03/24/2017 12:40PM

Moomey finds the tonic in Ultimate Betting Challenge


Eric Moomey is back, and he’s better than ever.

Moomey, the 2014 National Handicapping Championship Tour winner, was absent from in-person contests for the last seven months of 2016. Moomey battled diverticulitis for most of 2016. He had three surgeries and four hospital stays, totaling 61 days in all.

He recently made his first trip since this year’s NHC, to Santa Anita for the Ultimate Betting Challenge. He ended up winning over $67,000 between his bankroll, prize money, and a seat to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. He’s also now eligible for a $1 million bonus should he go on to win the BCBC.

Chasing a million-dollar bonus isn’t a new thing for Moomey. He was eligible for a $2 million bump had he won the 2015 NHC. While he never really got going that time, he’s hoping this will be a different story. “How many times do you get a one-in-500 shot at a million dollars?” he asked rhetorically.

Moomey’s had a lot of success over the past few years, but a win in a big buy-in live-bank contest had eluded him until now. “I’ve put a lot of effort into changing from mythical play to live because it seems like the way the contest world is moving,” he said. “It’s been a real learning process.”

Experience has been the best teacher. “When I played in the [BCBC] online last year I had a strong opinion early on Lancaster Bomber and it turned out I was right but I didn’t bet enough money,” said Moomey, who played from his hospital room in San Diego. “Afterwards, I said to myself, ‘If that was my strongest opinion, why didn’t I bet all my money so I’d be sitting with something I could work with?’ ”

It’s a very established model in live-bank play: Very often winning means betting all your money at some point, often toward the end. Moomey decided it didn’t matter when he went all-in, as long as he did so on his strongest play. That’s the lesson he took with him that paid off at Santa Anita.

His new philosophy suits his natural style. “I just play better when I’m aggressive,” he said. “I tried laying up with show bets in live-bank play and I don’t do it very well. I’ve had five-horse fields where I take a 1-5 who runs fourth and a 10-1 wins that’s who I would have bet had I been playing the race normally.”

For the Santa Anita tournament, Moomey set a goal of finishing with a bankroll of $15,000 – five times the initial bankroll. He came up with that number based on historical precedent and the number of entries expected in the tournament. “I always have goals irrespective of the outcome,” he said, “and afterwards I don’t analyze the outcome. I analyze how I played to reach my goal.”

When Write in Candidate got the job done in Gulfstream’s fifth at 9-2, Moomey’s goal was met. He had over $17,000 on his bankroll.

“The first thing you want to do after making a big move is sit back and relax,” he said. “You don’t want to make another move.”

But just because he exceeded his goal didn’t mean he was home free. The downside of going all-in early is that even if you hit, there are still more races to be run.

“The problem was there was a target on my back and I didn’t know what everyone else was going to do,” he continued, “but I decided to sit and wait, make my required minimum bets, then I’d make another move if I had to.”

In the last race, Moomey showed an example of how he tries to play the other players. He was still in front and liked the favorite, but he decided to play another horse defensively instead. “There were only a few people within striking distance and I was monitoring the amounts on the board and I could tell my closest competitors weren’t playing favorites because a favorite would win and their scores would drop by $600,” he said, referring to the minimum $600 wager.

With this in mind, he figured he’d have a good chance to win if the favorite won anyway. Had he been behind, he likely would have made another move pushing some of his chips in on the favorite, but he didn’t feel like that was necessary. “I was willing to make another move if I had to but I wanted to force others to make the move,” he said.

Of course, someone could have coldcocked an exacta and passed him but that didn’t concern him. “If someone hit for $25,000 on the last race I’d have said, ‘Good for them,’ and I also know that even if I’d bet the favorite to win I still might not have had enough to overcome them anyway.”

In 2016, Moomey had to leave multiple contests because of health issues. At Surfside in April, he was feeling so bad he went all-in on a horse he didn’t like because he had to get to the hospital. He appreciated the irony of getting a big win a year later in the same format with the same move in the same part of the country. “It felt great to be back in southern California, to go all-in on a horse I actually liked, be well enough to finish the job.”