03/22/2017 12:02PM

Horse Player World Series requires different strokes

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The final Daily Racing Form qualifier for the Horse Player World Series is on Sunday. This is the first year that DRF Tournaments has run qualifiers for the HPWS and there have been a lot of questions about the event.

The HPWS is a three-day, mythical-money contest that takes place at the Orleans in Las Vegas from March 30-April 1 and costs $1,500 to play. The contest prize pool could swell to $1 million this year, based on participation.

Players must make 15 $20 win-place bets on each of the three days. On Thursday, the contest tracks are Fair Grounds, Gulfstream, Oaklawn, and Santa Anita. On Friday, take away Fair Grounds (late post) and add Aqueduct, Laurel, and Tampa. For Saturday, Fair Grounds is back in the mix with the other six tracks. There are no mandatory races – players choose where they want to participate.

The contest has an odds cap, but not a full odds cap: The first $2 win and place return full track prices, the remaining $18 win-place are capped at 19-1 on the win end and 9-1 to place. This adds extra importance to big longshots without giving them too much influence over the ultimate outcome.

Because of the unusual cap structure and the lack of cut lines (like the National Handicapping Championship) the strategy is a little different. This is a format that will reward players more comfortable playing price horses. Whereas at the NHC, I’d look to target horses as low as the 4-1 range, at the HPWS it’s not a bad idea to gun for 8-1 and higher.

In "The Winning Contest Player," I spoke with Duke Matties, who has cashed multiple times at the HPWS, about his approach to the tournament. “Hopefully I can pick out 15 horses each day in the 8-1 to 20-1 range,” he said. “If I can hit with five over the three days, I’m probably going to cash, and if I get six or more I’ve got a chance to win.”

The HPWS is like regular contest play on steroids. Players who can identify live longshots and poke holes in weak favorites will have a distinct advantage over those who are used to merely focusing on picking the winner of a race chosen for them.

The contest offers day money each day, and I was asked this week if that changes strategy. Should players hold bullets to the end to shoot for day money? My answer is no. Day money should be a secondary concern to finishing high up in the main prize pool. This might change if you’ve had a horrible first two days and are really only playing for day money on the third day, but generally speaking I’d advise keeping your eyes on the prize.

Holding bullets for the end of day three might make sense – but it all depends on the specifics of the races. When Christian Hellmers won the 2014 event, he told DRF’s Dave Tuley, “I know it goes against game strategy that a lot of people use, but I didn’t play any of the last four races because I didn’t like them. I chose to go with my stronger plays earlier. Once I had the lead, I knew they had to catch me, and luckily they didn’t.”

On the other hand, if you like a big longshot late, it absolutely makes sense to hold bullets. When Paul Shurman won more than $99,000 for his second-place finish in 2015 he did so by hitting 60-1 Trident Hero – a horse he genuinely liked – in the contest’s last race. The best thing to do on all three days is to handicap the races from back to front and identify the horses you want to focus on. From there, it’s much easier to construct a game plan. Strategy in contest play is never one-size-fits-all.

There are feeders for the HPWS every day for $10 and this Sunday’s qualifier costs $90. To sign up, go to tournaments.drf.com.