08/15/2013 3:52PM

Dave Tuley: Handicapping tournaments have their inner circles

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I’ve covered horse handicapping tournaments for Daily Racing Form since 2000. I’ve probably interviewed a hundred different winners and talked with thousands of contestants.

Whenever I see standings, I scan to look for familiar names. It’s always amazed me how consistent the top players are as I see a lot of the same names in contention time after time. (Note: It’s also a fact that if you go to the bottom of the standings and see all the people with $0, those are often very good players who just happened to blank while going for the gusto with big longshots.)

The names David Snyder and Frederick Cipriano are among the names that I have seen a lot over the years. So, when I recently interviewed Snyder, 58, of Mission Viejo, Calif., after his $46,632 victory in the Gold Coast Summer Classic on July 25-27, and Cipriano, 67, of Las Vegas, after his $106,880 win in the Wynn Race Handicapping Challenge, I was shocked (shocked!) to learn that neither had ever won a Las Vegas handicapping tournament before.

“I grew up near Aqueduct, and I’ve been around horse racing all my life,” said Cipriano, a retired electrician who moved to Vegas three years ago. “I’ve played tournaments since the 80s. I won some tourneys back then, including at Penn National, but this was my biggest win.”

“This was my first victory at a brick-and-mortar casino,” said Snyder, whose day job is as vice president of information technology for Del Taco. “I’ve won more than $200,000 in tourneys over the years, but the only ones I’ve won have been online, which usually don’t have much prize money.”

Snyder estimates he has finished second around five times, and I can vouch for at least three of those, including last year’s Gold Coast Summer Classic.

The Gold Coast Summer Classic costs $400 to enter and contestants make 15 mythical win-and-place wagers each day. Snyder was second after Day 1 of this year’s tourney with 12,140 points (cashing $1,332 in daily money) and added another 5,000 points that Friday. On the final day, July 27, Snyder sat out most of the races at the East Coast tracks and hit with Richmond County at 10-1 in Saratoga’s 11th race with only his second play.

“It was two-thirds of the way through the day, but I was in fifth place with 13 bullets left,” he said. “I used two horses per race at Del Mar and was able to hit enough to get the win.”

He had Quality Plan, the 5-2 winner of Del Mar’s sixth race (“I also used the other Bob Baffert horse [Magic Daddy], so I also picked up some points for place), and also hit with Winning Rhythm at 5-2 in the 10th where he also had the runner-up, Twisted Purpose, at 16-1. If that horse hadn’t given up the lead in deep stretch, Snyder’s margin of victory would have been bigger. As it was, his 32,060 points topped the 30,038 of Derek Lapikas, who won $15,984.

Snyder earned a berth in the Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans on March 27-29, 2014, as the Gold Coast gave spots for the top five finishers. Snyder has already qualified for the Daily Racing Form /National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship at Treasure Island on Jan. 24-26, 2014, at horsetourneys.com. In fact, Snyder earned his Gold Coast Summer Classic entry from horsetourneys.com and used the $500 extra cash to buy a second entry.

That’s another thing Snyder and Cipriano have in common, as Cipriano was playing at the Wynn on an entry earned through horsetourneys.com (as did Lapikas) and made the most of it.

Cipriano was in eighth place after Day 1 at the Wynn. The Wynn tournament costs $2,000 (for those who don’t pre-qualify) and contestants make 15 mythical $2 win-place bets, with one being designated as a double play ($4 to win and place) each day using only the races at Saratoga and Del Mar.

“I really enjoyed just concentrating on the two tracks,” he said. “Those other tournaments, with six or seven tracks and 80 races to choose from, you have people taking stabs all over. But this was more competitive, with everyone playing the same races, and it seems to take more skill to come out on top.”

But Cipriano said he also knows he got lucky as he bought a second entry, yet all his winners landed on the same ticket.

He hit with Kate is a Ten at 12-1 in Saratoga’s fifth race on Aug. 3 and then with Assateague at 23-1 in Saratoga’s ninth race, the De La Rose Stakes. Both were ridden by Luis Saez. In the Del Mar races, Cipriano added an $11.60 place price on 13-1 longshot Insideondoutside in the third race and then followed that up with a pair of 10-1 winners with You Know I Know in the fifth race and Lady of Fifty in the ninth, the featured Clement L. Hirsch Stakes. His final score of $297.90 easily outdistanced the runner-up at $244.10. Cipriano’s victory earned him his first trip to the National Handicapping Championship.

“It’s been a longtime dream of mine, and I’m really looking forward to it,” he said before adding that he’s not content with just qualifying once, as he’s still out there competing to win a second entry, which is allowed this year for the first time.

Snyder also is out there looking for more National Handicapping Championship and Horseplayer World Series seats. He also played in the Wynn tournament as well as online at every opportunity.

“After the Gold Coast, I stayed for the Wynn,” Snyder said. “It’s tough to stay in Vegas for 11 straight days, but it’s a lot better when you start out by winning a tournament.”

And I’m sure it’s way better than being interviewed as the runner-up again.