Bill Roth doesn’t always play multiple tourneys with one set of picks. Even when he got up last Sunday morning, he wasn’t sure how many contests he might enter. The day’s menu was to his liking, however, and after handicapping the featured tourney races, he grew a bit more enthusiastic. Then he took a look at how many people had entered the various contests.
“Some of them looked a little underfilled to me,” said Roth, a retired policeman and current criminal defense attorney in Utica, N.Y., “especially the one for The Big One, which only had about 18 in it when I looked, and even the $10,000 game looked light to me, though that one wound up filling. So I decided to play one entry on those two, and also on a few others that had been on my bucket list.”
A few hours later, the affable 51-year-old who had grown up going to Belmont Park with his father, had completed what he realized was his best day ever as a horseplayer. He had entered one set of picks in seven separate live-format tourneys, and with his score of $103.40, he won six of them, earning the $5,000 top prize in Sunday’s $10,000 guaranteed tourney and winning seats and assorted add-ons to The BIG One, the Del Mar Handicapping Challenge, the Keeneland Grade One Gamble, the Monmouth Pick Your Prize tournament and the Wynn Handicapping Challenge. In his other contest, the lone event in which he did not finish first, Roth ran second in a three-seat NHC qualifier, making it that special kind of dream day when you win even when you lose.
“Yeah I was fine with losing that one,” laughed Roth, who had invested entry fees of $1,524 and earned entries and packages to live events worth approximately $35,150, plus his $5,000 cash prize on top of that. “Sunday’s results should keep me going for a while! It was all very gratifying.”
For Roth, the day’s returns were not just gratifying, they were also a bit surprising.
“I didn’t think I had turned in a tremendous performance,” said Roth of his $103.40 score. “I’ve certainly done better. But a lot of chalk came in. There are times you think you are having a perfect day, and you check the standings and someone like Brett Wiener has 50 points more than you do. But when I checked the standings part way through Sunday I said to myself, ‘Where is everyone?’ Everything is relative, I guess.”
Roth’s $103.40 score was amassed via four winners (and no place horses) that paid 3-1, 15-1, 6-1 and 6-1. His big earner was in Gulfstream’s 11th race when Valedictorian paid $32.00 to win and $16.60 to place. Roth liked Valedictorian’s form and running style for the Gulfstream turf, but he also saw an intangible in play.
“The horse was first off the claim for Michelle Nihei, which was not a good winning percentage for her. But it was my understanding that she was close with the jockey Luca Panici—a boyfriend/girlfriend situation or something like that. So I figured if she was putting him up, she had to like the horse a bit. It didn’t look like the type of horse that a lot of people would have, so I took a shot.”
The longshot win in the 6th of 12 contest races vaulted Roth up the various leaderboards, but he didn’t cash again until the 10th race. Then in the next-to-last contest race, the 13th from Gulfstream, Roth nailed 6-1 shot Bluegrass Special, due in large part to Roth liking the fact that Corey Lanerie was climbing aboard for trainer Charles Dickey.
“They are not a well-known combination, but they have done well together in the past,” noted Roth.
By this point, two decisions—one made early in the day, one made late in the day—had become key for Roth. Early in the day, he had entered an eighth tourney, a Pick & Pray feeder to the following weekend’s $50,000 tournament. Fearing, however, that the Pick & Pray entry would allow his competition in the live-format tourneys to know who he liked, he presciently decided to cancel that entry before the feeder had begun.
The other decision to be made was whether Roth should play things more conservatively now that he had built a lead in so many tourneys.
“There’s always a temptation, once you get a lead, to play chalk to build up your score,” he said. “But I’m reluctant to do that. For me, it’s typically like they say about multiple-choice tests—your first answer is usually your best answer. I decided that I had been doing pretty well with my original selections to that point, and if I was going to go down, I would go down with my picks. The last time I changed picks in that type of situation, I got burned. So I left everything alone. When I don’t think too much is when I tend to win. I was scared of the 6 horse in the last contest race at Santa Anita jumping up and biting me, but fortunately the favorite won, which kept my leads safe.”
Though he never expected to do as well as he did, Roth said Sunday’s race results were the sort that often have led to his best contest days.
“I don’t do as well when four $40 horses win during a 12-race contest,” he said. “I know plenty of other players live for those sorts of days, but I find I’m better off when just one of those horses come in.“
Of his six seat wins, Roth is most excited to go to Del Mar, which the Queens Village, N.Y., native has never visited. That contest, along with the following week’s Wynn Handicapping Challenge will now be the foundation of a nice summer vacation for him and his wife.
With a coveted NHC berth out of the way early and so many other prestigious tournament seats also suddenly won, Roth will now focus his sights on trying to win his way into the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and the Kentucky Derby Betting Championship. But first up, he’ll be playing four entries at the Horse Player World Series 10 days from now, and he hopes that last Sunday’s success can carry over to The Orleans in Las Vegas.
“So much of contest success hinges on having a positive mental approach,” Roth said. “Just last weekend, I was so angry. I had used my HorseTourneys account funds to buy an entry in The Stronach Group Ultimate Betting Challenge. Every decision I made down at Gulfstream went wrong, and on top of that, I got a bad sunburn that caused me to not feel well. This weekend everything clicked. That’s how the game goes, I guess.”
Certainly all contest players can appreciate the ups and downs associated with frequent play, though precious few can claim to have experienced such widespread success on a single day. Sunday’s seven tourneys were essentially a “year-maker” for Bill Roth, who in one 12-race sequence has put himself in position to have a banner 2017. Now all he has to do is stay out of the sun.