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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.
If you are new to this series, welcome! I recommend reading my prior articles first because they build upon each other.
This week’s article is going to be slightly different because I wanted to profile two tournament stalwarts whose names you will soon recognize as you progress into the contest lifestyle.
Alan and Tyler Hoffman are not the average father-son duo usually seen at the track. While most horseplayers are “born” into the game and share their passion with family members, few are as successful as the Hoffmans. They have qualified for the NHC a combined 16 times (Alan 11, Tyler 5), and since joining the NHC Tour have only missed playing in the annual year-end contest once each.
Both father and son were introduced early on to the sport by an older relative who did more than just take them to a few a races. The Hoffman family takes a love of horse racing and handicapping to a new level when it comes to introducing younger generations and teaching them ropes of handicapping. When asked if when they were hooked on the sport, both said resoundingly, “I was still in diapers!”
Alan was such a regular sight at the track growing up that the employees gave him a nickname.
“When I was a kid, I was called ‘The Dude’ and I knew all the employees at Arlington Park,” he said. “I would walk around with a sports jacket and my program tucked into my side pocket.”
Horse racing not only became a passion for Alan, it also strengthened his bond with his father.
“I loved everything about the sport from the time I could remember, and Dad and I talked horse racing from that point until the day he passed away,” Alan said. “One of the last things he said to me before he lost consciousness was, ‘I have a $5 win ticket at Del Mar, make sure you cash it.’ … My father was a great handicapper and he would always tell me that speed was important. While Tyler did not get to meet him, I would tell him stories passed down from my father about how important speed is.”
Though Alan’s love for the sport originated in Wisconsin, 90 miles from Arlington Park, Tyler grew up in Southern California, where three major tracks were within a much shorter distance.
“I remember when Santa Anita used to have the 3:30 post on Fridays and I would sprint out of class at 3:00 because Arcadia was only 15 minutes away if you hustled and hit all the lights on Huntington,” Tyler said, hinting that he took his grandfather’s lesson about speed to heart.
A young person growing up in Southern California has an endless number of sports and other opportunities before them, but when asked if he would choose a different path if given the opportunity, Tyler remained steadfast.
“Growing up, I didn’t know any different than horse racing, and looking back, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” Tyler said. “(Santa Anita) is our place, this is our sport, this is our thing that we have together that bonds us forever.”
Most handicapper communities are based what each person can contribute in terms of information, fresh angles, and competition, but the Hoffmans have a slightly different view.
“That is what makes the partnership and our relationship so special, because it’s a fun way to play,” Tyler said. “A lot of other partnerships are looking for contrasting opinions, and while there is certainly a benefit to that, it’s not the focus of ours.”
Handicapping together and adapting the same process to suit their styles provided them with a rewarding and easy style that has allowed their relationship to grow not just personally, but also in the context of horse racing and handicapping.
“On our side, when you really like something that you both came up with, now you can really crush it if your opinion is right,” Alan said.
Despite their successes, the father-son team are not immune to the pressures of being at the top of the NHC leaderboard. During one of these intense contests, Tyler explained how the mental stress and exhaustion got to him and how Alan snapped him out of it.
“I kept going wire-to-wire at multiple tracks and I kept looking at horses and would say to Dad, ‘Do you see this, too?’ Specifically, I remember being stuck on a race at Oaklawn and it was a 6-furlong maiden claimer. I was kind of lost in the race and was between a couple of horses. My dad walks up behind and me and says, ‘This one isn’t that confusing, son.’ That horse won at 5/1 going away in the slop.”
As their knowledge and understanding of the sport has grown, so has their passion.
“There is something about being involved in it and that we’re good enough to compete no matter who is playing in it, and there are a lot of good tournament players out there,” Tyler said. “You don’t know when it’s going to be your day; you just hope it lines up with the right photos. Knowing that you can come up with as good a horse as anyone else, there’s that feeling of going in and trying to win it. That is what I think drives us to play this game and continue to compete, especially in the tournament world where there is so much money on the line that you can win if your opinion is right that day.”
“Live Money Bankroll” contests not only test your selections on the card, they also test your bankroll management for a small number of races. When asked about how they fine-tuned these skills, Tyler said, “We have a very simple philosophy: bet small, win big.”
The Hoffmans discovered that system while playing the $40 Santa Anita Handicapping Challenge, a contest held occasionally on weekends at Santa Anita Park. After the $10 buy-in, players are given a $30 bankroll to use only on $3 Win/Place bets.
“It is not the denomination that matters, it’s the principle,” Tyler said. “You watch a lot of people get nervous with the leadm even betting $6. Do they go with a favorite or go with a price? Who do you bet?
“There’s a joke going around Santa Anita that there is no tougher contest in the world than the $40 Santa Anita Handicapping Challenge,” Tyler continued. “Everybody who competes in all the big dances throughout the year, here they are putting in $40 a piece, and it gets as competitive as it can. Nobody wants to lose that thing. That’s as fun as any tournament, even with the small denominations. It teaches you a lot of valuable lessons, especially in wagering strategy.”
Tyler implemented this strategy during the most recent Santa Anita Derby Betting Challenge and turned his bankroll into $17,006, besting the field.
If you ever see the Hoffmans at Santa Anita Park (whether in the Eddie Logan Suite, in a box rooting for their horses, or even just sitting on a bench outside of the paddock), you will see how much they love trying to solve the puzzle of horse racing.
“My enjoyment of the races are hours and hours before the race is even run,” Alan said. “I enjoy taking apart a racing form and just coming up with different angles that I see. I can’t wait to get to the track to see if I am right. Betting has never been the goal; it was never about how much I can bet and how much I can win. It is really the handicapping that we enjoy.”
Passion for horse racing has led the Hoffmans to success in the tournament world while creating a lifelong bond between father and son.
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