By Noel Michaels
Thirteen championship horse races will not be the only events to headline Breeders’ Cup weekend for horseplayers. In addition to the races, a 14th championship, of sorts, will also be decided. It is the ninth annual Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge [BCBC], a million-dollar handicapping tournament with a field of approximately 400 entries and a projected purse of $1 million that will equal many of the Grade 1 equine championships to be run at Del Mar on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 3-4.
With BCBC qualifying held at dozens of on-track and online tournaments throughout the year, roughly 200 players have won spots into the BCBC by earning wins or high finishes in a variety of handicapping events – many with rich purses of their own in the tens of thousands of dollars.
The remainder of the 2017 BCBC field will by comprised of people who buy-in to the tournament for a $10,000 entry fee (go to www.breederscup.com/bcbc for information and to register online).
Entrants will have the option of playing at Del Mar, or at satellite locations at Churchill Downs and Gulfstream Park, or online at Twinspires.com or Xpressbet.com. But really, the attraction of this event is to play live at Del Mar while enjoying the full Breeders’ Cup experience in a tournament atmosphere while being treated like a VIP on Thoroughbred racing’s biggest days.
The $10,000 BCBC entry fee is divided into a $7,500 live tournament bankroll, plus $2,500 which goes to the prize pool with no takeout. The purse will grow to $1 million if the BCBC can get 400 entries, and the cash prize pool will be divided amongst the top 15 finishers on a sliding scale from $300,000 for first, $200,000 for second, $110,000 for third, all the way on down to $10,000 for 15th-place. Players obviously keep their live real-money bankrolls, and the top 15 players also earn qualifying berths into the 2018 National Horseplayers Championship [NHC] making the BCBC the biggest qualifier to the NHC. Finally, the winner also becomes eligible for a record $3 million bonus if he/she also goes on to complete the BCBC-NHC “Rolling Double” at February’s NHC main event.
Contestants can bet any amount of their bankroll on win, place, show, exacta, and trifecta wagers on any of the races from Del Mar on Friday and Saturday, with a minimum of five $600 bets on Friday and a minimum of five $900 bets on Saturday. The players with the highest accumulated earning win.
The champ of the 2016 BCBC contest was Joseph Appelbaum, a 48-year-old longtime handicapper from NYC, who turned his starting $7,500 real-money bankroll into a contest-winning total of $64,000 to beat a field of 397 entries. In addition to his earnings, Appelbaum also earned the tournament’s top prize of $300,000.
“It was thrilling,” Appelbaum said about winning. “Tournament play is new and still evolving. Basically it’s a fresh challenge for a handicapper/gambler to take on. Our sport has had the same gaming system since its infancy and is crying out for innovation.”
The Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge tournament that began with a field of 100 players nine years ago has grown four-fold since then, and is now the preeminent live-money handicapping contest in existence – second only to the NHC in terms of prize money and prestige. In 2016 at Santa Anita, the BCBC’s 397 entries represented a new high-water mark in terms of participation in the history of the tournament. By comparison, the 2015 BCBC tournament drew 322 in the first year it offered satellite locations. Entries in the prior years before satellite location options, were considerably lower.
When Appelbaum won last year, he did so with decisive winning wager in the final race of the tournament in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. For all intents and purposes, he went “all-in” on Arrogate and hit nearly a $13,000 straight exacta on Arrogate over California Chrome. The winning exacta paid $10 and the $64,000+ payoff was enough to lift Appelbaum to victory.
On the down side, more than half of last year’s 397 entries (208 players) lost all or nearly all of their bankrolls, a fact that underscores the strategic “all-in” attitude most players feel they need to employ in order to be successful in the BCBC.
Who will have what it takes this year? Let’s look at some of the 200 players who’ve qualified into the field for the 2017 BCBC.
Who’s Who in the 2017 BCBC Field
Thornhill, Ontario, Canada native Ray Arsenault, the reigning NHC champion and Eclipse Award-winner as Horseplayer of the Year, will be playing for the $3 million NHC-BCBC “Rolling Double” bonus. Arsenault is no stranger to BCBC success, having been a minority partner in Tommy Massis’ 2015 BCBC victory.
Next, let’s look at this year’s multiple BCBC qualifiers. As of mid-October, 23 players had already earned the maximum two qualifying spots in the 2017 BCBC field. Those players include last year’s fourth-place finisher Blaise Brucato, 11th-place finisher Garrett Skiba, 12th-place finisher Paul Weizer, and 13th-place finisher Vic Stauffer, who many racing fans know from his career as a race caller.
More 2017 BCBC multiple qualifiers are John Allunario, Jennifer Chenvert, Basil DeVito, Eric Israel, Phil Lam, Stephen McNatton, Ryan Mueller, Joe Pettit, James Riley, Robert Schneider, Robert Turner, David Watts, and Tony Zhou.
Other multiple qualifiers for the 2017 BCBC include 2014 BCBC champion Robert Traynor; Roger Cettina, an eight-time NHC qualifier and two-time runner-up in 2013 and 2016, earning him $200,000 and $250,000 respectively; Nick Fazzolari, who also qualified for fifth NHC appearance this year and was the first-half winner on the NHC Tour; Sally Goodall, who is tied for the all-time record in NHC appearances with 15; James Henry, who has played in the NHC 10 total years and every year since 2009; and Eric Moomey, who was the 2014 NHC Tour champion and 2015 NHC Tour runner-up.
A few of the other more notable players in the field for the upcoming BCBC will be led by 2015 NHC Tour champion Jonathan Kinchen; 13-time NHC qualifier and the second all-time leading point scorer in the NHC finals, David Gutfreund; public handicapper and 2014 BCBC fourth-place finisher Nick Tammaro, who is coming off a double-qualifying weekend at Keeneland when he won the Fall Challenge contest on Oct. 14 and then came right back the next day to qualify again in Keeneland’s BCBC/NHC Challenge; and finally Tom Maloof, a 59-year-old project management consultant from Middleborough, Mass., who was the winner of that BCBC/NHC Challenge at Keeneland on Oct. 15.
Also, you cannot rattle off qualifiers for this year’s BCBC without mentioning the two-time former champion of the event Patrick McGoey of New Orleans, who won it back-to-back in 2011 and 2012, the latter year taking home $255,000 including the $170,000 first prize and his winning bankroll of $85,000.
And finally, that winning final score brings to mind the question, what kind of bankroll will it likely take for a player to win the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge?
The final winning score to shoot for in the BCBC is almost impossible to try to estimate based on the past results, since it depends a lot about the kinds of prices that win on Breeders’ Cup races and what player’s bankrolls are going into the late races.
As mentioned, Patrick McGoey reached $85,000 in 2012, and that total was in the same ballpark as Robert Traynor, 54, of Oceanside, Calif, who won with $71,000 in 2014, and Tommy Massis, who won with $90,682 in 2015. That would seem to suggest a total between $70,000 and $90,000 will win it. However, there have been recent outlying winning scores to mention – both higher and lower.
The 2013 BCBC was won by Peter Behr of London, Ontario, who scored a whopping $124,115, while in 2016, as mentioned, Joe Appelbaum was able to win with $64,000, which was all earned on his final wager of the tournament.
Good luck to everyone competing this weekend!