11/09/2016 1:56PM

Tournaments serve as fresh challenge for Appelbaum

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Last weekend, New Yorker Joseph Appelbaum won the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, netting $364,000. Appelbaum, 48, runs Off the Hook Stables, a racing and breeding operation located in Ocala, Fla. Daily Racing Form caught up with him in the aftermath of his big win.

How long have you been a racing fan and how did you get into it?

I have been a fan and handicapper since I was a teenager, which, sad to say, was in the mid-80s. I had a group of college-aged friends and they would bring me to Saratoga as we were working at a summer camp close by.

In 2002, my original crew hit a pick six on Travers Day that paid us $109,000. Three of us took about half the winnings and claimed a horse. One horse became two, became too many, and that’s how I got into the business full time a few years later.

You have a lot of friends in the contest world, how did you meet them?

Through these same friends, I met the Maven [David Gutfreund] on Belmont Day when Risen Star won. Around 20 years ago, our group moved tack from the back porch of the Saratoga clubhouse to the Big Red Spring area. There our group became friendly with Paul and Duke Matties, and the Rotondo family, and really we all created a unique subculture back there.

What made you get involved in contest play?

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As I grew older, I mainly focused on the pick six, but saw tournament play as a new challenge. Our sport has had the same gaming system since its infancy and is crying out for innovation. Tournament play is new and still evolving – basically it’s a fresh challenge for a handicapper/gambler to take on. I initially started with the mythical bankroll tourneys but found I enjoyed the cash games much more, so that is mostly what I play.

You’ve also worked other jobs in the industry. Tell us about those.

I am on the boards of both NYTHA [New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association] and TOBA [Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association] and this reflects my interest in the governance of the game. Our sport could use a good dose of modernization. To stay competitive in the athletics/gaming/entertainment fields we need to provide our fans with a greatly enhanced product that is equal to or better than what they see from the NFL, casinos etc.

What are your biggest contest wins? Have you qualified for the National Handicapping Championship before?

This will be my third time qualifying for NHC and my first time dual qualified. My best finishes have been in the Battle of Saratoga, fourth a few years ago, and I think I was fifth this year. I also did well in the Monmouth Pick Your Prize contest earlier in the year, where I qualified for NHC.

Do you subscribe to any particular handicapping methodology?

Like many players I know, it is speed-figure oriented with a dash of trainer angles but I probably use more pedigree analysis than most.

What was your plan coming in to the contest?

On Friday, I mostly treaded water trying to keep both bankrolls intact. In the Distaff, I bet $5,000 to win on Beholder, essentially emptying one account. I was very fortunate, but it put me in good position for Saturday.

On Saturday, I was mostly interested in betting on Om, Arrogate, and the Euros in the turf races. If Om had gotten up, I would have been in a really strong position, but likely so too would a lot of other players. I then built up my smaller bankroll so I had two chances to get home in the last two races. In the Classic, I hit a $13,000 one-way exacta, Arrogate over Chrome. I also played a $1,000 exacta Arrogate over Effinex.

Any final thoughts on the 2016 BCBC?

I’d like to congratulate [second-place finisher] Charlie Davis, a run from $1,000 to $60,000 in the course of nine races is exceedingly difficult. I also think Tim Schram and the Breeders Cup deserve a lot of credit for nurturing this tourney. Too often tourneys are seen as an afterthought or worse a nuisance at large events and I’d love to see them play a more central role.