05/10/2017 1:03PM

McFarland turns cash on Derby into huge overlay

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Kevin McFarland found himself back in the winner’s circle at a major tournament this past weekend, winning the Kentucky Derby Betting Challenge and netting more than $272,000 in the process.

“It’s a great tournament,” McFarland said. “I continue to believe that these tournaments have to be on racing’s biggest days. That’s what makes them better.”

He went on to praise the field sizes, quality of racing, and liquidity that big days afford. “You can bet big and you don’t influence the odds so the format feels more natural and that’s just a huge advantage,” he continued, “because in a smaller pool you can’t bet $9,000 without affecting your odds.”

The $9,000 McFarland mentions isn’t an arbitrary amount. It’s what he bet on Always Dreaming to win in the Derby. The approach in live-bank tourneys is to more or less play as you would normally, but to do so within the context of the contest to add equity in the form of the prize pool. It’s a smart idea that more professional-level players might consider.

Heading into the Derby, McFarland had two tickets in contention. He preferred this setup to the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge when he felt like he had a target on his back heading to the last. “It’s a lot easier to be the hunter than the hunted,” he said. “If I was in the lead, I would have made the same play, but it’s tougher psychologically to bet aggressively when you’re in that position. Your instincts say to play it safe but that’s not the right play.”

“I wanted to make $100,000 in the Woodford and the Derby,” McFarland went on. “I ended up hitting the Woodford but it was chalk. For the Derby, my strongest opinion was Always Dreaming and I figured if I could get my bankroll to $50,000 I’d have a good chance to win the tournament, but I also played another $18,000 in exactas and trifectas, none of which came in.”

In the end, Always Dreaming was 9-2 on the tote. McFarland got 31-1 on his $9,000 bet. He ended up with $50,000 on his bankroll, enough to win the day and deliver the extra $222,000. In addition he won a $10,000 seat to the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge. “I’ve come to the Derby for the last 19 years and this is the day you want to win if you’re a horseplayer,” he said. “I didn’t play [in the KDBC] last year but I cashed for enough at the windows that I’m pretty sure I would have won. That made me take this year a lot more seriously.”

McFarland has been in the spotlight for a long time, going back to the days when he appeared on TVG as one of “The Pick Six Boys,” along with Christian Hellmers. Hellmers, of course, has gone on to have plenty of success on his own, most recently adding the Santa Anita Autumn Challenge to his resume.

McFarland owns two wins at the Del Mar Betting Challenge but might be best known for a close call at the 2013 BCBC. He had a great two days, but ended up second to Peter Behr, a result of betting himself out of winning position in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“This felt like the racing gods giving me one back,” McFarland explained.

McFarland now has his sights set on the $1 million bonus should he go on to complete unfinished business and win the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. “I’ll try to get another entry with the bonus attached somewhere down the line to improve my chances,” he said. “At this point, I feel like that’s the one missing thing on my resume, and to win the Breeders’ Cup and get an extra million dollars would mean the world to me.”