Scott Carson was the runaway winner of last week’s second “Saratoga Challenge” NHC qualifier, turning a $600 starting bankroll into $14,930.50 – more than twice as much as his closest competitor – with most of it coming in the final two races. In addition to a NHC berth, his second, the result was worth more than $50,000 between his live bankroll, $25,320 in prize money, and a $10,000 entry into the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.
A 51-year-old resident of New York City known to many racing fans as the founder of PublicHandicapper.com, Carson is a nine-time National Handicapping Championship qualifier. His best finish was a 23rd in his first appearance but with the maximum of two entries secured, Carson feels good about his chances of taking home a paycheck for the first time at NHC 18.
How did you manage to post such a monster score in the Saratoga contest?
“With three races to go I only had $115 of my live bankroll left. In the ninth race, Free N Clear was the only horse that had established two-turn form on the grass but he was 8-1 because he had a no-name trainer who hadn’t had much success at Saratoga. I liked the horse so I wasn’t stabbing. I bet $90 between a win bet, an exacta and a trifecta. They all hit and that brought me to $2,500.
“That gave me the bankroll to zero in on my favorite race of the day, which was the last. I loved the 10-horse, Seize, and the 4, Light the Night. I love Christophe Clement (trainer of Seize) in grass sprints and was keen on him. Light the Night was coming off a layoff for a really good layoff trainer, Mike Trombetta, and had a nice gate work. Because I was so in love with Seize I bet $1,000 to win on him, and I bet a $200 exacta and $200 trifectas with him on top of the 4 and another horse. But then after I made all these bets I still had $500 in my account and I thought, what could go wrong here? So I bet a $500 backup exacta, 4-10, in case the 4 won. It ended up paying $59.50 for two bucks and I had it for 500.”
What did winning such a prestigious contest at Saratoga mean to you?
“It was my first time winning a NYRA contest. I’d been second twice and fourth a couple times. NYRA contests usually have an all-star cast of handicappers, which is apparent by the two that finished right behind me, Paul Shurman and Christian Helmers. So that was gratifying, to finally be able to say I belong with these top handicappers.
“It’s the first time I’ve won a second NHC seat, the first time I’ve won my way into the BCBC, and the first time I’ve won anything more than $11,000. Including the BCBC entry this was a more than $50,000 win. I had never done that. I’d seen other people win $40,000 or $100,000, and this is real money. I was just standing there, like, what am I going to do with this money?”
And what’s the answer? What are you going to do with this money?
“I’m going to take my girlfriend on a Caribbean vacation. I’ll consider my Saratoga rental paid for next year and all my friends get to stay for free. And I haven’t decided what to do with the rest.”
How did you first get into horse racing?
“A friend of mine brought me to the races in college. That was probably 1985. I bet my first $2 on a horse named Equalize, who actually went on to be a decent sire in South America. I won $10 and I was hooked.”
How did PublicHandicapper.com come about?
“When I was in college I used to walk around my office taking $2 bets from people on Fridays just because I thought horse racing was cool. I was a copy boy and I would hand the New York Daily News to these executives and they would pick a horse by name. I would go bet at the OTB and I would call the 976 number to get the results.
“Later I created a tout sheet and called it OTB Friday. Once the Internet came along I started doing the same thing but online and on Saturdays. And anyone who wanted to write an analysis could and that was the whole idea behind Public Handicapper. It’s been going ever since.
“The great thing about Public Handicapper is it keeps you in the game with four of the best races of the week. You can handicap them and read other people’s opinions on them without having to spend too much time.”
How do you like to handicap? What tools do you use?
“I use a combination of DRF Formulator and speed figures to find horses that look like they may be about to improve significantly. My angle is finding horses that are ready to improve dramatically and will outrun their odds. My favorite bet is a three-horse trifecta where you key one horse over two others, so a $50 tri with horse ‘A’ over horses ‘B’ and ‘C’ and ‘B’ and ‘C’ can come in either order. It’s a $100 total bet and I find when I do that is when I hit the biggest. I’m trying to reduce the number of times I spread because it’s just not been profitable for me.”
You’re a fan of live-money contests, yet the NHC with its mythical wagers is still the ultimate prize to you. Why is that?
“To me the NHC is an incredible test of handicapping skill. I love the format. I do prefer live money contests in general but I would never change the NHC. It’s perfect as is. What’s great about the NHC is you have the eight optional races and the 10 mandatory races. As long as you have both and you’re covering a minimum of 30 races that is a true test of handicapping ability. You can’t luck your way into it. In live money you can hit one big race like I did and you win the contest. And that’s something I like about live money, but the NHC is more representative of handicapping ability because you need to prove it over three days.”