06/19/2016 7:10PM

Skiba went backwards to finish in front at Belmont


Garett Skiba, who even at age 37 can be considered a tournament veteran, is in elite company as a contest player. He’s not the only player to have three six-figure hits.

Christian Hellmers beat him to the punch with seconds in the 2011 and 2012 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and his win at the 2014 Horse Player World Series. But Skiba, with a third at the 2013 BCBC, a second at the inaugural Kentucky Derby Betting Challenge, and now a win in the inaugural Belmont Betting Challenge, shares the honor with the man they call “the Guru.”

Skiba came into the weekend still on a high from his win in Kentucky.

“I was coming off of some success and feeling really confident, which is a great place to be coming into any tournament,” he said.

He sat out Santa Anita’s Preakness Challenge but was drawn to the Breeders’ Cup-type card that the New York Racing Association assembled last weekend.

Like many tournament players, Skiba takes a back-to-front approach. “With the Belmont contest itself, what I did was start at the end,” he said. “If you look at all contests, whether they’re $2 win-place or live bankroll, one thing that the final leaderboard has in common is that most of the people up at the top hit the last race. So, my strategy going in was to start with the Belmont Stakes, and I worked backwards from there.”

As it happened, the Belmont Stakes was the race he liked most. From the start, he knew he had to squirrel away enough bankroll to play the race properly. In this regard, the Belmont Betting Challenge rules helped him because players were allowed to take two entries. Skiba jumped at the opportunity.

“I had some money to work with from Churchill, so I decided to take the leap,” he said, “and while one entry flamed out early on Day 2, I had that second entry with enough cash to get me over the hump and get the victory.”

Despite all the live-bankroll betting success, Skiba hasn’t accomplished much in mythical-money tournaments like the ones commonly used online. “I certainly have not had the same level of success in the $2 mythical win-place contests as I’ve had in the live-bankroll events,” he said.

Skiba’s specific approach just might contribute to this. Many of the best mythical-money players – while always conscious of value – are a bit more selection-oriented. They’ll have a specific pick in a race or a horse they really like.

“I’m definitely more of a value capper at the end of the day,” said Skiba, who added that he’ll have several horses he’s looking at and will go with the one with the best chance of winning relative to his price. He also wants to make sure, in the words of respected handicapper Ken Massa, that “he’s fishing in the right pond.”

“Really, I like to beat favorites,” Skiba said. “Some people might call it a stabbing methodology, and that’s fine because that’s what it is. I’m not looking for the most likely winner. I’m looking for horses that should be 10-1 who go off at 25-1. That’s what I saw in the Belmont itself.”

His quest to beat favorites isn’t mere guesswork. He looks at every race and scores it from 1 to 10 to answer the question: How wide open is this race?

“If the favorite is live, I’m going to score the race a 1 or a 2, and it’s going to be a race I’m probably going to pass if it’s live-bankroll,” he said, “and if it’s mythical win-place, I may bite the bullet and play a lower-priced horse. I’m just looking to where I think the value is going to be. In the Belmont, I split my play across Destin and Creator, and it just so happened they finished first and second. I also liked Stradivari as well.”

With the way he constructed his bets, Skiba was able to use all three in weighted combinations. Compare that to a mythical event, where he would have had to choose only one of the three, and the possibilities for frustration will be obvious. Skiba also pointed out that in a win-place format, a lot more players would have settled on Creator simply because of his price on the board and not anything to do with the horse’s actual attributes.

Skiba said his advice for live-bankroll success is easy to say and harder to implement, but it very much bares repeating. “The hardest part is to divorce yourself from the money, like chips in a poker tournament,” he said. “Once that money is on the betting card, pretend it’s gone and really try to win the tournament. Have conviction in your belief and put your money on the ideas you like the most.”