01/16/2014 1:33PM

Reality TV show 'Horseplayers' to show world of handicapping tournaments


The insular world of horse racing returns to the little screen on Tuesday nights, this time in a 10-episode reality-television series revolving around the world of handicapping tournaments, rather than the typical ontrack drama of jockeys, trainers, and horses.

“Horseplayers,” which premieres Tuesday night on the Esquire Network, will follow six major players on the handicapping-tournament circuit as they try to qualify for the National Handicapping Championship, the year-end tournament that is sponsored in part by Daily Racing Form .

Many of the faces on the show will be familiar to industry insiders and tournament players. One of the featured subjects is “Team Rotondo,” headed by Peter Rotondo Sr., a larger-than-life Staten Island, N.Y., resident whose son, Peter Rotondo Jr., is the vice president of media and entertainment for the Breeders’ Cup.

Another is Christian Hellmers, a former consultant to Betfair who has finished second two years in a row in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, the biggest live-money tournament in the United States.

Many of the participants on the show appeared on a panel at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing and Gaming in December. During the panel, excerpts of the episodes showed typical scenes from any racetrack or tournament setting: amped-up players pounding programs into their open palms or snapping their fingers as they will their bets to the wire while looking at televisions. Promos for the series show players sending fat rolls of $20 bills through the betting windows.

The program’s main personalities are all men, not surprising in a world in which 19 out of 20 tournament players are male, according to research recently conducted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, nor when considering Esquire’s target demographic: young men. The network was launched last year, rebranded from the now-defunct Style Network.

Still, women will play supporting roles, according to the network. Peter Rotondo Sr.’s, wife, the 22-year-old Liana Rotondo, participates in the team’s selection process, but promotional materials note that “given her inexperience and youth, her abilities are frequently called into question.” That doesn’t exactly augur well for a positive impression by females of the show.

The episodes also will follow Kevin Cox, a retired New York Police Department mounted officer and former jockeys’ agent who is now a professional handicapper. Cox’s wife, Nicole, also is a tournament player, and one year she missed out on a qualifying berth for the NHC by only 10 cents.

The series is the first racing-themed show to air on television since HBO’s gritty “Luck” – created by the television writer and horseplayer David Milch – was canceled in early 2012 after a horse used in the show died in a freak accident in the barn area at Santa Anita. The horse was the third used in the show to die, generating intense criticism from animal-welfare activists and pushing HBO to throw in the towel on production.

“Luck,” which was received well by critics and had gained a strong following from racing fans, was a fictionalized version of racing, while “Horseplayers” will be presented in the reality-television format, with all that the genre entails. Most of the featured players bring strong personalities and opinions to the show, which likely will be played for drama. As Peter Rotondo Jr. says in one clip, “Frankly, it’s an ego trip.”

The exception to all the screaming and boasting in the show might be Michael Beychok, a political consultant from Baton Rouge, La., who won the 2012 NHC. Video footage of Beychok and a small entourage watching the final race of that tournament is sure to be replayed during the “Horseplayers” series.

Beychok remains in a nearly monk-like state of contemplation as his selection begins making up ground in the race, only celebrating after his horse crosses the wire in front by a nose, making him $1 million richer.

Beychok later bought the horse who won the race and retired her to a farm in Louisiana.

Hail No More than 1 year ago
Well, they did finish the season, so glad, because it was very entertaining.
Hail No More than 1 year ago
I said, 3 episodes and that's it? That sucks. A shame, a pretty good show for old veteran horseplayers and new blood alike, damn!
Hail No More than 1 year ago
IRANIANMULLAH More than 1 year ago
I finally saw the show, the first one. I liked it I do not believe Chris Hellmers singled Zagora, Little Mike and Ft. Larned He was betting like $2500 to win on 1 horse in the breeder's cup, and hits all 3 IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA WITH A HOT GF. NEXT TO HIM All CALM He's RICH. No bleeping way he did that! He had other horses. I could see 2 horses in each race , but not a single in each race. HE'S RICH. Oh, and the Blustering Rotondo's. They bet some multi-hundred dollar pick 6 and single Groupie Doll against Stay Thirsty. lol! yeah they're top notch. NOT! That was a dumb pick 6 ticket. There were 4 2 horse legs that pick 6 day. Not impressed with the NY look at me I'm a Big Shot attitude. "I got it".. BTW: They showed Groupie Doll as 20-1 , I think she was 2-1. The best guy was John Conte, he was real. not too high, not too low, keep hammering away and believe in your handicapping.
IRANIANMULLAH More than 1 year ago
I was dead wrong about Hellmers. He's really really good.
ridgemax More than 1 year ago
Lots of Comcast systems are carrying Esquire Network, it is part of NBCUniversal, which Comcast bought last year.
ridgemax More than 1 year ago
I hope a second series spotlighting the major players on the various circuits comes out of this. I know it;'s a TV series but the same six guys for 10 weeks might get tiresome. But getting into their backgrounds and personalities should be interesting for anybody who plays the races.
jim lefferts More than 1 year ago
shilo m More than 1 year ago
I have been to the NHC 6 time's its hard to get there . do love pick and pray alot better and lockdown on derbywars . most tounrys they bet longshots and hope to get one or 2 chaseing is not handcapping.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Yes sir throwing darts is not handicapping.Do your homework pick your horses and sit back and see how good yor are.Weather can hurt you in the pick and pray formatt but that is the game.
Boyd Cord More than 1 year ago
"Luck". The director was an idiot to open the show up with a horse breaking his leg and hearing the "snap". WTF was he thinking? We never got to see what Dustin Hoffman had up his sleeve.
Roberta Dunn More than 1 year ago
Couldn't agree more. To open with that, in the first episode, is the dumbest thing in the history of television. Like going on a first date and saying... hey, I know you really like me, but just want to be sure you know I have bad teeth, cheat at poker and snore. Now how 'bout a second date.... geeeeeeezzzzz....
Boyd Cord More than 1 year ago
I'd rather see a series on big bettors around the country like Jimmy the Hat. I'd like to see the professionals in action. I believe these tournament guys play a lot of tournaments to win one , because it's too damm hard
Hail No More than 1 year ago
If that's the guy on TVGs Inside the Mind, you won't gain insight on picking horses, might as well play the lotto..
Walter More than 1 year ago
If Jimmy didn't wear a hat, no one would recognize him. He is one of many at the track