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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My first article explained where to find horse racing contests and the difference between the two formats most often used. My second article discussed the handicapping techniques that tend to produce contest victories and the importance of sticking to your own opinions. My third article took a look at the NHC Tour, its benefits, and how tournament players qualify for the NHC finals.

With that information under our caps, let’s dive into how handicapping for contests differs from a normal day of wagering.

Contests can seem daunting at first, but the more often that you play and follow along as they go, the quicker that you will develop your own strategy. That is a critical element of playing contests that is not only crucial to finding success, but also your enjoyment in each contest.

Whether the a contest is a “Live” format or a “Pick & Pray,” the last race is always the most important one, so that is where I start.

If I hold a strong opinion on a horse – especially if its morning line is higher than 5/1 – my goal is to be in contention when it comes down to this race. If my stronger opinions are earlier in the card, even if they are shorter-priced horses, then I want to have some higher morning line prices later in my selections.

Sean Alvarez’s recent contest selections

You play contests under your name, not anyone else’s name or even a partnership, so it is important to play what you want to play. Do not blindly play longshots because someone told you to, and do not blindly play favorites because it feels like the easy way out.

Play your opinions and yours alone. When they play out in your favor, the victories are that much sweeter.

Much like you should do in general handicapping, maximizing your contest opinions is crucial. If a strong late opinion has a morning line of 5/1 or higher, then my earlier selections in the sequence lean safer. If my higher-priced opinions happen to fall earlier in the sequence, then I am more willing to take a shorter horse. Neither strategy is definite, though: if I have multiple strong 5/1+ opinions, then I have no problem playing them.

Just as you should live and die by your strongest opinions, you should do the same with your own strategy. There is no cookie-cutter method that works every time; various approaches work even within the same format.

Above all else, keep a level head. No matter how high or how low you get in a contest, remember that it can all change instantly. When it ends, reflect on the result, regardless of where you finished

What could you have done differently? Was there a point that turned the contest in your favor? Did you avoid a pitfall that would have sunk your chances if you had not changed your strategy?

Feel free to let me know what questions you want answered in future articles over the coming weeks, 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.