How to be a Contender in the Player’s Choice Handicapping Tournament
The monthly Player’s Choice Handicapping Tournament takes place this Saturday, November 27. If you’re a reasonably skilled handicapper and you follow the guidelines below, you’ll have a better than average chance of being a contender. You might even win it all.
Tournament play is about handicapping. You have one goal. Figure out the best way to find more medium to high-priced winners than your competition and do the work. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
7 Steps to Handicapping Contest Success
Know the rules
Set your target
Similar to most $2 Win-Place-Show tournaments with a 20-1 CAP (maximum payout on winners), historical records from previous Player’s Choice tournaments show that you generally need to double your bankroll to be a win contender. In this case that means you have to turn your $60 starting bankroll into $120. That’s your target. Reaching it does not guarantee you’ll win, but it will put you in contention.
Gather and organize your information
Equibase programs and Daily Racing Forms are available a few days before the tournament starts. Print or download these programs as soon as they become available and gather/organize any other information that will help you in the handicapping process. This might include result charts, trip and track bias notes, trainer patterns, breeding information, video replays, and anything you might experiment with, such as DRF Clocker Reports, DRF Formulator and customized PPS, software and handicapping data from Brisnet.com.
Form a game plan based on your strengths
The current format of the Player’s Choice tournaments allows you to bet any race from any North American track, as long as it goes to post before 10 p.m. the day of the tournament. That means hundreds of races. Nobody can properly handicap that many races. You need a game plan based on your strengths.
What tracks have you had success with in the past? What are your favourite handicapping angles? What types of races do you play best? Are you better at handicapping turf, dirt or synthetic tracks? Everyone eventually finds a speciality, a favourite track, a handicapping style or angle that works better than anything else for them. Scan the races to determine where you might find the best plays based on your strengths. Perhaps focus primarily on races with large fields, where it’s easier to find beatable favourites, logical overlays and longshots. Then start handicapping seriously.
Handicap early, decide late
You’re not going to win the Player’s Choice tournament without advance preparation, although it does happen occasionally. You’re also not going to win by betting favourites. You’re looking for horses between 5-1 and 20-1 that have a handicapper’s chance to win. You’re also looking for beatable favourites. Go through your selected races, throw out horses you determine have no chance to win, and select your best three price horses from the remaining contenders.
Tip #1: Watch the replays of your contenders' past few races and any good performances further back. This will help you rank your contenders, and maybe even throw one or more out. If you’re making your decisions based only on the racing lines, you’re using the same information everyone else has. No edge there. If you’re a trip handicapper playing horses with trouble lines, you need to know for sure whether the trouble actually affected the horse’s performance. You will find many cases where it did not. Money saved.
Tip #2: Look where others don’t. Most players base their handicapping decisions on a horse’s last race. If a horse has poor recent form, take a closer look 2-5 races back. If a horse has run races good enough to win at today’s class and distance before, they might do so again. These types of longshot winners are missed regularly. If you can find a reason for a horse to return to form, they might be worth a play, especially at big odds.
Construct a spreadsheet in post time order for each of your selected races, along with the track, the race number and your contenders. As post time approaches, check the odds on your contenders and decide which horse to play. If one of your contenders is an underlay (lower odds than it should be), your decision on which horse to play becomes easier. You’re looking for overlays (horses at higher odds than you think they should be).
Separate yourself from the pack with CAP Horses
Many tournaments have a “CAP” or maximum payout allowed on winners. This prevents lottery longshot players with no handicapping skills from beating you. In the Player’s Choice tourney, the CAP payout on horses is 20-1 for a win, 10-1 for a horse that finishes second and 5-1 for a horse that finishes third. Regardless of the limits, if you hit a CAP horse you could collect up to $76 ($42 to win, $22 to place and $12 to show). One CAP horse can make you a contender. Two will make you very tough to beat!
Tip #3: Many tournament players will look for CAP horses, but if a horse’s morning-line or post time odds are higher than the CAP limit, they will not play it. If a horse you like at 15-1 on the morning-line is 25-1 at post time, should you still play it? Definitely! Because most won’t.
Stay the course – mental toughness
In addition to being a test of handicapping skills, tournaments are also a test of mental toughness. Playing the wrong contender and watching your other horse win, horses getting into trouble, bad rides, lost photos -- all can influence your mental state. Additionally, if you’re at the track, you might also have to watch rival players cheering on their winners. Don’t let any of it rattle you.
Block out past losses and incorrect decisions, avoid distractions and stick to your game plan. Stay the course, trust your handicapping and play your picks with confidence. Who knows, you might just win the next three races in a row at 20-1, 15-1 and 29-1. And that…
Would make you a winner!