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Horseplayer Contests FAQs: What are They?

Horseplayer Contests FAQs: What are They?

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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While contests are more known as large buy-in events, the truth is that they can consist of head-to-head matchups between a group of five, or they can involve upwards of 1,000 other players, and anything in between. Some are so elaborate that even seasoned horseplayers have been disqualified for not following the specific rules, but others are as easy as picking top selections and alternates, then sitting back and cheering them home.

The two most popular websites to play in contests are Horse Tourneys ( and Derby Wars ( I will focus on Horse Tourneys because it offers the most variety and feeds into larger contests tied to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Tour, but both are good places to start.

If you are unfamiliar with the NHC, it is the world’s richest and most prestigious tournament for horseplayers. I qualified for the first time last year, as did Mike Somich – you can read about his experiences here.

A view of the 2015 NHC Tournament (Credit:

The two different contest types are “Pick & Pray” and “Live” formats. The rules of each format are straightforward; the only major difference is that in a “Pick & Prays” contest, all selections must be entered before the first contest race’s post time. “Live” contests allow players to enter and modify selections up to each race’s post time. Arguments can be made for and against each of these formats, so I recommend trying both and establishing which works best for your handicapping and playing styles.

Jumping into the contest world can be overwhelming at first; most of the publicity focuses on contests with larger buy-ins and pay-outs. Though major events occur throughout the year, there are several mini-events which are much more affordable due to the smaller entry fees. This is where those looking to test out tournament action should start.

Horse Tourneys offers small-capacity contests that are limited to a maximum of five entries and feature head-to-head play. Simply by joining one of these contests, you have a 20% chance of winning. The fees to join start at $22 per entry and are perfect for new players looking to dip into the contest world while staying within a certain budget.

Final table at the 2015 NHC Tournament (Credit:

Once you finalize your selections in these small-capacity contests, I recommend looking at your competitors’ selections. If you win, great! If you lose, revisit your Past Performances and try to figure out why they picked differently than you. What did they see that made them pick the winners?

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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