05/25/2016 1:06PM

Sebes blends old and new handicapping methods


It’s never easy to qualify for the National Handicapping Championship. And the feat gets trickier still when you’re facing a field of 2,000 competitors. But that hasn’t stopped Jim Sebes (pronounced SEE-biss) from winning his way into the NHC twice in the last three years via one of the NTRA’s free contests.

What is his strategy when it comes to playing against these big fields?

“With these big contests, you’ve got to throw deep every play,” he said.

The recent contest where he qualified was an all-in event, where all the picks had to be entered before the first race. He makes an important distinction between how he plays a normal all-in contest (with up to 200 entries) vs. one with several thousand entries. “In the normal one, I’m looking for winners, not outliers,” he said, “but in the free contest, I approach it like I’m playing in a live tournament and I’m way behind from the beginning.”

There are exceptions, even against a big field. “I track all this stuff, and so far this year in the graded races, the favorite is winning over 50 percent of the time, so in those races, unless I can really find a longshot I like, I will take a favorite if he looks like a lock,” he said.

Sebes now has the maximum of two entries for the 2017 NHC. He won an NHCQualify.com event outright back in February. He is in 16th place on the NHC Tour and is poised to secure a spot in the expanded top 40 contest within a contest at the NHC (the player with the best score at the NHC will win an additional $25,000). If he can get a live tournament score, he will start looking really strong to get a $10,000 bonus that goes to the players who are in the top five on July 31.

The new series of weekly feeders on tournaments.drf.com will help Sebes with his other short-term goal. “I want to see if I can get into the [June 4 Pick Your Prize] Monmouth contest on the cheap,” he said. “Usually, I try to qualify for the live-bankroll tournaments, and if I don’t qualify, I don’t play. I’m in and out of form all the time, like a horse, and that’s a governor for me – if I’m not playing well enough to get in, then I’m not going to be a factor.”

Sebes’s other main focus right now is on getting a second seat to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. “It’s great that the BCBC is now allowing multiple entries,” he said, “so I want to get that done.”

Sebes is known for using computers to help him handicap. “I use a couple of different softwares, and then I create a bunch of reports from them,” he said.

Essentially, what Sebes is doing is creating a decision model, a concept from Tom Brohamer’s handicapping book “Modern Pace Handicapping.” The idea is to look at the contenders in a field and to rank them by their pace ratings in different sections of the race. To take matters a step further, again borrowing from Brohamer, he will then look to see which pace attributes are most important across different surfaces and distances at various tracks. It’s heady stuff, but it’s clearly paying dividends for Sebes.

“The benefit of doing it my way is that you’ll find something that other people think is ridiculous,” he said, “but if a model points to a factor and I’ve seen it work, if the price is right, I might just hold my nose and play it.”

Other times, the examples are just too extreme. Sebes gave the example of a horse whom the model suggests even though the jockey is 0 for 50 and the horse isn’t a capper. “Then I still might go in another direction.”

The combination of computers and old-school handicapping can be powerful. “After I’ve looked at my model, then the old-fashioned handicapping comes into play,” he said. “I may see that early pace is dominant at a certain track and distance, but if this race has three or four early-pace types, I can’t just blindly follow the model, I have to think.”

Sebes’s methods aren’t exactly universally embraced by his fellow contest players – and therein lies his edge. “A lot of old-school handicappers say it’s [baloney] the way I do it because I’m such a numbers guy. But to me, if you have a consistent methodology and you land on winners every now and then, you must be doing something right,” he said.

In Sebes case, that’s putting it mildly.


Unless noted, all contests utilize the all-in format: All picks must be in before the scheduled post time of the first contest race.


DRFQ: $25 entry fee; one in 10 awarded a $225 entry into Sunday’s Santa Anita qualifier.

NHCQ: $18 entry fee; one in 10 awarded a $162 entry into Sunday’s NHC qualifier.

DRFQ: $18 entry fee; one in 10 awarded a $162 entry into Saturday’s Monmouth Park qualifier.

Contest races: Belmont 5-8; Churchill 6-9.Saturday

DRFQ: $25 entry fee; one in 10 awarded a $225 entry into Sunday’s Santa Anita qualifier.

NHCQ: $18 entry fee; one in 10 awarded a $162 entry into Sunday’s NHC qualifier.

DRFQ: $162 entry fee for Saturday’s Monmouth Park qualifier.

Contest races TBA.


DRFQ: $225 entry for Sunday’s Santa Anita qualifier.

NHCQ: $162 entry for Sunday’s NHC qualifier.

BCQ: $21 entry fee; one in 10 awarded a $190 entry into the Sunday, June 5, BCBC qualifier.

Contest races TBA.