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Horseplayer Contests FAQs: Contest Strategies and Where to Begin
A view of the 2015 NHC Tournament (Credit:

Horseplayer Contests FAQs: Contest Strategies and Where to Begin

With horse racing taking center stage in the gambling industry, many new players are seeing online contests but have no idea what they are or even how to begin playing. Even longtime bettors may have never tried contests, perhaps from a lack of information or popular myths surrounding them.

Each week, I will answer frequently asked questions about horseplayer contests and provide quality information so that you can feel confident about entering them.

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In my first article, I scratched the surface about where to find horse racing contests and the difference between the two formats most often used. Now that you have located the contests and know how to sign up, how do you find the right selections that give you the best chance to win?

When first entering the horse racing contest world, developing your own strategy, or even just making the right selections, can be a daunting task. A lot of online contest players just pick bomb after bomb in every race, hoping to connect on enough of them to vault up the leaderboard. If that is how you handicap – if you enjoy living and dying on longshots all day – then live your best life, but it does not suit my handicapping style at all.

For one reason or another, I have found myself playing out of strategy once I start a contest. I can handle not doing well, but looking back and seeing that I bet outside of my strategy from the get-go drives me crazy for one simple point: it is not fun.

Since one of the major reasons why most of us bet on horse racing is that it is a fun source of entertainment, why should contests be any different? When you make selections that you would never bet with real money and you lose, you can quicky get frustrated. I have done both in major events on the NHC Tour circuit.

In last November’s Fall Classic contest at the Orleans Casino in Las Vegas, I played all longshots because I let someone else’s opinions influence me. Three months later at the NHC, I only played horses that I handicapped as top selections. I may not have hit the money in either tournament, but I had a much better time throughout the NHC experience and I left knowing that I played my opinion.

The tournament room at the 2020 NHC (Credit: Mike Somich)

Keep in mind that, when playing mythical $2 Win/Place contests (like the NHC), if your selection wins, then you will get “paid” a minimum of $4.20, regardless of the horse’s odds. While playing against short-priced horses is valuable if you connect, you still need to correctly pick the winner. By the end of the contest, every tiny advantage adds up and can make the difference between a win or a loss.

Say you determine that a short-priced horse will pay $2.80 to win and $2.20 to place, based on the odds and mutuel pools. What you need to decide is if you would rather gamble on a large price, or move on to the next race $5 richer than someone who swung at a 30/1 longshot. There is no right or wrong answer because each race presents itself differently. What really, truly matters the most is your opinion.

I have seen both strategies work, and if you look at all of the results from a single day, then you will see why. One day, short-priced horses prevail throughout the card and horse players on Twitter lose their minds, but then the next day, a few longshots completely change the scope, and we often see carryover pools as a result.

As is horse racing and gambling, contests are very fluid, so the best strategy is to handicap the races in a way that makes you feel comfortable, allows you to put your opinions to the test, and brings you the most enjoyment. When you do this as you play contests more frequently, you will develop your own strategy.

Who knows? Maybe one day, you will see your own name on the NHC leaderboard, like Mike Somich:

Over the coming weeks, I will explore topics like what keeps more horseplayers from competing, what strategies the top contest winners employ, and how to turn a small entry fee into a berth in the NHC Tournament, held annually in Las Vegas.

Feel free to let me know what questions you want answered in a future article, and remember: There is only one way to ensure you will not do well in contests, and that is to not try.

Sean Alvarez is a regular on the horseplayer tournament circuit. Follow him on Twitter @smoothturn2.

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