07/22/2016 10:50AM

Low-roller contests return at Saratoga

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The New York Racing Association’s low-roller contests are back. On select Saturdays (including opening Saturday), as well as each Sunday and Monday (except Labor Day) of the Saratoga meet, players will have a chance to compete in ontrack tournaments.

Here’s how it works: There’s a $40 buy-in, $10 of which goes to a 100 percent payback prize pool, and the other $30 must be played as five $2 win-place-show bets. The five highest scores pay out.

The low-roller is a real-money contest in that you get to keep any money won, even if you don’t end up cashing in the prize pool. But this is not to be confused with a live-bankroll event, where you can reinvest up to your entire bankroll at one time (i.e. you can go all in). The low-roller is fixed-bankroll – you can only bet the $2 win-place-show even though your money is actually being bet through the tote system.

I’ve written before about what a great training ground for contest players these low-roller events can be. I first met Jose Arias, the 2014 National Handicapping Championship winner, playing in the Santa Anita low-roller contest. Those Santa Anita events were where I cut my teeth as a tournament player, playing in partnership with current Del Mar seminar host Frank Scatoni. Many of the lessons I learned in those contests turned into ideas and stories for “The Winning Contest Player.”

It’s never been easier to get experience as a contest player, between low-roller events like this and low-buy-in feeders and credit builders on the DRF Tournaments website. If you’re looking to develop your skills as a multitabler – playing in more than one contest at once – the low-roller and DRF Tournaments events will make an excellent pairing. The low-roller also allows players to purchase two entries, giving them a chance to work on those skills as well. Experience is the best teacher when it comes to the logistics of how to best leverage multiple entries.

But those aren’t even the best benefits of playing in the low-roller. A player weaned on online contests isn’t going to have the opportunity to play in events where he must pick which optional races to play. In the low-roller, you must choose which of the five Saratoga races you want to bet, so you can’t help but improve in this area.

Which races should you play? The easiest answer is you play the ones where your opinion is strongest. But in general, the decision is a two-sided coin. On the one side, it’s preferable to play the later races because you’ll have a better idea of what the winning final score will be. On the other side, a price horse in an early race will be worth more than a price horse in a later race because fewer people in the contest will have it.

As you get to the late stages, some people will play horses just because of the price they are on the board, regardless of how they look according to the principles of handicapping. And because it is real money, there is no odds cap. It is theoretically possible – and not all that unlikely – that you could finish in the money or even win based on one crazy-priced winner.

It’s not an easy contest to win. Participation varies, but you’ll often see fields of 200 or more. In a field of that size, you’re not going to win just by middling along. That means you’re either going to have to try to shoot the moon and have four or five winners at short or midrange prices – which is exceedingly difficult to do – or you’re going to have to have the biggest price in the sequence and pad that with a few more points somewhere else. This latter path seems more likely to succeed, but it’s up to each player to decide. Despite the degree of difficulty, these are still contests everyone should consider playing.

The sign-up for the Saturday events will take place in a tent in the far grandstand. The sign-up for the Sunday-Monday contests will stay in the same location as previous years, the Lower Carousel near the Fourstardave Sports Bar.

For more information, check out https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/low-roller-challenge.

DRF Tournaments on Sunday

The headline event on DRF Tournaments on Sunday is a qualifier for the NHC. The buy-in is $162, and up to four prize packages will be awarded. Packages include an NHC seat, $1,000 for travel, and a four-night stay at Treasure Island, the NHC host hotel in Las Vegas.

There is also a qualifier for the Santa Anita Autumn Championship on Sunday. Entries are $190, and players can win a package worth $5,000 – a full $4,500 buy-in plus $500 for travel. Don’t forget, any player who wins a Santa Anita contest and goes on to win the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge receives a $1 million bonus.

There also are credit builders and a feeder tournament to next weekend’s BCBC qualifier. For more information, go to DRF Tournaments at tournaments.drf.com.