04/21/2017 11:20AM

Fornatale: Toronto man scores Triple Play

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As is the case for so many horseplayers, for Mark Livingstone, it all started with Big Red.

He vividly recalls his introduction to racing on a foggy morning in 1973, when his father took him to watch Secretariat train at Woodbine in Livingstone’s native Toronto.

“I didn’t know who he was at the time,” he said, “but Dad told me he was a great horse, and he wanted to have a look at him.”

It wasn’t quite at the level of Secretariat’s Triple Crown triumph, but Livingstone had a triple of his own last weekend. After reading about tournaments in Daily Racing Form recently, Livingstone decided to get involved. The first tournament that interested him was last weekend’s Triple Play, which awarded seats to Keeneland’s Grade One Gamble, Santa Anita’s Preakness contest, and Monmouth’s Pick Your Prize event.

“I played in eight or nine $25 feeders, went through the qualifiers, and was lucky enough to win,” he said.

Luck was only a part of it. With his combination of skills, Livingstone could prove to be a force in the major spring tourneys despite his lack of experience.

The 50-year-old IT security specialist started handicapping in earnest around age 10 while encouraged by his father. The two would go to Woodbine frequently, and within a few years, Livingstone discovered speed handicapping, courtesy of Andy Beyer’s seminal book “Picking Winners.” He’d spend hours making his own charts and variants to assist in his Form study.

“Dad collected stacks and stacks of Racing Forms over time,” he said. “In the ‘80s, I’d go back and look over the ‘70s Forms.”

One notable project involved his favorite horse.

“The Form used to publish the charts every Thursday,” he said, “and I went through every chart from Belmont in 1973 to gather data to make a historical speed figure for Secretariat’s Belmont. I came up with 139, very similar to what I later learned Beyer came up with.”

These days, Livingstone relies on the Beyers primarily for his final time figures, occasionally crosschecking with another figure service.

“I did numbers for a long time, but it became a question of time,” he said. “But they have always been the root of my handicapping.”

Like Beyer himself, as detailed in his wonderful book “The Winning Horseplayer,” Livingstone added trip handicapping as a way to get a more precise idea of a horse’s ability.

“I look at things like ground loss and trouble, and then I add or subtract what I think those things are worth from the speed figures,” he said. “I’m always looking for horses capable of running better than it looks in the paper.”

His trip work is a time-consuming process, but it’s worth it because it allows him to express his own opinion of each race.

“I generally just review races by going through a card, spending as much time as I can on each individual horse, looking at replays,” he said. “I will watch the same race three or four times to get them all or to watch the same horse over again.”

Livingstone has a hit-and-run trip planned for Keeneland for his first live tournament, arriving Saturday and getting back to Toronto for work on Monday.

“I’m trying to win, but my expectations are realistic,” he said. “I plan on observing and learning.”

He understands that the live-bankroll world is different from the mythical-money formats he’s excelled in.

“If you’re playing for a living, betting is more important than picking, but I’m not expecting the process to be completely different,” he said. “I’ll put some thought into it on the trip down, and it will be a great learning experience.”