03/08/2017 1:21PM

Costello spreads options to gain wealth

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In the last three weeks at DRF Tournaments, Kevin Costello has won his entries to the Ultimate Betting Challenge, Keeneland’s Grade One Gamble, and the Del Mar Handicapping Challenge. What is the secret to his success?

“I started ordering my martinis shaken instead of stirred,” he joked.

In reality, Costello is doing what he’s always done. He uses an eclectic approach to handicapping to find winners and pairs that with a lot of strategy in terms of how he plays his tickets. Costello is an expert at playing more than one entry in a given event to maximize his leverage, and he’s also very strategic when it comes to multi-tabling – playing more than one contest at once.

“I’ve been playing the maximum of three entries in most qualifiers and my usual strategy is to try to maximize my best longshots on two out of the three and use some alternative options on the third entry,” he said.

He sometimes uses the same principle across different contests. In that case he’ll hedge picks against each other as if he had multiple entries – once again using the best longshot most often but also protecting with another horse he likes in a different event. It’s a way of playing that can giveth and taketh away.

“Two weeks ago I hedged myself right out of a double,” he said of the contest where using a back-up pick cost him a Wynn Challenge seat, “but then I came back and played in a UBC qualifier and a Del Mar qualifier and used my ‘best’ pick for the UBC since it’s so much sooner and I hedged my way into a $7,500 Del Mar seat.”

In a sense, Costello got lucky. But this is reminiscent of the old quote attributed to various sources, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” By using game theory to construct his tickets similar to what a great multi-race player would do, Costello has found a way to get an edge. He’s certainly not the first player to maximize his leverage in contests. Years ago the late Joe Hinson was known for such strategies and more recently Eric Moomey has used them with great aplomb. But Costello is the latest to find success with what you might call ticket construction.

Of course, there’s more to his success than that. You can use game theory all you want and it’s not going to help you if you don’t pick winners. Costello got off to a great start on Sunday with Prince of Arabia, who ended up paying him the max place points of $22.

“I played him last summer in a couple of stakes races and always believed he had talent," Costello said. "His dam was a graded stakes winner on turf and he was by Mineshaft so I thought he had the ability to run on either surface. It was significant to me that both sire and dam got better as they got older so I thought he might have the ability to run better than his paper showed.”

Another important horse for him was Pretty N Cool in the fourth contest event. Costello went old-school with this selection, leaning on a class angle. “Looking at the races she’d come out of and her earnings per start I just thought she was as classy as anything in the race,” he said. “I use speed figures all the time but the public often overdoes it with them. There was one other horse I thought classed up with her but she was even money and Pretty N Cool was 9-2 so that was an easy decision.”

He was in first when the cap horse hit at Oaklawn. “Here we go,” he thought to himself. “Now I’m going to have to go find a price somewhere. But I ended up not having to do that because the betting public gave me the price I needed.”

Royal Blessing was his top pick from the jump. He was 3-1 on the morning line and Costello reckoned he’d be more like 8-5.

“I’ve noticed at this Gulfstream meet, the turf has been playing more fair to horses coming from off the pace and I thought he was a good pace play,” Costello said.

He drifted all the way out to 7-1 and Costello pounced. “When I saw him mowing them down I let out a cheer,” he said, “and then I was I back in front.”

He managed three more collections from there and his torrid streak continued. He was a little bummed that he missed out on his early pick five at Santa Anita – it came back at nearly $12,000 – but other contest players will be tempted to break out the world’s smallest violin for that “beat.” Because any major contest you go to over the next few months – Kevin Costello probably won a seat for it at DRF Tourmaments.