Disaster at The Orleans: My First (and Perhaps Last) Trip to the Horse Player World Series

Distaster at the Horse Player World Series

My first trip to the Horse Player World Series was a complete disaster.

Last week I participated in the Horse Player World Series for the first time and I’m not sure if I could have done worse if I tried.

Over the course of three days and 45 bets (15 each day) I managed to pick two winners and two runner-ups.

My total score of $728.00 was good for 735th place out of 792 total entries.

My strategy was to focus on logical horses and hit with a high strike rate, rather than stabbing at long shots and hoping to catch a few each day.

I can’t say for sure that the strategy failed because my handicapping was so bad but I can say that the people I know that finished well went with a completely different strategy.

Where I Went Wrong

My first mistake, which occurred during my early preparation, was to completely ignore Oaklawn on the first day because of the high probability of an off track.

Oaklawn did have an off track but there were several logical winners (some at overlaid odds) that in retrospect could have easily been included in my 15 optional bets on day 1.

Mistake number two was to bet any races from Tampa Bay.

A few years ago I decided to focus on Tampa Bay instead of Gulfstream and Santa Anita for the winter.

After a month of losing I quickly ended that experiment.

Being stubborn and knowing that Tampa Bay produces some juicy win mutuels I handicapped the whole card and found a few horses that looked interesting.

Unfortunately none of them won.

After a dreadful first day I knew that I needed to have a very strong day two to have any chance of finishing in the money.

I needed to build some momentum early and maintain it throughout the day.

I stuck to my original plan of attack but only one of the logical horses I selected managed to win.

After a 2 for 30 start my chances of cashing were all but gone.

On day three I altered my strategy and demanded that any horse I selected be at least 8/1 at post time.

I knew this would reduce my strike rate but I had no other choice.

The racing gods were surely laughing at me as I passed on an early selection that went to post at 7/1 and promptly won by open lengths.

As the day progressed my minimum odds requirement increased and so too did my level of frustration.

I cashed with a 20/1 runner-up at Hawthorne but missed the rest of my bets.

The icing on the cake was the final race from Santa Anita and even though I had no chance I decided to pick a long shot firster from the Richard Mandella barn.

As I stood at the machine to enter my final bet I changed my mind and went with my original selection because I wanted to go out a winner.

That horse was never in contention and at this point you know exactly what happened.

Mandella’s hopeless firster came flying late to get up by a nose at odds of 27/1.

Not that it mattered but picking that horse would have moved me up about 200 places in the standings.

What Worked for Others

I had the pleasure of sitting with 2012 NHC Champ Michael Beychok during the second and third days of the contest.

He was playing three entries with a partner that could not attend the event and one of those entries finished in 26th, which was worth nearly $2,000.

His strategy throughout the contest was to avoid favorites and pick mostly mid-priced horses and sprinkle in a few long shots.

The formula worked great as all three of his entries beat my lone entry.

I also had the pleasure of meeting and eating dinner with Eric Wing of the NTRA.

Eric led the contest after day 1 and finished in 7th place winning a little over $18,000.

His strategy was similar to Michael’s as he connected with a few horses each day, all of which were in the 10/1 to 20/1 range.

What I Learned at the Horse Player World Series

Win or lose when attending a major handicapping contest you will always walk away a smarter and more educated horseplayer.

Each of us has our own way of handicapping and betting the races but watching others, especially those that do it full time and/or have been extremely successful is an eye-opening experience.

I have been to two major handicapping contests and I was lucky enough to sit with 2011 NHC Champ/professional horseplayer John Doyle and professional horseplayer Mike Maloney at the 2012 NHC and as I mentioned earlier I sat with 2012 NHC Champ Michael Beychok at this years Horse Player World Series.

Observing those three guys for just a few days taught me more than I could ever learn from reading every handicapping book in print.

The key takeaways are:

  • Create the same environment you use on a regular basis at the contest (i.e. bring your laptop or printed past performances or whatever it is you use in your daily routine)
  • Focus on your strengths and use the tools you have the most success with (i.e. workout reports, trip notes, trainer stats, etc.)
  • Let the odds board be your guide, pass on underlays and bet on overlays
  • Discuss the races with those around you because you never know when they might point out something you missed
  • Listen to the conversations during the contest and if you have the chance spend as much time as possible interacting with your fellow horseplayers before or after the contest

I may have had the worst three days of handicapping of my life at the Horse Player World Series but I’m glad I was there to learn from those mentioned above as well as so many others.

Why I May Never Attend the Horse Player World Series Again

You may think I am going to enter into a bitter tirade about my poor performance but there is sound reasoning for not attending this event again.

The Horse Player World Series has been around since 2005 and up until last year the rules were the same.

In 2012 players were for the first time allowed to earn or purchase multiple entries.

Looking at the chart below will show why this one change has completely altered the Horse Player World Series.

Horse Player World Series Results

The addition of allowing players to earn or purchase multiple entries has resulted in record winning scores the last two years at the Horse Player World Series.

Allowing players to have multiple entries has resulted in a record winning scores each of the two years.

Going into this event I projected a winning score of $3,500, which was 10% above the average for the first eight years of the event.

After day 2 this year that score had already been surpassed.

The consensus among those that I talked to was this rule change will hurt the Horse Player World Series in the long run and many like myself may not attend again unless the rule is changed back to allowing only a single entry.

This is yet another rule that will benefit the deep-pocketed handicapping contest players that can afford multiple entries and deter the average bankrolled handicapping contest players, like myself, from participating.

A person at my table mentioned that one guy had seven entries in his name and possibly more under other people’s names.

Who has a better chance of winning: the guy with 7+ entries or someone like me that has one?

Will the NHC Suffer the Same Fate?

The NHC is now allowing two entries per person and after the backlash against that change as well as several others I can only assume that the conversation throughout this year will be similar to the one at the Horse Player World Series.

Quite a few people I talked to said they are either not trying to qualify for the NHC this year or will be spending far less time and money doing so.

I understand that both the NHC and Horse Player World Series want larger fields but doing so by allowing multiple entries will likely be counterproductive over the long run.

My Focus the Rest of the Year

Originally I had planned on trying to qualify for every major handicapping contest this year.

Now after playing in one and talking with others I have shifted my focus.

My primary focus is to qualify for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, which has two big advantages.

First the event focuses on the two best days of racing during the year and second each person is only allowed one entry.

My secondary focus will be on the big money contests at Derby Wars, such as the $10,000 and $20,000 events that are held at least once a month.

I will still attend/play in NHC and Horse Player World Series qualifiers but on a much more limited basis.

My goal is to win prize money this year and if a qualifying spot comes along with it so be it.

If it doesn’t I’m not going to be upset.

Over To You

After reading about my experience at the Horse Player World Series and my thoughts about that event and the NHC going forward have you changed your opinion about either?

Will you still try to qualify for one or both?

Let me know in the comments below and if you enjoyed this post and want to know when every new post is published complete the form below.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of paulistapink.


  1. JP Fanshawe says:

    “Mandella’s hopeless firster came flying late to get up by a nose at odds of 27/1.”

    I was there as well, but I don’t know that I would have callled that horse “hopeless” because he exhibited one of my favorite long-shot angles for a firster: a bullet in his first work for a respected trainer, with a work of five furlongs or more in the last work before the race.

    It seems to me that the high score this year might not have been quite as linked to multiple entries as it was to the plethora of prices that were to be had in the tourney’s last two days.

    I write for anddownthestretchtheycome.com under this pen-name and the short version of the experience I detail there can be described this way: 17 seconds on one entry, and handicapping that many races is indeed a grind.

    I disagree with you on the multiple-entry thing. I don’t know of very many people that pay to be in that tournament. All but one 8 at my table had multiples, and one man had five entries, but not one of us had paid the entry to be there. I won plus the airfare and room, so I was there for a total of $150. I think capping them might be a good idea, however.

    I will continue to play in qualifiers for both Coast Casinos events and the NHC, but I do wish the NHC would push things back in the direction of brick-and-mortar events, which they could easily do by employing more online qualifiers that end with seats in satellite events at high-level tracks. In fact, I heard a slew of good suggestions from big name players this past weekend on ways that things could be improved, but no one seemed very confident that things were going to improve.

    • JP,

      The Mandella firster wasn’t impossible but he doesn’t win first out very often. I think it was more a result of a weak field than the horse being that good that he won. I too would like to see more brick and mortar contests but the NHC needs to make it worth their while to do so. Most tracks aren’t going to take a big loss just to host a NHC qualifier.

    • Anonymous says:

      jp i also had your mandella horse …mandella never works his horses very fast ..so a bullet from him stood out like a sore thumb.!!!! also enjoyed your artical,encourage all here ,to take a few minutes and give it a read.!

  2. ahhh Lenny .!! it is always a pleasure loo kin at tournaments tru your eyes.!..
    here are some thoughts thru a different perspective
    h.p.w.s. a bigger reason that scores were up ..was because they went from 11&12 picks per day to 15 a 20% increase in plays.
    i must admit , i love the breeders cup challenge..so here is some food for thought…this contest will come down to who wins the last race ..with the deep pockets thinking nothing of betting $30,000 -$100,000 on the last race .are u willing to go all in ??
    this is were deep pockets have their biggest advantage ,not as u think ,with multiple entries.!! so i offer u a challenge on that point ..pick a low priced derby wars game & put in max entries ..then let us know if it indeed increase your strike rate…

  3. Hi Lenny,

    As a long time horse racing enthusiast/handicapper/bettor, I thoroughly enjoyed your article on the contest and wish you had done better. Rather than focus on these contests, isn’t the true test of your betting skill actually betting the races with your own cash. As the old saying goes, you can beat a race but you can’t beat the races – so perhaps by simply focusing on certain spots would be challenging and rewarding enough?

    • Mike,

      Betting races is definitely more challenging and rewarding but supplementing that with handicapping contests is worth while since they offer a whole other set of challenges.

  4. Hi Len, get your emails and makes for some interesting reading, I was at last year and this year’s World Series at the Orleans. I agree with most of what you say about the multiple entries, so thinking that they make more money that way and probably won’t change it, if you can’t beat em , join em. I will be looking for partners for next year and trying for multiple entries for myself, there is no way to compete with the best handicappers in the country with 1 entry, in fact you noticed that the best had multiple entries. I also would rather have mandatory races because we had to look at what seemed like 100 races to find a race we like, then you have to find a horse you like and over three days, you brain feels like mush, although I know that 800 people trying to bet the same race would have to be worked out. You have to admit Len, it’s great fun playing in a tourney. Thanks

    • David,

      I would prefer half the races be mandatory as picking 15 races today is a lot harder then one would think and yes I agree that handicapping contests are fun and challenging.

    • david i love your enthusiasim..and wish you good luck picking up partners…multable entries can be very helpfull .I]’m just not sure that they will increase your r.o.i….the winner did have multable entries at the orleans …single entries did very well too. 5 of top ten & 16 of top 25 were single entries.

      • Chuck, your right too, just thinking that you can play within the rules and increase your chances,I think if you ask regular tourney players,most would say if allowed play more than one ticket,just trying to get some feedback about tourneys,thank you

  5. Jayfrompa says:

    Look at that last race this way: it made me feel better that a better capper than I can succumb to the last second bet switch and have it blow up big time. I thought I was alone at mastering that move.
    And speaking of Derby Wars, what’s the secret to “survivor” contests? I’ve won some, but I usually miss ONE race. They are deceivingly hard.

    • Jay,

      In survivor contests I try to avoid speed horses and stick with stalkers and closers. I also don’t avoid the favorites, which many people seem to do. Sometimes it can be as easy as picking the favorite or second choice in every race. While everyone else is trying to outsmart the competition you can stick to picking the horse with the best chance of finishing in the money.

  6. paul petit says:

    I was there also. Finished in 400 place officially. (six wins and 4 place) Should have been in 200th place approx. but lost 451 pts for putting in the wrong no. on day 1. I had a different take on the tournament. I won a contest, so I did not pay an entry fee, but there is nothing wrong with having multiple entries, as it greatly increased the prize money which will draw more players, not decrease them. I played in one before, that had lower prizes and was very disappointed. I believe I had a good stratergy by going for longshots with a number of 5 to 8/1 shots as secondaries. Also, there should never be mandatory races. Thirdly, you should not have changed your stratergy as the individual day prizes were well worth going after. By changing, you went off your normal methods of handiccapping which put you at a disadvantage.

    • Paul,

      While it is true that allowing multiple entries increases the total prize pool the same could be done by increasing the cost of an entry. If it were doubled to $2,000 then the prize money could increase without doubling the size of the field. Since there are ample opportunities to qualify I don’t think this would deter people and for those that have the money to buy in an extra $1,000 won’t matter. Also as bad as I was on the first two days it didn’t really matter what strategy I used on the final day, I don’t think I would have done any better.

  7. Excellent post, Lenny. I’m just catching up after a busy couple of weeks.

    I get why they’d allow multiple entries, but from a contest perspective hate the concept, solely because, to me, one should be relegated to their absolute best idea, rather than having 3-4 horses they like and playing multiple tickets. It’s fine to spread in regular betting, but I just find it askew that someone who plays, say, six entries in this contest comes away as “champion.” To me, contests should be more about handicapping skill then deep pockets, and that’s where I agree with you that NHC fouled up allowing two entries for those who win them.

    Good idea on the BCBC as well. I may go that route at some point, and totally agree that having the contest at the pinnacle of the racing season makes so much sense. I want to at least get to NHC once in my life, though.

  8. Kevin Jones says:

    Hi Lenny,
    I was there this year also, and still recovering from brain mush. I thought I did great the first day of the contest posting $1036, disaster the 2nd day – only had 1 place horse for $42 and came in as #436 with a total of $1556. I did notice one guy playing 5 entries and all 5 didn’t make the top 60 to get paid. So good and bad can come from multiple entries too. I was disappointed that there was no free internet because I had a difficult time seeing some of the TV’s to keep track of the live odds. Had to use my smartphone which was awkward instead of my tablet.
    As far as trying to get back there, I will if I qualify but probably will not pay for extra entries. Will be trying for the BCBC and the NHC too though. But since I work for a living my finances are not like those guys that can shell out $1000s for an extra entry or two.

  9. Hi Lenny….send me an email – I finally have my machine and program running, although I lost your email address in the changeover!


    Chuck W.

  10. Hi,
    I’ve yet to enter my first handicapping tournament but really like the prospect. It helps dispel concerns about not being able to overcome the takeout and remain competitive.
    But, it’s hard to believe that no internet is allowed. Do you bring laptops that load past performances in your hotel room?

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