TORONTO, August 24 – As a longtime criminal lawyer, Peter Behr of London, Ontario, has crossed paths with plenty of people who have tried to beat the system. That even happened the first time he ever played in a handicapping tournament.
“It was back in 1989 at a harness contest in Ohio at Northfield,” said Behr, 66. “The contest was worth about $100,000, and I believe it was winner take all. You could make only mythical win, place or show bets.
“The guy who won it was brilliant,” Behr said sincerely. “The pools there were small and he’d bet $500 in real money on some longshot to show. Then in the contest, which was mythical money, he’d make his play on the favorite to show. With the odds manipulation at play, the favorite would pay about $30 to show. And he won the contest. When it was over, they refused to pay the guy. But he took them to court, and since there was no rule against doing what he did, he got his money.”
It was an unusual—and certainly memorable—introduction to handicapping tournaments, but despite the odd circumstances involved, Behr found himself captivated. He went on to play in a series of Las Vegas tournaments during the 1990s, and he has qualified for seven of the past eight NHCs.
By far, the most dramatic moment of his contest career, however, came at the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) at Santa Anita.
Muddling along on Day 2 with close to his starting bankroll of $7,500, Behr found himself attracted to a horse in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies that had previously run in Canada before being sold, was adding blinkers, had good workouts and was a fat 32-1 in the betting. He pulled the trigger on $4,000 worth of bets on the filly, Ria Antonia but, alas, after a fierce stretch drive, the horse finished second.
Not long after the horses crossed the wire, however, the inquiry sign was posted and the winner’s number began blinking on the toteboard. After a lengthy delay, the order of finish of the top two was reversed. Ria Antonia—and Behr!—were winners. In Behr’s case, his $4,000 in bets turned into $120,000.
He was now in first place with $128,000. But a few races later, another player edged in front of him with $145,000 going into the day’s last race, the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“I figured I’d finish second, just like what usually happens on Jeopardy!, because we’ll either both be right or we’ll both be wrong in the Classic,” Behr said.
He was half right. Behr and the leader were, indeed, both wrong with their plays in the Classic. But Behr had bet $4,000 (on losing European shipper Declaration of War), and his foe had risked $26,000, which wound up dropping him below Behr. Between his live betting bankroll and money from the prize pool, Behr had realized the score of a lifetime–$324,000.
While Alex Trebek may have credited the BCBC victory to superior money management, Behr chalked it up to one thing.
“Luck,” he said. “To think that a horse would be taken down in a million-dollar race was just amazing to me. Don’t get me wrong—there was clear interference. But we’ve all seen horses do worse things and not get taken down. And then for me to lose the last race but still win—that was luck as well. It was just my day.”
Behr estimates that he has won approximately 100 tournaments online, and six on-site competitions, for a total of $350,000 or so in winnings, with most of that obviously coming in the 2013 BCBC. He hopes to add to that earnings total this year in what will be his fourth trip to the BCBC. (He has already won a $10,000 entry for it at HorsePlayers.com.)
During a typical day playing the races, Behr prefers to keep things simple. “I’m just a win bettor now,” he said. “I find it frustrating when I play a trifecta, get two-thirds of it right and get back nothing instead of $400. I have enough trouble anyway picking winners without trying to figure out 2nd and 3rd. Beyond that, I love maiden races. We’re all starting from the same basis with these races—workouts, breeding and connections. I tend to make good decisions in these races, it seems. Give me a field of $40,000 claimers, and I feel like I’m throwing darts!”
Behr isn’t totally against the occasional throwing of a dart, however. Being daring (as evidenced by his Ria Antonia bet) is a lesson he learned many years ago in contest play.
“When I first started, I’d just try to pick the most likely winners,” he said. “I’d hit six out of ten and be nowhere. Soon I realized it was the people who knew how to play contests who would win. The Hinsons [the late husband and wife team, Joe and Valerie Hinson] were great players back then. They bought multiple entries and went for prices. They almost always won. Today, everyone knows this strategy, and so it’s just great handicappers who succeed. It’s a little like poker. When it first came on TV, all the conservative guys were waiting for two great starting cards. Meanwhile, other guys were going all-in with 6-10 and they were the ones who were winning.”
In terms of present-day lessons for new or prospective contest players, Behr recommends playing online.
“I’m a big fan of the HorseTourneys site,” he said. “The tournaments are reasonable in price, you get past performances for free…there couldn’t be a better way to learn. The other thing I have found helpful is to see what other people are picking and trying to find some logic in it. I’ve always been impressed by Eric Moomey, and on a site like HorseTourneys, I can see what he has played. Then I can go back in the PPs and try to see what it was that he liked about a horse.”
The other thing he likes about online contest play?
“It’s like fishing,” Behr said. “It takes your mind off work and, if you’re lucky, you feel smart. If not, well…the next day, they erase the results!”
TOURNEY NOTES—Woodbine has announced a $500,000 bonus to the winner of the September 16 Woodbine Mile Handicapping Tournament should he or she go on to win the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge in November.
The Woodbine Mile Handicapping Tournament has a buy-in of $3,500, with $2,000 representing the player’s live betting bankroll and $1,500 going to the contest prize pool. Based on 110 entries, $165,000 in cash and prizes will be offered, including two Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entries and four berths to the 2018 National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) in Las Vegas. Lunch, Daily Racing Forms and programs are included. (American horseplayers should take note of the low Canadian dollar–$3,500 Canadian is roughly equivalent to $2,700 in U.S. dollars.) A limited block of rooms has been reserved at the Westin Toronto Airport. Contact Woodbine’s Mike Eves for reservations at 1-888-675-7223, ext. 2470 or at email@example.com.
The Woodbine Mile Handicapping Tournament is the final leg of the new Woodbine Player of the Year Series. All who register for and participate in at least three of the four 2017 tournaments here at Woodbine are automatically eligible and entered into the Series. At the conclusion of each tournament, points will be awarded based on final standings and the size of each pool. Following the September 16 Woodbine Mile Tournament, prizes will be awarded to the three highest points earners:
1st prize–$6,500 plus a fully-paid entry into the 2018 Woodbine Mile Handicapping Tournament
2nd prize–$500 plus a fully-paid entry into the 2018 Woodbine Mile Handicapping Tournament
3rd prize–$400 plus a fully-paid entry into the 2018 Woodbine Weekend Handicapping Tournament
Carol Johnson of Oakton, Virginia and Ed Reidy of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are the co-leaders in the Woodbine Player of the Year Series through two of the four series legs. Johnson won the June 24 Woodbine Spring Meet Handicapping Tournament, while Reidy came out on top in the July 29 Woodbine Mid-Summer Handicapping Tournament.
Want to sharpen your game? Be sure to view the replay of a seminar Woodbine hosted in May featuring Daily Racing Form’s Matt Bernier and top tournament winners Ray Arsenault, Tommy Massis and Brian Troop.
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.