Derby Wars $25,000 Shootout Recap

Derby WarsThis past Saturday Derby Wars hosted its first ever monthly Shootout handicapping contest.  The top prize was $10,000 and over $25,000 in cash and future contest entries were awarded.  The contest offered 165 spots which could be earned via preliminary contests in the weeks leading up to the Shootout or by buying in for $175.

The $25,000 Shootout followed the traditional online handicapping contest format with one difference.  The contest consisted of 15 races from three tracks (Gulfstream, Santa Anita and Tampa Bay) and players were required to select one horse in each race on which a mythical $2 Win and Place bet were made.  The one difference and one that was implemented in all handicapping contests hosted by Derby Wars is a lower odds cap.  Typically the odds caps are $42 to Win and $22 to Place, but Derby Wars now caps Win bets at $32 and Place bets at $18.

According to the team behind Derby Wars this change was made because of feedback from its players.  Personally I like the change because it rewards players that focus on sound handicapping and reduces the luck factor that rewards players that stab at impossible long shots.

Applying Lessons Learned from Previous Handicapping Contests

Following my own advice I prepared ahead of time by handicapping most of the contest races the day before the Shootout.  I finished my handicapping the morning of the contest and was able to make adjustments, although minimal, after program changes were announced later in the day.

I also had a Handicapping Tournament Matrix (which you can download by signing up for my mailing list in the top right corner of the page) for both real time contests I was participating in (I also played in the Xpressbet Beat the Host Championship) which made life much easier because the three tracks had races going off within minutes of one another for most of the day.

Early preparation was definitely the key to my success because I was able to focus on each race without the distraction of handicapping between races or flipping through past performances to find my contenders in each race.

How the Day Played Out

The contest races were fairly formful, which generally bodes well for me, and because of this no one was able to pull away from the pack.  (Here’s a pdf of my Handicapping Tournament Matrix)  I picked five winners and one runner-up but looking back its quite obvious I could have done better then my fifth place finish.

In the nine races I lost my second choice won six of them.  In two of those races (GP 7 and TAM 11) I was torn between my final selection and my second choice.  Had I selected Old Time Hockley (GP 7) I would have finished in third and had I selected Prospective (TAM 11) I would have finished in second.  In both races I decided to go with bigger price horses.

New Lesson Learned

The new lesson learned is favorites count too and most handicapping contest players overlook the favorite.  Three of my five winners were favorites (Mucho Macho Man – GP 8, Zagora – TAM 10 and Lady Shamrock – SA 8).  This lesson was reinforced by the last race of the contest, the San Felipe.  The only player in the top 10 (Derby Wars displays the selections of the top 10 players after the race has been closed) that selected either of the two favorites was the leader.  He went with Creative Cause while no one selected Bodemeister.

My $1,600 Mistake

My top pick in the San Felipe was Empire Way although he was a very tepid selection.  I thought five of the ten runners had a legitimate chance of winning and as the clock counted down I was torn as to which horse to select.  Should I go for the win or try to move up a few spots by being conservative?

I called my dad and asked who he liked even though I already knew the answer.  Creative Cause is his Derby horse and he thought he was a standout in the San Felipe and so did most of the analysts on television.  I wasn’t sold on Creative Cause as he didn’t appear to move forward from two to three.  He did, however, tower over the field on class.

In the end I landed on American Act who was a huge overlay in my opinion at 24/1.  With only one other speed horse in the race I reasoned that American Act might clear early and get a comfortable lead.  He had outrun Bodemeister in their previous meeting and hooking up early would surely sap both horses energy.  Because of that I figured Rafael Bejarano would rate Bodemeister.

My analysis was incorrect.  American Act got the lead but Bejarano placed Bodemeister right on his flank early on.  After three quarters of a mile American Act began to tire.  Bodemeister inherited the lead but the early pace had taken its toll on him and Creative Cause ran him down to win by three quarters of a length.

The good news was that since no one behind me picked either of the top two finishers I was able to maintain fifth place.  The bad news was had I picked Creative Cause I would have finished in third place which paid $2,400 (vs. $828 for fifth).

Final Thoughts

Do I regret not picking Creative Cause?  A little but because I had a negative opinion of him I don’t feel terrible.  I made the decision to go with the overlay that would have vaulted me to the lead.  I bypassed a chance to win $2,400 to instead go for $10,000.  I was aggressive like most people and therein lies the most important lesson from this handicapping contest.

Most people will be aggressive and go for the win which leaves the door open for other to sneak past them by picking low priced logical horses.  That lesson will be in the back of my mind the next time I am in contention going into the final race of a handicapping contest.  If a trip to Las Vegas is on the line I will go for the win but if the prize is cash only I will think long and hard about how to attack the final race.

If you have been in my position how did you approach the final race?  If you haven’t how would you approach the final race?

If you haven’t checked out Derby Wars yet what are you waiting for?  Contests are held Wednesday through Sunday and in the next few weeks two more big money contests will be offered ($20,000 Florida Derby Day Contest on March 31st and $30,000 April Shootout on April 14th).


  1. Lenny, Congrats on finishing 5th out of 165! Very impressive!
    I’m going to check out your Tournament Matrix – sounds like a great tool!

    • Mark,

      Thanks, I’m looking forward to the Florida Derby Day contest and the April Shootout on Bluegrass/Arkansas Derby day. Keep up the great work.

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