12/07/2016 2:39PM

Skiba finds out father knows best

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Garett Skiba is a very selective tournament player. With two young children at home, his opportunities for travel are limited. Still, the fantastic year he’s had in contests prompted him to travel to Florida last Saturday for the Conquer the Crown contest at Gulfstream Park.

With a second in the Kentucky Derby Betting Challenge, a win in the Belmont Betting Challenge, and a top 10 finish at the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, Skiba was in sixth place on the National Handicapping Championship Tour heading into last weekend.

“After doing well at the BCBC, I decided to play two entries at Gulfstream, hoping there would be a better turnout,” said Skiba, referencing the fact that more Tour points are awarded in contests with larger fields. The Gulfstream contest attracted a field of 62 – a fine number for an event requiring a $3,000 buy-in, but not all that helpful for Skiba’s purposes.

His family life dovetailed nicely with the one-day Gulfstream event. “Luckily my wife scheduled the Polar Express Christmas train with the kids on Sunday instead of Saturday and it allowed me to sneak down to Florida for the day,” he explained, expressing appreciation to American Airlines for having an 8:30 p.m. flight from Miami back to Chicago, where he resides.

Like many horseplayers in both mythical and live-bank contests, Skiba prefers to handicap backward. “Per my typical strategy I started with the last race and really liked Keystoneforvictory so I clearly was hoping for some ammunition to fire away with that horse involved.”

Eventually second- and third-place finishers Brian Chenvert and Donald Chung got off to hot starts. Skiba likes to have a target number to shoot for, but he admitted after the fact that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to hit this one. “To be honest, I thought Brian had it won when it when he was at $25,000.”

The ninth race looked like a spot where he could make a run. “I really liked Lobelia at 37-1 and she ended up second,” he explained. “Had she won I would have had a sizable trifecta and exacta, as well as a $100 double with Royal Posse, who went on to win the 10th. That was a tough beat to regroup from.”

But regroup he did, despite being in a tight spot. His bank was down to $1,200. He liked Royal Posse best, but the Rudy Rodriguez-trained gelding was odds-on. “I enjoyed that there were doubles in this tournament, but I didn’t want to play Royal Posse-Keystoneforvictory as the probable pay wasn’t high enough to justify tying up the capital in the last race.”

He ended up playing some small doubles tying a couple of longshots he liked to Keystoneforvictory and those went out the window when Homespun Hero faded and Mr. Kisses failed to fire.

As the last approached, he had $696 left. At that point he was obviously willing to push all-in and he knew who he liked best, but who to put with Keystoneforvictory?

“I really didn’t have any good ideas for underneath so I talked to my dad, who was with me. He's not a tournament player but is a weekend handicapper. He liked the 3, Flashy Chelsey, after giving the horse a second look.”

What he saw was that Flashy Chelsey had been running against tough third-level allowance foes, where winners typically run in the mid-90s on the Beyer scale, whereas Keystoneforvictory’s best figure was an 85.

“He really seemed to make as much sense as anyone else given the superior company he was keeping,” said Skiba of his dad’s tip. He also decided to use No. 9, Andalusite, a 45-1 shot he gave a chance to run second or third

Then there was the matter of how to bet his remaining cash. He was shooting for Chenvert’s score of $25,000 and he put together the following bets: $400 exacta 4-3, $200 exacta 3-4, $80 exacta 3-9, $4 trifecta 4/3, 9/3, 9.

When the race came 4-3, with the exacta returning $156.40, Garett’s bankroll swelled to over $31,000 and his terrific year continued unabated. Reflecting on his most recent win, Skiba accepted the wisdom of The Beatles, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to ideas of others. During the tournament, besides talking to my dad, I was texting and messaging other contest players I’ve gotten to know.  I’ve definitely learned that I don’t have the answers every race, but piecing my good ideas together with those of others can be a very successful formula.”

That’s an understatement by Skiba, who is indeed a contest player’s contest player. His tournament earnings on the year stand at over $300,000. Over the next few weeks he will continue his tour chase online. After last weekend he’s moved up a spot to fifth. Look for his name on the leaderboard on DRF Tournaments. If this year’s results are any indication, you won’t have to look very hard.