Peter Behr, the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge winner, hit the board in consecutive tournaments last weekend at Hawthorne Race Course to earn two spots in the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping contest, the $2.5 million (estimated) Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas, set for Jan. 27-29, 2017, at Treasure Island. 

A 65-year-old criminal defense lawyer in London, Ontario, Behr will make his sixth overall NHC appearance at NHC 18. He qualified five years in a row from 2011-2015 before missing the January 2016 renewal.

Why did you decide to play in the Hawthorne contests last weekend?

“It’s about a six-hour drive from here and a friend talked me into going. There was no entry fee so all you’ve got at stake is your bankroll ($300 on Friday, $400 on Saturday), which you’d have on a regular day at the track anyway. Plus we wanted to visit Chicago.” 

What was your strategy going in?

“The format there is as close as you can get to the reality of an average day at the races. You can play any track that’s running that day and in any fashion you want, from a Pick Six to a show bet. So you can vary your bets any way you want within the bankroll. The problem with that, though, is there are just too many races to look at, so you have to restrict yourself.

“I’ve always thought that I’m best at maiden races and turf races so I only looked at those. Then, once you take out the races that come off the turf and the ones with small fields, then you’ve cut it down to a manageable amount. I think some people try to play too many of the tracks and get overwhelmed trying to do too much.”

Why do you think you’re most effective betting maiden races?

“In a number of them you can throw out a lot of the field just based on statistics. Some trainers just don’t intend for their maidens to win first time out so you can throw out their first-time starters. On the other end of the scale are the professional maidens that have raced five times or more. If you can throw out all those horses at both ends of the scale you’re left with just a few to separate.”

Can you recall which races helped you out the most? 

“Both days I focused on maiden races and both times I was lucky that I bet them heavily enough and the odds stayed up on my horses.

“The first day it was Prime Attraction, a Jim Cassidy horse at Del Mar. He’s a low-percentage trainer so the odds were pretty good. He paid $24.20.

“On the second day there was a similar horse at the Fair Grounds for trainer Michael Stidham, although Stidham’s a high-percentage trainer so I really thought that was a complete overlay. His name was Rickey’s Gil and I had played him in his first start when I was in a contest at Keeneland. He’d continued to work good and Stidham was putting the blinkers on and changing the surface to turf, which I thought was better for him from the beginning. He went off at 7-1 and paid $16.40. He won quite easily.”

How much did you have on those two winners?

“On both of those I had $200 to win. It was late in the day both times and I was fortunate I even had $200 left to bet on them. Those were the only two key plays that I had. They weren’t my only hits but they were the only significant ones. The rest I just kind of piddled around and mostly it didn’t work out.”

How did you find the handicapping contest world?

“I started way back. My background is in harness racing and the first contest I was in was at Northfield Park near Cleveland and that was probably 25 years ago. I didn’t win but I very much enjoyed it so when handicapping contests in Las Vegas started out in a small way I was going to those.”

How many contests do you play in?

“I play in a lot of the HorseTourneys contests so probably four or five per week.”

How did it feel to qualify for the NHC on consecutive days?

“It was always touch and go, really, especially on the first day. I thought the last race at Del Mar was the final race of the contest so I cashed out and then found out there were still a number of races left at other tracks. I just hadn’t read the rules closely enough and if anyone had passed me I would have been out of ammunition.”

As a BCBC winner who once took home $324,114 in a day I guess a weekend like you just had doesn’t even seem like a big deal.

“Winning the BCBC was very, very memorable, that’s for sure. That one day keeps me in contest play and more for the rest of my life.”