07/12/2017 1:16PM

Robb cashes on the power of 1

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Harry Nilsson once wrote that one is the loneliest number. But if you’re Anthony Robb, one represents a lot more than that: a ticket to Las Vegas.

In a weekend online contest, Robb won his way into a major tournament not by poring over past performances or watching countless replays but simply by playing the No. 1 horse in every race. We’ve seen this phenomenon before: a contest player who wins a major prize simply by playing a number. This story is sure to make many contest players’ blood boil, and it may add fuel to the fire for those who (incorrectly) believe that contests are more about luck than skill. But before you make any judgments, let’s hear from the man himself.

Robb is no stranger to tournament play. He’s been very active over the past few years, and while his handicapping is unconventional – he uses a blend of his own form study, replays, and input from other respected sources – he usually does the work. Like all players, he’s had his share of tough days and close calls. For Robb, Belmont weekend was rough.

“I put in a lot of work and took some shots and had some very bad beats those two days,” he said. “Since then, I’ve barely made any bets at all, which is very rare for me.”

Last weekend, Robb thought he might be ready to return to action. “I signed up for a contest on Sunday, and I got up early to look at the races,” he said. “I ended up looking at the whole card for about five minutes, and in that time, I noticed that the races looked open, and the No. 1’s looked pretty good in every race. None were favorites, and none looked totally impossible.”

This last part requires a bit more explanation.

“Prior to even playing in tournaments, I would always take an extra look at the No. 1’s,” he said. “In Australia” – Robb’s native land – “in a handicap, the No. 1 horse is always the top-weighted horse and often the best horse. If I was playing a pick four in Australia – we call it the quaddie – I would often include the No. 1 regardless of price or anything else. It’s absolutely amazing how many times the 1 turned up to bail me out.”

Even now, he’ll occasionally throw in the No. 1 in his horizontal plays. And for the last year or so, he’s considered applying his affection for the inside gate in tournaments. “I’ve said to myself, ‘I wonder how the 1’s would do today.’ But I’d never actually done it before.”

On Sunday, Robb was slated to go to a pool party with his wife and son. Though he’d initially planned on going back home and doing more work, he just went ahead and put in all the No. 1 horses on his contest card. “I’d had so much bad luck lately, I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I’ll get lucky today.’ ”

It’s worth noting that it is definitely a smart move to put in default picks as soon as you can in any contest, even if you just choose all of one number. Initially, it was assumed that this is what happened to Robb: He’d put in default picks and gotten stuck with them.

“You’ve got a much better chance with all of any number than having nothing in there, but that was not really the plan,” he said.

It was a live-format contest, meaning Robb could go back and change his picks if he chose to. He wasn’t wedded to the No. 1’s the same way he’d have been in an all-in event. “I had some sort of intention of looking in maybe halfway through,” he said, “and if I’d gotten lucky to that point, maybe I’d start handicapping the rest of the card.”

But the siren call of the pool party was too strong for that. “I thought about looking in once or twice once I got to the party, but my gut said to just let it ride. I finally looked with one race to go, and I was out of first by $9 in a great spot because the top two finishers qualified. I certainly wasn’t going to change the 1 at that point.”

He’d hit a cap horse early and gotten another one to place along the way, and in the end, he was heading back to Vegas. Looking back over Robb’s card, it was notable that in one race he’d played the No. 5. “The truth is, there was no No. 1 in that race because it scratched,” Robb said.

He played the No. 5 as his alternate in every race. “It’s a good gate,” he said. “If I were ever going to play one number other than the 1, it would be the 5.”

Robb understands that this win isn’t his proudest moment as a horseplayer, but that doesn’t make the win less real. “Let’s be honest: I got really lucky,” he said, “and I also don’t want to lose all respect in the handicapping world. But there have been plenty of days where I put in hours of work and have gotten very unlucky. I’m going to take my win and go with it.”

What about the player who put in the work but was denied a Vegas seat? “I almost feel guilty,” he said, “but really, I don’t.”