01/30/2014 4:59PM

National Handicapping Championship: Questions and answers with Tony Brice


Peter Fornatale interviewed Tony Brice of Colleyville, Texas, the second-place finisher at last weekend’s 15th annual National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas. Here are questions and answers as a follow-up to the tournament.

Tell me what you do for a living.

I direct emerging trends research for a company called Sabre. We own Travelocity but we have a lot of airline, hotel, and travel agency systems around the world. I’ve been with them for many years and I love what I do. With horse racing, I’m looking minutes into the future, with my job; I’m looking years into the future and trying to help the company make sense of what trends are going to impact our business and our industry.

Talk to me about what you were thinking before the final race at the final table.

I was trying to at least preserve my $100,000 for being in third place maybe try to get up into second place for $200,000 in second. Those two things were at the top of my list.

Fit to Rule was the horse that got you into second place. What did you like about him?

I use speed as a starting point and pace as a way that will help me understand how a race is going to unfold for each horse individually. There were two horses that I thought, given a trouble-free trip, could really roll in the lane. The 1 horse, Fit to Rule, which I wagered on, and the 9 [Warren’s Tyler S]. I noticed, of course, that Fit to Rule had been vanned off but I think enough of Doug O’Neill as a trainer that he wouldn’t risk the horse if he hadn’t come back sound. It looked to me like he had closing ability superior to anyone in the race.

I know you use pace in your handicapping. How do you make your pace ratings?

I start with the raw numbers from the Daily Racing Form. I look at the time at the pace call and the final time. I’m old school: to me a length is one-fifth of a second. I take the raw pace number for the winner and I adjust backwards based on where my horse was at that point. And then I make adjustments based on the trip the horse had in the first part of the race. I can’t ignore it if a horse went wide or a horse broke slowly or whatever the case might be.

Where do your ideas about pace come from?

Just from watching horse racing for 41 years. I took my first trip to Oaklawn Park at 16. I’ve watched an awful lot of races. I have enough experience now where when I look at the DRF, there are things that are obvious to me at a glance that I can internalize and make useful.

We talked earlier about how much you like to bet on route races. Why is that?

I do think pace makes the race but I also think that any kind of trouble is so much harder to recover from in a six-furlong race than it is in a route. Route races give my handicapping angles a chance to play out over a longer period of time and a longer distance.

Any general advice for other contest players?

From my limited experience in tournaments, you’ve got to look for cappers where you can find them.

Tell me about the cap horses you hit at the NHC.

On Friday at Oaklawn, I bet Rattlesnake Holler, a horse that Cliff Berry was on. I try to pay attention to what trainers do to try to bring a horse up to an optimal effort and that’s what I expected from him. He seemed like the right horse for the race, especially at those odds of 24-1.

Then on Saturday, I liked an Ingrid Mason horse, Muazzaz. I’ve seen her have success bringing horses down to Hot Springs early in the meet that are really ready to run. That one got me in the top 10.

You mentioned in the interview that the money couldn’t have come at a better time because of the unfortunate news that your wife was recently laid off. Any plans for the money?

We’re figuring that out. Certainly it means my wife can wait for the right opportunity instead of just taking the first thing that comes along. It will allow her to be selective and take the job that’s really right for her. She manages really big projects in the IT space.

What are your horseplaying plans for the future?

This tournament stuff is new to me but it’s got me thinking that maybe tournament play is more conducive to what I do as a handicapper than just bellying up to the parimutuel windows on a regular basis. But I’m not giving that up because that’s the fun part – hanging out with buddies at the simulcast pavilion at Lone Star on a Saturday.