07/26/2016 11:01AM

Getting started in tournaments on a budget


From time to time, I answer readers’ questions in my work, both in writing and on the DRF Players’ Podcast, which I co-host with Mike Hogan and Jonathon Kinchen. A lot of the questions are difficult: “What score should I shoot for in a live bankroll contest?” or “What priced horse should I play at the start in an online event?” Today’s question, courtesy of podcast listener Joe Hernandez, is an easy one. He would like more information on getting started as a tournament player on a budget.

Well, Joe, you’ve come to the right place. It’s never been easier to get started on a budget through the new DRF Tournaments site. Every Wednesday through Sunday, it is running several contests, some of which have buy-ins as low as $11. For example, this Thursday there are currently seven options. There are feeders for the weekend qualifiers for upcoming live-bank contests at Saratoga and Santa Anita, as well for the two major events, the National Handicapping Championship and the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. Additionally, there are also as of now three credit-builder contests, which give players a chance to fund their upcoming contest play.

Probably the best thing about these events is that they offer players – especially newer contest players like you, Joe – the chance to start small without limiting your upside. Someday soon I’ll get to write the story of a player who starts with $11 and parlays that into a six-figure score at a major event. Who knows, it might even be you.

As with all of your gambling, whether you’re a straight-up newbie, a weekend warrior, or a professional, set aside a separate bankroll for your play. Tournaments are already a great way to help you manage your money. Who wouldn’t want a day’s action for $11? But keeping that money separate is going to help you make better decisions with your money along the way and also will protect you from blowing through way more than you want to spend. If you go through your bank and need to refund, that’s fine, but if forces you to take a look at how you’re doing in a way that merely depositing more money from your checking account does not.

I recommend playing as often and over as many formats as your bankroll allows. For a full analysis of the different options available you can check out my book, "The Winning Contest Player," and read the tournament coverage in the pages of Daily Racing Form. If you have other specific questions, feel free to reach out. I try to help as much as I can and have been fortunate to play a minor role in a few instances. Two years ago I got an email from a guy looking for tournament advice who had heard me on Steve Byk’s "At The Races" show. He went on to land two entries in the top 10 at that year’s NHC and win the following year’s NHC Tour. Jonathon Kinchen now co-hosts the podcast with Mike Hogan and me.

I’d be remiss not to mention another great option for newer players in PublicHandicapper.com, a tournament site where it is free to play and you can win weekly and monthly prizes. Their main contest, The PH Challenge, is already under way for this year but the two players who finish with the biggest bankrolls will win entry into the National Handicapping Championship.


Speaking of DRF qualifiers, Chris Podratz won his way to the Santa Anita Autumn Championship on Sunday. Podratz had just three collections in the event, but he made them count. Going to the second-to-last race, he was buried with just $30, but he went runner-runner with capper Derby Champagne and Big Score in Del Mar’s fifth to get the prize: his $4,500 entry fee, $500 in travel, plus a shot at a $1 million bonus should he go on to win the BCBC. Podratz’s father, Dennis, was well-respected in tournament circles and it’s clear the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

On Saturday, two players won into the Battle of Saratoga, a pair of contests to be held at the Spa on Aug. 10-11. Anthony Mattera was best with $99 on the back of six collections, the longest of which was the $45.20 win-and-place behind he got when Tale of Verve got up over My Man Sam at Saratoga. He needed the place points in the last from Perfectly Majestic in Del Mar’s fifth, and was fortunate that only one player in right behind him used the winner, Metaboss. That one player was Brendan Fay, the other qualifier. Fay started slow but got six collections in the last nine races to send himself to Saratoga.