Updated on 11/13/2017 11:38AM

Breeders' Cup withholds Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge purse

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Breeders’ Cup has put off issuing payments in the live-money handicapping tournament it held last week in conjunction with its two-day event as it performs an internal investigation of the strategies used by several of the players who earned prize money, the organization confirmed Thursday.

The investigation of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, which had a $1 million total purse, is being conducted in the wake of a chorus of criticism from some participants in the tournament and other handicapping contest players who have alleged that players cooperated on entries in violation of the tournament’s rules.

“Breeders’ Cup Limited and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club will take all actions necessary to ensure that the integrity of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge is not compromised,” a statement from Breeders’ Cup read. The statement said that Breeders’ Cup would have no other comment “in fairness to all parties involved.”

The Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge is the richest live-money tournament in racing, and this year the contest had more than 400 participants. Players were required to put up $10,000 to play in the tournament, with $7,500 used as the player’s bankroll, and the remainder going into the prize pool. The rules require bettors to make at least $600 in bets on five races on the Friday Breeders’ Cup card, and at least $900 in bets on five different races on the Saturday card. However, those rules also allow players to skip races under a penalty to their final scores.

On Thursday, after days of discussions focusing on the results of the tournament, a group of players who either played in the tournament or have experience in handicapping tournaments sent a letter to the Breeders’ Cup stating that they believed there were “multiple irregularities” at the tournament this year. The allegations centered on the winner, Nisan Gabbay, and the ninth-place finisher, Eric Moomey.

[Daily Racing Form severed its ties with the administrators of Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and the National Horseplayers Championship Tour, which is affiliated with the BCBC, and it has launched its own handicapping tournament operation.]

The letter raises concerns about a practice that appears to be rarely enforced at tournaments, which is players cooperating on multiple entries. Like many tournaments, the BCBC allowed participants to play two entries each, but a rule under a section called “Affidavits” stated that “collusion of entries between horse players is prohibited.”

The letter drafted by the tournament players states that, according to data obtained from the tournament organizers, Gabbay did not make a wager until the entry from his long-time tournament partner, Kevin McFarland, had been reduced to $1 on Saturday, the second day of the tournament, following the seventh race on the 11-race card. McFarland would have been eligible for a $1 million bonus had he won the BCBC.

The data appears to show that Gabbay made a losing bet on the ninth race Saturday, the Juvenile, and that he then made winning wagers on both the Turf and the Classic to vault to the win, with a bankroll of $176,000, worth $300,000.

McFarland said Thursday that although he and Gabbay handicap the races together, they made their own plays during the tournament. McFarland forcefully denied that the duo “colluded” on their plays.

“I play the races with him all the time,” McFarland said. “He’s my best friend since high school. But I have my own mind, and he has his own mind.” He added: “This is a joke. This is people who are sore losers.”

However, McFarland would not clearly state the pair’s financial relationship nor whether the two would share in the proceeds from the tournament, although he did say that the two frequently share winnings from tournaments in which they play separate entries.

Later on Thursday, Gabbay said that he and McFarland co-own a limited-liability company set up to manage their tournament play, and that they do in fact share their winnings.

“I view it as a marriage, but not in the romantic sense,” Gabbay said. “It’s no different if you are a husband-and-wife team playing in a tournament. If one wins, then of course the other gets to share in it.”

Gabbay also said that he believed there were two strategies to winning the tournament. “One is to bet aggressively early and build up a big stack, the other is to wait and try to win it on the last two races,” Gabbay said. “[McFarland] played it one way, and I played it the other.”

Gabbay also said that he did not believe that what he and McFarland did was against the rules. “That’s certainly not how I look at it,” Gabbay said. “We’ve been playing in this thing since the beginning, and it’s certainly no secret the way we play.”

Moomey had two entries in the tournament. The letter from the players stated that they believed that Moomey also had directed the picks for two other entries that were in the name of Roger Ball, whom the letter said is “a friend and associate … with whom he has been known to go partners with in tournaments.” Moomey’s ninth-place entry had a total bankroll of $53,377, with most of the total earned in the seventh race on Friday, the Juvenile Turf, according to the wagering records. His other entry and both of Ball’s entries went bust on the same race.

On Saturday morning, Moomey said he would not comment about his tournament strategy, "outside of talking with [Breeders' Cup] officials," citing the ongoing audit by the Breeders' Cup.

The letter was signed by Ray Arsenault, Eric Bialek, Sean Boarman, Charlie Davis, Jackie Jenkins, Jonathon Kinchen, Dan Kovalesky, Mike Mulvihill, Garett Skiba, Brent Sumja, and Nick Tammaro. All are veteran tournament players.

Many tournament players have tight relationships with other players, including husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and lifelong friends. And the definition of players who are “partners” appears to share a large number of characteristics of players who could also be defined as colluding, an accusation that is difficult to prove without extensive monitoring of players’ behavior.

In addition, executives with experience in running tournaments said that it is widely known that many players coordinate with other players or run the picks for other entries that are not in their name, and that singling out one or a handful of players for collusive behavior would open up a hornet’s nest of accusations among regular tournament participants, some of whom have contentious relationships with other competitors.

Ken Kirchner, a former wagering consultant for the Breeders’ Cup who co-created the BCBC in 2009 and is now retired, said that nearly every major tournament leads to complaints from competitors of collusion by other players. However, he said that to his knowledge, not a single player has ever been disqualified from a tournament for violating a prohibition on collusion.

“It’s a very difficult thing to ascertain,” Kirchner said. Kirchner also oversaw DRF’s tournament operations for several years as the company’s senior vice president, DRF Tournaments, after his tenure at the Breeders’ Cup.

The predecessor of the National Horseplayers Championship Tour once had language prohibiting “collusion,” but the rule was removed more than a decade ago because officials realized that it was “totally unenforceable,” according to one of the tournament executives.

The investigation could have enormous financial implications due to the fact that the winner of the BCBC is eligible to win a $3 million bonus if he or she also goes on to win the National Horseplayers Championship in February. Players in the BCBC also accrue points toward yearly standings in the NHC Tour, with the total points leader winning $100,000. Moomey is currently ranked fourth on the tour standings.