TORONTO, March 31 – Ask 2010 National Handicapping Championship winner Brian Troop what the secret has been to his success as a tournament player, and you’ll get a chuckle in return.
“Nothing I do is special or remarkable in any way,” said the 68-year-old Barrie, Ontario resident. “I’m just an old form handicapper.”
Many of his peers would beg to differ—at least with respect to the part about him not doing anything special—because his results have been far from ordinary. In 2010, at Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas, Troop won $500,000 as NHC champ. Then, again at the NHC in 2015, Troop became the first previous NHC winner to earn a seat at the event’s newly-instituted Final Table (a feat matched this past January by 2003 winner Steve Wolfson Jr.). Troop could only manage a 9th-place finish that year, but that was still good for a more-than-worthwhile payday of $52,000.
“Those two NHCs represented my biggest days ever,” said Troop, a retired accountant who estimates his lifetime contest earnings to be about $600,000. “I’ve won some small tournaments online, but nothing big. As far as victories, the 2010 NHC is the only one of mine worth mentioning.”
The 2017 NHC represented the opposite end of the spectrum for Troop. He was forced to watch it from the sidelines, having failed to qualify for last January’s event. But he was, nevertheless, in attendance at Treasure Island and was both pleased and proud to see fellow Ontario native Ray Arsenault (of Thornhill) capture the top prize, now worth $800,000.
“I was very happy for Ray, just as he was for me when I won at Red Rock,” said Troop. “He had come close the year before, and I was able to catch up with him on Saturday night, the night before the final day, to tell him that I was rooting for him. The only person I’d rather see win is myself.”
And in 2018, that could, in fact, happen because Troop recently qualified for next January’s NHC (it will be his eighth NHC appearance—all since 2009) via an online qualifier at HorseTourneys. “It was good getting that out of the way for sure,” he confessed.
Troop after winning the 2010 NHC…
For the balance of 2017, Troop will focus on tournaments he traditionally enjoys playing, including those at Hawthone and Woodbine. His primary goals are to earn a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge berth (he has previously played in 2010 and 2016) and, if possible, a second entry to the NHC. Interestingly, his strategy varies very little whether he is playing in a major onsite tournament or wagering on simulcast races from nearby Georgian Downs (which he does on an almost daily basis).
“I’m basically a win bettor looking for prices,” he said. “I think that’s a main reason why I have done well at the NHC where scoring is based on $2 win and place prices. For me, the easiest way to wreck a price on a horse I like is to get involved in exactors or triactors, where I’m less sure about the other horses. The same holds true for Pick Threes. I’ll play a Pick Three if I like horses in two of the races. Then I’ll use “All” in the other race. I don’t want to guess on a race I don’t like. People who play six or seven horses in a field of 10 in a Pick Three race are basically saying ‘I don’t know’, so why risk your good opinion on horses you don’t feel as strongly about?”
How Troop arrives at the horses he does, indeed, like is where the old-school nature of his handicapping really applies. Rather than rely on high-tech software as many high-volume tournament players utilize today in order to quickly sift through a plethora of races, Troop prefers a more old-fashioned approach.
“There’s no secret to what I do,” he admits. “I look at the form and try to picture how a race will unfold—where the speed is, how many speed horses are in the race, that type of thing. If you can identify lone speed, then you’re sitting in the driver’s seat. I prefer 6-furlong or 7-furlong dirt sprints, and I really struggle with 5-furlong turf sprints. Those are a big weakness in my game for some reason.”
Troop does allow himself the technological edge that readily available race replays offer. He is an ardent race watcher—and re-watcher—and when he sees a horse experience a noteworthy trip, he enters the horse’s name in a book…old-school accountant-style.
“I’m not looking for things like horses who missed the break and then rushes up,” said Troop. “Everyone sees those things these days and there’s just no edge to be had with those horses. Their prices next time out are too short. What I’m looking for is a horse that seems like he is being given a race, or not being persevered with by the jockey. That’s where I’ve had my best success. Generally, a horse only remains in my book up until his next start. At that point, he either runs well or he doesn’t.”
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Troop’s final step before pulling the trigger on a wager is to look at the horses in the post parade and review late odds fluctuations. It is important enough to Troop that he strongly prefers live-format online tourneys rather than ones that require all selections to be entered prior to the first contest race.
“I know a lot of people prefer the ‘Pick and Prays’ but I feel that takes some of my edge away,” he says. “I prefer the live-format contests.”
Troop was first exposed to the races way back in 1969—long before contest play had even been devised. He was articling to become an accountant at the time and would tag along with his landlady’s son, who was a bookie, to Greenwood to play the harness races. Troop quickly became enamored of handicapping, and he especially enjoyed winning longshot bets rather than simply getting paid 11-10 on the sports bets he occasionally made with his bookie friend. But it was not until 2000 that he played in his first tournament.
“There weren’t that many contests back then, but Woodbine had one, I gave it a try and I liked it,” he said. “For two or three years, I only played Woodbine’s tournament and the Keeneland and Turfway tournaments, which were conducted over a single weekend in December. Today they are much more widespread, and it’s much easier for people to get started with all of the online contests available. You can play and learn there for next to nothing.”
Thanks to his $500,000 NHC windfall in 2010, Troop is officially retired now, and he plays the horses on a near-daily basis. Other than handicapping, his primary interest is following the stock market.
“I need at least one or the other to be going well, or else I’m in trouble,” he laughed.
It’s not clear how Troop ranks as an investor, but a great many horseplayers would love to have Troop’s earnings and his record of accomplishments as a tournament player. His style may not be flashy—but it has gotten the job done.
TOURNEY NOTES: Woodbine will host its first onsite tourney of 2017 on June 24 with its Woodbine Spring meet Handicapping Tournament. For a buy-in of just $150 ($50 live bankroll + $100 to the prize pool), players will compete for two NHC seats as well as cash prizes.
If you want to bolster your preparation for June 24 or just for racing play in general, then come on out to Woodbine on April 15 for a special Winning at Woodbine seminar.
And also be sure to view the replay of a seminar Woodbine hosted last year featuring Daily Racing Form’s Peter Thomas Fornatale and top tournament players Tommy Massis, Jonathon Kinchen and Matt Bernier.
As you read this, the lucrative Horse Player World Series is taking place (March 30-April 1) at The Orleans in Las Vegas where some 700 entries will compete for an approximate total of $1 million in cash prizes. Entry is $1,500 and players make 15 mythical win-and-place bets from any of the seven to nine contest tracks available each day. Highest scores win. And money is also paid to the 10 highest scorers within any individual day.
Earlier this month, on March 11, Eric Moomey won The Stronach Group Ultimate Betting Challenge, which was contested concurrently at Gulfstream and Santa Anita. A United States Air Force Lt. Colonel from Madison, South Dakota, Moomey turned his initial live bankroll into $17,078.20. He kept that sum, plus received an additional $40,000 cash prize for finishing first. He also received a full, $10,000 entry to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) and if he wins that event, he will receive a special $1 million bonus for capturing both the Stronach competition and the BCBC.
On April 7-9, Surfside Race Place in Del Mar, Calif., will host three single-day tournaments with two NHC seats and $5,500 in cash prizes available each day. The Surfside tourneys are live bankroll events with entry fees set at $340 on Friday and Sunday and $500 on Saturday. The entry fees include funding of your live bankroll. Players must requisite number of plays each day on races from Santa Anita and Keeneland. For more information call (858) 755-1167, ext. 1202 or visit www.surfsideraceplace.com.
On April 22-23, Keeneland will host back-to-back competitions. On Saturday, April 22, it’s the Keeneland Spring Challenge, which carries a $400 buy-in (which includes your $250 live bankroll) and offers one $10,000 BCBC berth, two NHC seats plus cash prizes. Then on Sunday, the 23rd, it’s the high-stakes Keeneland Grade One Gamble. This event costs $3,000 to enter (including a $2,000 live bankroll) and offers one $10,000 BCBC entry, three $2,500 BCBC entries (player responsible for $7,500 bankroll) and five NHC seats. Prize money will be paid to the top 10 finishers with entries capped at 150. For more information, contact Jim Goodman at (859) 288-4261 or at email@example.com.
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.