06/07/2016 1:48PM

Fornatale: Sumja enjoys good run on both coasts


Professional horseplayer Brent Sumja is no stranger to tournament success. The former trainer and 2013 NHC Tour Champ has accomplished a lot in his few years in the contest world, including a near weekend sweep of Surfside contests back in 2012 (two wins and a second).

Add another achievement to his extensive curriculum vitae - recent coast-to-coast high-up finishes at Santa Anita and Monmouth.

Two-and-a-half weeks ago he finished in the top 10 at Santa Anita's Preakness Challenge. He nearly quit on Day 1 when a friend knocked a glass of wine all over his computer keyboard, frying it in the process. But Sumja decided to stay, made adjustments, and turned his $3,000 starting bankroll into $8,063.

Sumja cited the treatment from contest director Nate Newby and VIP player concierge Tom Quigley as the reason he stayed in the contest.

"The only reason I play at Santa Anita because Nate Newby and Tom Quigley are such good guys, and they put on such a great tournament," he said.

As a professional, Sumja needs to be more conscious of exactly what his edge is than your average contest player.

"As a player, I feel like I'm at a disadvantage out there because there are guys who specialize in Santa Anita, like Duke Matties, Kevin Geraghty, and Dennis Decauwer, and it takes a lot to compete with them, but I play anyway because I want to support them," he said.

This past weekend's Monmouth tournament was more Sumja's speed because there were three tracks to pick from - Monmouth, Belmont and Churchill - and and no Santa Anita, a place where he doesn't typically do well, the previous result notwithstanding.

"It was the perfect situation," he said. "[Contest director] Brian Skirka runs an amazing tournament also, there were players from all over the country, and the tracks suited me well."

Sumja opted to play two entries and felt a little pressure as a result.

"Between the entries and the travel I had $5,000 in, so my attitude was, 'I better cash something,'" he said.

In the end, Sumja's two entries were third and 10th, netting him a Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge seat, a National Handicapping Championship seat, and over $13,000 in cash between prize money and bankroll.

"That's my style on my good days, to finish near the top but not necessarily at the top," he said, referring to his ability to grind at the windows and pick a lot of winners in the lower- and middle-odds ranges but not necessarily the bombs. "I'm not necessarily going to win a lot of tournaments but the results can still add up."

Sumja is different from most contest players for a variety of reasons. One of the most significant is that he doesn't like to bet on top-class racing and therefore is not overly excited about the chance to play in the BCBC.

"For the most part I don't pay a lot of attention to the Breeders' Cup," he said. "I skipped the Breeders' Cup contest and went with Tom Amoss to Las Vegas. I sat there and played in an online contest and had a phenomenal day. Had I played in the BCBC I'd have actually done well."

Asked to explain why he prefers to bet on cheaper races rather than stakes, he said: "You have to read more into the cheaper races, and as a former trainer I feel like that plays to my strengths. In the stakes races, 99 out of 100 horses are coming in right and trying as hard as they can. Everyone is in to win. In a cheap claimer, maybe they want to lose the horse, or are giving him a race, or are trying to get him eligible for a starter allowance. I can now get into the workout pattern, the decision to enter this specific race, and get into the trainer and owner mindset. There is more to handicap, and stakes races take all that out."

Sumja has been a proponent of Thoroughbred aftercare. He devoted his NHC acceptance speech to the issue and once again he will be putting his money where his mouth is. He is donating a portion of his Monmouth winnings to the Second Chance Ranch in Washington.