05/04/2017 12:52PM

Everything you wanted to know about contests but were afraid to ask


A lot of excitement has been generated by the just-announced Daily Racing Form World Championship of Handicapping, prompting a number of questions from experienced horseplayers who have never played in contests but are interested in participating. Today’s piece will tackle some of the most frequently asked questions on the topic.

What is a handicapping contest?

That’s an easy one. Handicapping contests are a new type of betting where horseplayers compete directly against one another, putting up a pre-determined sum of money that gets divided among the winners. There are many different types of contests out there.

What are some of the advantages of playing in contests?

Contests offer a chance to bet a little (or even nothing) and win a lot. A player can play in a free contest and start his or journey to win their share of $1 million at the World Championship of Handicapping. They’re also fun. There's no thrill quite like seeing your name rise up the leaderboard. They offer a chance to get a lot of action for a low fixed cost. And if you go to live events, they provide an opportunity to make valuable friends and racing contacts. A lot of lifelong friendships have started in the contest room or even online.

What are the different types of contests?

You could write a whole book about this. Actually, someone already has. But for the purposes of this piece, let’s go over the two main formats.

First, there’s the typical online format you’ll find at tournaments.drf.com. In these events, players make a mythical (i.e., it’s not an actual bet through the tote) $2 win-place bet on one horse in each of a predetermined amount of races. The player (or players) at the end of the contest with the highest bankroll(s) win. These mythical contests come in two main shapes: live format, where picks can be changed until the off of each race, and “all-in,” where all picks must be in before the scheduled post time of the first race.

The other major format to be aware of is live bankroll. Live bankroll contests typically take place at a racetrack and in those, you put up a lump sum of money to start. Part of that sum goes to fund the prize pool, and the rest acts as a live bankroll, to be wagered during the course of the contest. In these contests, the bankroll isn’t fixed like in the mythical events.You can bet up to your entire bankroll at any time, just like an all-in bet in poker. At the end of the contest, the player with the highest bankroll wins.

DRFTournaments has a bunch of different types of contests: feeders, qualifiers, etc. What do these terms mean?

A qualifier is an event where a player can win into a big tournament. DRFT is currently running qualifiers for the World Handicapping Championship, Santa Anita’s Preakness contest, Monmouth’s Pick Your Prize contest, Belmont’s Betting Challenge, and the Wynn Challenge. You can win into any of all these in a qualifier.

A feeder is essentially a qualifier for a qualifier. By finishing in a designated portion of the field (typically the top 10 or 20 percent) a player advances from a feeder to a qualifier.

There is another contest to be aware of called a round-one contest. A round-one contest is a type of feeder, where once again you advance to qualifier. But the round-one contests for the World Handicapping Championship have an even better ratio than a typical feeder –  one in seven players advance to the WCH qualifiers. The big WCH qualifiers are called Grade 1 qualifiers. They’ll typically occur on racing’s biggest days and offer players the best ratios of any qualifying events anywhere, thus the name.

These ratios sound important but I don’t really get what you mean. Please explain.

The ratio in question is the amount of prizes gives to entries competing. So if the top 10 percent of a field advance, that’s a one-in-10 ratio. Some online contests have unfavorable ratios for players, where to qualify for the big event you have to be best of 65 entries. That means you pretty much just have to have a miracle day. On DRFT, you’re looking at ratios like one in five, one in 10, out to around one in 26. That means that mathematically speaking your chance to win just went way up. As a rule, the higher the buy-in is, the better the ratio should be.

What is the World Championship of Handicapping?

Funny you should ask. There’s a whole separate FAQ just on that at http://www.drf.com/tour-faq. But essentially, the WCH is a championship level online contest with a $1 million purse and no takeout in the finals. It’s limited to 200 players and will be held Jan. 27-28. You can buy in for $5,000 or you can qualify online exclusively at tournaments.drf.com. Go to the site to check out all the available options. There will be several on every major racing day.