Strategies for Betting in Tournaments

Betting Parlour
Betting Parlour (Photos by Z/

What to think about in horse racing tournament betting strategy

Despite the dire statistics about the overall horse racing handle’s steady decline, horse racing tournament participation has grown steadily, especially the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) held each January in Las Vegas. While there are a number of variants on tournament play, most involve a one-time buy-in followed by regulated, simulated bets on a number of races.

Strategy varies based on the type of tournament you play, including online qualifiers. While the basic principle of selecting contenders and then deciding among those contenders who to bet is a preferred pattern, a tournament player must be able to look ahead. You don’t want to be making selections as you go because you need to be setting up the endgame even in the very beginning.

There are certain races within the sequence of races that you’re playing that are key. You should try to identify a few races where the favorite is real vulnerable. Your tournament results will often hinge on a couple of your longer-priced plays, and identifying vulnerable favorites in a race increases your chances to have you’re longer-priced horse win or place to award you points and money.

In nearly every race there will be one or more horses that are dropping from a higher Class race or moving up from a lower Class race. Many of the long shot winners in a contest are horses moving up or down in Class. The biggest drop in Class is often from Maiden Special Weight to Maiden Claiming, but understanding the true difference in class and being able to identify horses that are ready to run better or against a weaker group will allow you to select more long shots and higher-priced horses for a bigger payoff.

You may be able to pad your score with some favorites in selected races, and if the favorite looks like the most likely winner and you cannot find a suitable alternative, then pick the favorite. It’s better to collect $10 (win plus place) on a 7-5 favorite then to get nothing. However, you’ll ultimately need to identify some long shots that can win or place to improve your standing in a tournament. A tournament has a finite ending point, and so being aggressive while identifying value with longer-priced horses against false favorites that are more vulnerable will reward you in tournament play. is a common stop for tournament players and their Kentucky Derby Betting Championship is a must.

by Fairway Jay

Contest Strategies for Betting Horse Players

Churchill Downs Racing Scene
Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY. (

John Mucciolo has participated in several tournaments and has been a betting horse player long enough to provide insightful tid-bits for tournament handicapping.

Horse racing contests have grown at a rapid rate since the inception of the NHC 19 years ago, both in field size and purse structure. While I have yet to win one, I have dabbled with enough contests in the past with some decent results. Below is what I think is a sound strategy to put yourself in a good position to be in the running:

Do Your Homework

Showing up for a contest ‘in the blind’ is never a wise idea. There is simply too much to process and a bevy of decisions to be made in a short period of time to do your ‘capping on the fly’. A hearty amount of studying in the days and nights leading up to your contest is essential.

Handicapping Backwards

I am a firm believer and stress the importance of handicapping backwards. What is handicapping backwards? Well, I always study the latter races on the card before coming back to the early ones. These contests are a grind, and you could get fried nearing the end of the day. So, having the later races already broken down in advance will help with the potential brain-freeze.

Get Track Changes As Early As Possible

Another important item that can be overlooked, track changes are vital. A morning scratch, a change of surface, the turf rail being closer or further than usual – these details can change the entire complexion of a race and how you go about tackling it.

Don’t Fall in Love with The Leaderboard

Horse racing contests are the ultimate challenge, combining both handicapping prowess and astute money management. With that said, I do my best to avoid getting sucked in to what other players have accomplished, especially early in the day. Stick to your guns and instincts.

Picking Winners

Remember, a 2-1 winner is much better than an 8-1 loser. In an average contest, a 30-40 winning rate will often give you every chance at grabbing the money. So avoid swinging at a price horse that you are not confident in…unless things are getting dire late in the game!

Play to Your Strengths

I, personally, do my best work with maiden runners, starter allowance races and have also been improving my success rate on the turf. I often use the BRIS Custom Card to focus on my strong points and download just these types of events. If you do well with other kinds, then I urge you to do the same.

Recognizing Bad Favorites

I saved the most important nugget for last. Establishing vulnerable favorites is imperative for contest success. With many of these using the win/place format, this is where you can get inflated returns both in the win and place pools. I could compose an entire piece on what I think a poor betting favorite looks like, though we all have our own criteria. Make this a number one priority in your handicapping.

While there are numerous other factors in preparing and playing contests (workout reports, track variances et al), I believe that I have highlighted on a majority of the big ones.

Good luck!

– by John Mucciolo

The Super Bowl of Horse Betting is the NHC

The National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) precedes the Kentucky Derby Betting Championship (KDBC) and is the Biggest Betting Event of the Year.

The Road to the Kentucky Derby may be in full stride with 16 Derby prep races completed and the biggest races coming in March with the Championship Series. But this weekend in Las Vegas is the horse handicapper’s largest event of the year. THE “Super Bowl” of horse racing where horse players participate in the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Feb. 9-11, before taking on the Kentucky Derby Betting Championship in May.

The NHC is the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping tournament of the year for horseplayers. The event culminates following a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino race books, off-track betting facilities, and horse racing handicapping websites. Each of which sends top qualifiers to the national finals in Vegas. There are no “buy-in” entries at the NHC, but getting into the field through qualifying events is a big accomplishment.

Tournament play has been the fastest growing segment in the horse racing industry. The NHC was first held in 2000 at the MGM Grand and has been held in Las Vegas every year since. And big money is played for during the NHC at the Treasure Island (TI) Hotel in Casino on the Las Vegas strip. In 2016, the NHC purse was $2.77 million with a first place prize of $800,000 going to Paul Matties. In 2017, the 18th Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) boasted a record field of 654 entries who competed for the largest purse in horse handicapping tournament history – $2,900,600 in cash and awards. First place was again $800,000 and Canadian Roy Arsenault, a 64-year-old transportation broker, was the winner and awarded horse racing’s official title of “Horseplayer of the Year.”

I was on site at the 2017 NHC in Las Vegas, following and listening to the excitement as the ballrooms were buzzing. By Sunday, the field had been paired down to the top-10 percent of the field, and the top 66 players earned a minimum cash prize of $5,000 with 50 players earning $10,000 or more.

But in talking with horse players and other handicappers including Las Vegas-based Richard Eng, who writes and reports on horse racing for various publications and online outlets, it’s clear that tournament play is a skill set far different from playing the races daily. It requires a strategy in which the tote board is your friend. The higher the odds on a horse you like, the more likely you are to play it.

You can’t rely on $6 and $8 horses as you might in real life. You need $20 winners and up to compete with the best tournament players. Thus, playing it safe in a tournament is playing to lose. Even the best horse players and handicappers can struggle with that concept.

The 2018 NHC will be another superb success as the horse players watch their horses storm down the stretch on numerous TV’s and video screens at the Treasure Island.

“We are delighted to once again host many of the pre-eminent horseplayers, and coolest people, in the world,” said NTRA Chief Operating Officer and NHC Tournament Director Keith Chamblin. “It is only through the support of so many horseplayers and participating organizations that we are able to realize another record year of growth for the NHC – by far the single largest promotional program in Thoroughbred racing.”

A full scoreboard will be updated regularly at, where fans and players can also find each day’s contest race menu and news updates. Additional news and exclusive content will be shared on Twitter via the official NTRA account, @NTRA.

News updates also will be available throughout the contest on At the Races with Steve Byk, who will broadcast live on Sirius XM satellite radio from Treasure Island during the show’s regular hours, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. EST, beginning Friday morning.

Many of the NHC bettors will appear again during the biggest weekend in Thoroughbred Racing. The next tournament on player’s radars is the Kentucky Derby Betting Championship (KDBC) presented by TwinSpires, which encapsulates Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby days. With a real money handicapping contest that awards prizes, including the chance for seats at the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) in the fall, the opportunity to wager big on an already pool friendly card is enticing. Find more information on the TwinSpires Tournaments website.

by FairwayJay

Dan Shugar Shows Experience With Conservative Strategy Bets For KDBC

by Alastair Bull

Dan Shugar has learned quite a big in eight years playing horse racing tournaments, which included a victory in the Wynn Handicap event a few years ago.

He leaned on that experience when choosing a conservative strategy for the Kentucky Derby Betting Championship on March 26.

“With only 20 entries, I looked for low priced horses in most events,” Shugar said.

He got to the last race in a good position, but wasn’t sure how he was going when his selection, Edwards Going Left, crossed the finish line second at Santa Anita Park. But he benefitted when the winner, Passed By Paul, was disqualified and placed second for interference with Edwards Going Left.

“The last race was tough because of the DQ,” Shugar said. “I was in the lead and not sure who the second place participant had. But when they put my number up, I knew I was Derby-bound for the first time!”

The Kentucky Derby Betting Championship runs on Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby day, May 5-6. Contestants – apart from those who win qualification – put forward $12,000, of which $8,000 is their betting bankroll and $4,000 goes into the prize pool.

The prizemoney will depend on the number of entries. If there are 75 players entered, the winner receives $140,000, the runner-up $80,000, and the third-place finisher $30,000. All three, plus the fourth- and fifth-place finishers, also receive entry to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, which is worth $10,000.

All players get to keep their remaining bankroll at the end of the tournament.

Shugar, who says he loves wagering on because of how easy it is to use, says earning a place in the KDBC is one of his biggest moments in racing, but there’s one other highlight that’s special to him.

“My most memorable moment was being on track at Saratoga to watch my horse break its maiden on the turf!”

Learn about more betting options for the Kentucky Derby.

2017 Kentucky Derby Betting Championship Qualifier Mike Kappel Looks Forward to Competing

by Alastair Bull

Retired computer store operator Mike Kappel has been a horseplayer for 48 years, but nothing has matched the thrill of qualifying for the Kentucky Derby Betting Championship.

Kappel, 69, of Belleville, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, earned his spot after finishing second in a qualifying tournament Feb. 19.

His prize: a $12,000 prize package guaranteeing him entry to the second Kentucky Derby Betting Championship, which otherwise would have cost him $12,000 to enter, and a competition seat at Churchill Downs for the Oaks and Derby May 5-6 if he wishes (he also has the option of competing online via

Kappel began well the day he qualified for the KDBC, but fell back a little before changing his plan and placing a winning bet at Oaklawn Park. However, he fell back prior to the last race, a maiden claiming at Santa Anita Park, where he backed favorite Hook’ Em Kurt, who he decided was very likely to win.

“I saw I could not catch the competition leader, but I could make second depending on what the others above played, so I thought Hook ‘Em Kurt was my best chance to get second.

“Hook ‘Em Kurt won (rallying from well back to win by a nose), and I was thrilled.”

Kappel said he became interested in horse racing from the time his father took him to the track. He’s taken part in tournaments for 15 years, and said his biggest moment had been finishing first to qualify for the National Handicapping Championship at Kentucky Downs’ first all-turf contest – until now.

“My biggest win is the entry to the Kentucky Derby Betting Championship,” he said. “I look forward to competing.”

The Kentucky Derby Betting Championship runs on Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby day, May 5-6. Contestants put forward $12,000, of which $8,000 is their betting bankroll and $4,000 goes into the prize pool.

The prizemoney will depend on the number of entries. If there are 75 players entered, the winner receives $140,000, the runner-up $80,000, and the third-place finisher $30,000. All three, plus the fourth- and fifth-place finishers, also receive entry to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, which is worth $10,000.

All players get to keep their remaining bankroll at the end of the tournament.

(Coady Photography/Churchill Downs)

California Horseplayer is 1st Kentucky Derby Betting Championship Qualifier from

Veteran contest player wins $24,000 prize package to inaugural KDBC via

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Jan. 5, 2016) – A veteran contest player will make his first-ever trip to the Kentucky Derby thanks to and winning an entry into the inaugural Kentucky Derby Betting Championship.

Kevin Geraghty of California won a $24,000 prize package to the KDBC on May 6-7 at Churchill Downs by winning a $250 satellite tournament on January 2 on

Geraghty is no stranger to the tournament scene, having finished second in the Online Handicapping Series Championship in November to earn a Horse Player World Series seat after already having qualified twice for the National Handicapping Championship.

“TwinSpires is a great product because everything is there,” said Geraghty. “You can bet, you can watch replays, and you can get your handicapping information.”

That handicapping information is a draw for Geraghty, who said he uses Ultimate Past Performances and Profitline products from and available on to handicap.

“I thought the KDBC was a great idea,” Geraghty said. “It’s going to be pretty popular. A lot of guys I know and play with are trying to qualify, and after they saw I won I got about 50 e-mails and texts. I’ve never been to the Derby, so shame on me for that, but both my wife and I are so excited. She’s already shopping for hats.”

Of course, as an accomplished handicapper, Kevin’s wife Lee will be doing more than just shopping leading up to the Derby. She is a dual qualifier for NHC and earlier this year won a tournament at Del Mar’s Surfside. tournaments to the Kentucky Derby Betting Challenge continue with satellites daily starting Wednesday, January 6, with two KDBC seats up for grabs in the $250 contest on January 16. Third through fifth-place finishers will receive a trip to Las Vegas for the Horse Player World Series March 30-April 2 at the Orleans Casino.

“Our initial tournament received such an enthusiastic response from our players that we decided to guarantee two more KDBC seats on January 16,” said Tournament Director Lucky Kalanges. “Players can satellite in or buy in for $250, and they will have better odds of qualifying than they did last time. Seats in the KDBC itself are limited, so this is a great way to get qualified now.” is the official wagering site of the Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup, Louisiana Derby and the Churchill Downs Inc. family of tracks. To open an account, visit, call 1-877-SPIRES-1 (1-877-774-7371), or download our app from the Apple/iTunes Store.

Kentucky Derby Betting Contest 2016 is Open

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859-327-8516 & Churchill team to offer $20,000 handicapping tournament

The Kentucky Derby Betting Championship features record buy in, VIP Oaks-Derby experience

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Dec. 17, 2015) – The best handicappers will join the best three-year-olds for the inaugural Kentucky Derby Betting Championship on May 6-7 at Churchill Downs.

Featuring a $20,000 buy-in and a VIP on-track experience, the KDBC is a live-money handicapping tournament with $5,000 of the entry fee going to a guaranteed prize pool of $250,000 and the other $15,000 going toward wagering on the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby cards. The projected prize pool includes three entries each to the National Handicapping Championship and the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

“The World’s Most Legendary Racetrack is used to welcoming the best horses to Louisville each year, and as the official account wagering site of the Kentucky Derby, TwinSpires is excited to help Churchill welcome the best horseplayers as well,” President Ted Gay said. “This is an exciting way for the top handicappers to be a part of the most exciting two minutes in sports.”

Registration with a $1,000 deposit is now available at, which also includes rules, prize structure, and information on how to qualify via satellites on, which will conduct satellites beginning December 26 with a contest on January 2 to award a $24,000 prize package to the KDBC.

Players who earn an entry via will receive a $20,000 buy in and a $4,000 travel allowance for transportation and lodging. All players receive reserved seats to both the Oaks and Derby plus an invitation to The Mansion for a welcome reception on May 5 following the races.

“This exciting live-money handicapping contest is a welcome addition to our Kentucky Derby Week activities,” said Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery. “This opportunity is a result of our great partnership with, and we’re thrilled at the chance to host and entertain this group of top horseplayers at the home of America’s greatest race.”

For more information, visit is the official online and mobile wagering site of the Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup, and the Churchill Downs Inc. family of tracks. Players who wager with receive free handicapping information from the official data source of the Kentucky Derby, To open an account, visit, call 1-877-SPIRES-1 (1-877-774-7371), or download our app from the Apple/iTunes Store.

Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ: CHDN) will conduct its 2016 Spring Meet April 30-July 2. The track has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships eight times. For more information visit