By Eric Wing for woodbine.com
TORONTO, June 30 – One of the sharpest tournament players in Canada—and throughout North America, for that matter—is Allan Schaffer of Toronto. Since winning a Woodbine tournament in 2005 that earned him $25,000 andhis first NHC berth, the 67-year-old commercial real estate executive has qualified seven additional times for the prestigious Las Vegas tournament, and he has also played in four Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge events.
Along the way he has also made many scores at the betting windows, pulling down a $32,000 Pick Six and several five-figure Pick Fours. At last year’s NHC, Schaffer finished 47th in the field of more than 600 entries and earned $10,500. He also has won a competition at Surfside in California and has scored a couple of online wins in addition to his Woodbine triumph. But ask him what his most lucrative cashes have been over the years, and he’ll tell you not about winning horses, but about winning people. Schaffer plays in most contests in partnership with his close friend Lorne Weiss.
“Two of our biggest wins were the result of being minor partners with Brian Troop and Ray Arsenault when they each won the NHC,” Schaffer says. “I like to think I can pick the horses well, but I might be better at picking horseplayers!”
Schaffer has the utmost respect for Troop’s and Arsenault’s handicapping prowess, but the fruitful partnerships were born as much from friendship as horse acumen. “I knew Brian and Ray very well from the local scene. They are very good handicappers. But when we decide to take a piece of each other in a contest, it’s based as much on camaraderie as anything else.“
That camaraderie is a big part of what makes contest play appealing to Schaffer who, when not playing in the Woodbine Club, favors tournaments at Santa Anita so he can combine contest fun with a visit to see his daughter (a Netflix executive) and his four-year-old grandson in Los Angeles.
“Contest players are a terrific group of people,” says Schaffer. “It’s certainly not the stereotypical degenerate crowd like some might think. It’s a nice mix of professional players who are very sharp along with other people who have the means to travel and purchase the contest entries. When I go to California, I know I’ll see friends like Don Beardsworth and Dennis DeCauwer. When I go to New York, I know people like Monte Engler, a lawyer, and a couple of other stockbroker friends will be there. It makes it more fun seeing familiar faces at the various stops.”
Schaffer discovered horse racing back in 1966 when he was vacationing with his friend in Lake George, N.Y. and tagged along on an afternoon trip to Saratoga. Before long, he became a once-a-week player and, as his real estate career grew more prosperous, he delved into owning and breeding. His supportive wife Robin bought him a piece of a horse for his 50th birthday to get him started.
Schaffer had what he considers modest success as owner and something less than that as a breeder. Through it all, he always seemed to derive more fun, and better results, from the wagering side of the business. Then, in the early 2000s, he discovered Gulfstream Park’s Turf-Vivor contests and enjoyed both the competition and fellowship of those events. That led to his participation—and eventual $25,000 victory—in the 2005 tourney at Woodbine, and suddenly an avid contest player was born.
“I always enjoyed my experiences owning horses and especially the relationships I developed with some great trainers. However, the nice thing about tournaments as opposed to owning is that I’d be lucky to get five or six races per year out of a horse,” he said. “In tournaments, you can lose on Saturday and come right back and play on Sunday. Spending money is always relative, but if you can afford the $150 or $165 to play in a tournament, it’s great.”
When playing tournaments, Schaffer does not skimp on doing his homework.
“It’s just like everyday life,” he says. “Talent is great, but when talent is combined with hard work, that is how consistent success is achieved. On the tournament scene, you often see the same names at the top of the leaderboards. This is no accident. They’re not just showing up and saying ‘I think I’ll play the 4 horse.’ They’re putting in the time to outwork the competition. When I play, I’ll put in a lot of time with the Racing Form. On big days, I’ll use Thoro-Graph as well. I’ll also use Formulator to rewatch races and look for trouble that’s not readily apparent in the Form. From there, I would say my biggest strength is being able to pick my spots and focus in on certain races in which to key horses. I seem to do better in turf races and distance races and less so in dirt sprints. I do like maiden races at any distance, though, and enjoy studying the siblings of horses as a clue to how young horses will perform.”
For racing fans contemplating a first foray into contests, Schaffer believes that Woodbine’s modestly priced events are a great place to start in order to get the feel of live competition without having to put up an overly expensive entry fee.
“Experience is important,” he says. “Online contests are easy to play. You really don’t have to travel if you don’t want to. If you do play online, I think Pick & Pray tournaments are a little easier for new players than live contests just because you put all your picks in at the beginning and don’t have to worry about adjusting your strategy if a longshot comes in that you don’t have.”
Once you are involved in a contest—regardless of format—Schaffer stresses the need to maintain one’s focus. “You have to be able to put bad breaks out of your mind and, as long as there are races left, stick to the goal of tripling your bankroll or increasing it two and a half times as the case may be. There’s always lots of yelling at live tournaments and you have to ignore all that too. A longshot will come in and eight people will be screaming and later you check the standings and it turns out only one person had the longshot. What were they yelling about? Maybe they simply bet money on the horse. Or maybe they were just trying to intimidate their opponents. You just have to put blinkers on and focus on what you have to do. With the benefit of experience, I find I’m much better at that now than I used to be.”
Schaffer will be a familiar face at the Woodbine tournaments this year as he seeks to qualify yet again for the NHC and BCBC. And while he wants to win, he also hopes for additional competition in the form of new faces taking part in the very vibrant Woodbine contest scene.
“I’d love to see more people—maybe even some university students—get involved in tournaments. There are so many variables that make them great. Of course, it’s about the majesty of the horse. But it’s also a game that forces you to match wits with your opponents in a competitive way. It’s a game that makes you think.”
TOURNEY NOTES—Registration is now open for the Woodbine Mid-Summer Handicapping Tournament, which will take place on Saturday, July 29, here at Woodbine. The prize pool is expected to offer $20,000 in cash and prizes with two NHC seats up for grabs. Buy-in is $500, with $250 going towards your live bankroll and $250 going to the prize pool. Special discounted hotel rates are available at The Westin Toronto Airport. Call (416) 675-9444 and ask for the Woodbine Entertainment Corporate rate.
Big news! Woodbine is now offering a $500,000 bonus to its winner of the September 16 Woodbine Mile Handicapping Tournament should that player go on to win November’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC). The Woodbine Mile Handicapping Tournament is expected to offer $165,000 in cash and prizes, including two BCBC seats and four NHC seats. Buy-in is $3,500 ($2,000 live betting bankroll and $1,500 to the prize pool.)
In between the Mid-Summer Handicapping Tournament and the Woodbine Mile Handicapping Tournament, make plans to attend the Woodbine Weekend Handicapping Tournament on August 26-27. The two-day event has a $600 buy-in ($300 live bankroll, $300 to the prize pool) and will offer one BCBC seat and four NHC seats as part of its expected $60,000 in cash and prizes.
BREAKING: Check out Woodbine’s brand new Player of the Year Series. Full details on Woodbine’s players homepage.
Eric Wing is the Communications Director at HorseTourneys and the longtime emcee at the National Handicapping Championship. Prior to joining HorseTourneys, Wing headed up Communications at the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and The New York Racing Association. Eric’s Player Profile will be published monthly on the last Friday of each month on woodbine.com.