fan, so bad beat or not, it was still a good week overall.

Big year for three

Incredibly, second-place finisher Charlie Davis had previously finished third in the National Handicapping Championship earlier this year – an amazing accomplishment that won him over $325,000. And he wasn’t the only player to money in both of the contest world’s majors. Contest impresario David Gutfreund managed a cool feat this year as well. He finished top five at the NHC and top 10 at the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, netting over $200,000 in contest earnings this year alone.

Garett Skiba is another player who should be singled out for a fantastic 2016. He ran second at the Kentucky Derby Betting Challenge, won the Belmont day live contest, and ran 11th at the BCBC with over $40,000. Skiba’s achievements for the year might not be done. He was 12th on the NHC Tour heading in and will improve his position.

Traynor made big run at double

Bob Traynor made a serious run at becoming the second-ever two-time Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, attempting to emulate Patrick McGoey. He was on or near the lead until the very end when things went south. Traynor, who qualified through Santa Anita, finished fifth a shade under $50,000. “At least I gave it a good run,” he said.

Feeder rolls up fat score

Live-bankroll tournaments – and the qualifiers that feed into them – provide great opportunities for horseplayers. Jack Jenkins invested just $22 in a DRF Tournaments qualifier and ended up walking away with more than $35,000 and an NHC seat. “DRF Tournaments provides contest players at any level the best and most affordable way to score a BCBC entry,” he said. “I’m living proof.”

High-scoring event

Different live-bankroll contests have different personalities. The top of the leaderboard can look mild or wild, often depending on what happens at the end. With two heavy favorites comprising the top of the exacta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the overall final winning score in the BCBC was pretty low at $64,000, down from Tommy Massis’s $90,682.25 last year.

But the overall scores in 2016 were incredibly high. Consider this: In 2015, merely $16,835 was required to be 15th and get a seat to the National Handicapping Championship. This year, you needed a whopping $33,841. You have to feel a little bad for the likes of Peter Strauss, Greg Bone, and Eric Barlund. Going into the tournament any reasonable assessment would have had them making the NHC by hitting for $30,000.

In 2015, of the 322 entries, 32 players finished with over $10,000. This year, with 397 entries, that number was 62. At the other end of the spectrum, last year 200 entries finished under $1,000. This year that number stayed pretty much the same: 208.

You can find the recap of the tournament at http://www.drf.com/news/appelbaum-hits-exacta-classic-win-breeders-cup-betting-challenge.