On October 8-9, DerbyWars hosted its first-ever $250,000 game, the largest online handicapping contest ever held. At the end of 27 races, David Spielman (dspiel80) of Chicago, IL triumphed over 129 other entries with a score of $220.80 to take home the $80,000 first prize, with Jon Hurd (@nolagistics) of Little Rock, AR cashing for $40,000 in second with $199.70 and Scott Galica (watha34) of Racine, WI in third collecting $24,000. Dylan Donnelly (rookie07) came in fourth with $166.40 earning $15,000 and day one leader John Nichols (kynick) of Louisville, KY finished fifth with $166.00 worth $10,000, and track announcer Vic Stauffer’s (goofontheroof) sixth-place finish was worth $9,000 with a score of $149.80.
Spielman has had experience in DerbyWars $100K games before, but this was his biggest contest win. When he's not winning big games, he works as a credit analyst at a community bank a short drive from Arlington Park.
This was by far my biggest win. Next biggest was actually about 6 weeks ago when I came in third in the August 100k game. Before that, I was in first after 11 of 15 races in the April 2015 100k game. The winner scored as much in the last 4 races as I had in the first 11 and I finished 9th.
The game went down to the wire with four of the top five finishers picked 5-1 Mr. Roary in the last contest race and watched him hold on by a neck!
How did the Top Three Qualify?
Spielman won his $250K entry by finishing third in the August $100K game, but Jon Hurd and Scott Galica were able to qualify for such big wins for only $35.
I qualified a few weeks back after winning a pre-feeder for $35 on September 2nd for the super qualifier September 5th where I hit 6 of the last 7 races to get in.
Thank you for running such a great tournament. I really love that you offered so many qualifiers, giving we who could never afford to get in a "high roller" tournament, a real chance to play.
I played a round 1 qualifier on Sept. 18th (for $35), advanced to the big game qualifier later that same day, and advanced to the big tourney that night. I finished 2nd in both those qualifiers that day.
Preparation and Strategy
- As is the case with any game, I felt calm and cautiously optimistic going into it but there were definitely some nerves as well. Finishing 3rd in the 100k game was a great confidence boost but Keeneland has always been a bit of a mystery to me and for whatever reason, to use a baseball analogy, I've never seen the ball as well at Belmont and Santa Anita as I do at Saratoga and Del Mar. As far as strategy, I just set a goal of trying to cash in every race and try to take advantage of what little control I have over the situation. To me, that means two things:
- I can only speak for myself, but I've learned that handicapping in advance, even if it's just the night before, is crucial. It's so much easier to look at each race in a vacuum when my mind is relaxed and I'm not worried about my position on the leaderboard. It seems impossible to win without a healthy mix of favorites and long shots but I don't consciously seek out a certain number of either.
- After taking the time to handicap in advance, I have to constantly remind myself to trust my picks. I was in first going into the 13th race of the Travers game and switched off the eventual winner (who paid $43.40) because I thought the fact that the horse I switched to had taken money made him a "safe" pick. Like I said, that third-place finish was my biggest win to that point and I'm grateful it happened, but that was a $7,000 mistake. I did make several last-second changes in this contest (I think I counted 6 or 7) and the net effect was positive, but it was less than my margin of victory. I feel very lucky about that considering my past experiences.
- As an aside, I've heard and read that a lot of people like to try to estimate what the winning score will be and work towards that number. I don't have the experience or ability to even consider employing that strategy. The winner of the last 100k game scored $189.90 in 16 races. If I had extrapolated that for 27 races (which probably isn't the right way to use that strategy to begin with) at the start of my handicapping, I'd have ended up throwing a lot of darts, rather than picking the horses I thought had the best chance to win.
"I have been playing very consistently lately I honestly went in with the goal to finish in the Top 22," said Hurd, who works as a Financial Advisor.
"I felt I could compete, and if I were close on the 2nd day I would play smart and just pick winners and take a shot. On Friday night, I can remember thinking to myself it's the calm before the storm. Just needed to be dialed in for the big game!"
Getting a Fast Start on Day One
- I thought it would be critical to get off to a good start so I was extremely nervous about the first race (which turned out to be the second race because of the power outage in Lexington). I thought you could have made a case for literally any horse but I thought it set up well for Mongolian Saturday. Right out of the gate I said to myself, "I've seen this race before." The whole race felt extremely similar to last year's Breeder's Cup Turf Sprint, including the result. It felt great to cash in the first two races and be within $3 of the lead but it turned out to be hugely important that only 5 people picked Mongolian Saturday after 34 people cashed in the first race and 34 picked Practical Joke to win the third. The fourth race ended up being a bit of a throwaway. 35 people cashed but only 8 of those ended up in the money. I think most of us (myself included) thought Stonetastic would run that field off the track and looked for value elsewhere.
- Sometime either right before or immediately after the fourth race, I texted a friend who was following along and said all I need to do was beat Tepin and I'm in good shape. I was mostly joking, of course, but when I was looking at it Friday, there didn't seem to be much speed in the race and I thought Tepin looked tired in her last race at Woodbine. I figured if anyone had a chance, it was the horse who had gone right to the lead (or within a head of it) in her last 5 races and hadn't run a race this short in over a year. Plus how often do you see a Pletcher horse in a graded stakes race with a 20-1 morning line? I was playing for second, but the stars aligned and I got a win without a lot of company. Only 11 people had picked Photo Call and most of them were near the bottom of the standings so I was able to get a nice lead relatively early in the game (which I did a terrible job of protecting for the rest of the day).
- I had 5 winners and 4 seconds in the first 11 races so I was completely deflated after I whiffed on the last 4. I felt about as bad as is humanly possible for being down by less than $2. The fact that I had just switched off two horses that both finished second for a total of $9.80 certainly fed into my concern that the sky was falling. Aside from my confidence being shot, I was also completely exhausted. These games are a lot of fun but they are stressful! Fortunately I'm a Cubs fan so I had an excellent distraction to look forward to. Their win and the fact that I had already handicapped day 2 helped me feel a little more positive. I knew all I could do was trust my picks and let the horses do their thing.
At the end of Day One
I felt great after day 1 because I knew I was in range finishing in top 20. I felt pressure was on today with only 12 races, but felt the same pressure was on the other players too. I saw the big names of Brent Sumja, Vic Stauffer, Frank Polk, Ed Peters, Eric Moomey, William Roth, Joe Koury, Brett Wiener (the man), Craig Hom, and Charlie Davis in contention. I knew I had to be near perfect to have a shot. I stuck to my strategy and on occasion reached out to my horse racing family. Shoemaker, Trezza, Beychok, Eric Pineiro, Paul Link, Christian Hellmers, and my mother (not a handicapper, but one heck of a pray-er! Lol).
I had a few weeks to think about strategy, and just figured I would go with what got me there, although I ultimately strayed slightly from that plan midway through the 2nd day. I made the adjustment because I started very cold on Sunday, missing on the first five races. I knew I had to adjust if I wanted to stay in the money. At the time I believe I had fallen to 18th place, after coming into the day at 6th. Following the adjustment, I started to move back up a bit and found myself at 13th with 5 races to go. And then I went on a pretty good run cashing nicely in four of the last five. Needles to say it was quite a rush, and validation of the time commitment made on this great sport of thoroughbred racing.
- The first race of day 2 may have been the most important race of the whole contest. There wasn't a ton of form to go off and I felt like I couldn't pick the winner of a match race between California Chrome and myself at that point. Thankfully, I'm a firm believer in history repeating itself so I went with the European horse cutting back in distance (who also happened to be coming off a 3-length win). I'm also fairly certain that Florent Geroux is French for long-distance turf race so it seemed like a natural fit. That win helped me relax, even after I effectively sat out the next three races, due in no small part to the chocolate pudding they were running in at Belmont.
- Picking 6 out of the last 8 winners can't be discounted but they were all 6-1 or less so that was as much a product of playing with a lead as anything else (especially the second to last race, although Gloryzapper was my first choice).
Coming Down The Stretch
Coming into the last four races, David Spielman held a commanding lead, but nearly half the field was in striking position to cash in the tournament.
The top four finishers all picked the winner in the last two races, Gloryzapper and Mr. Roary.
At The Finish
Going into the last race, Spielman had a $21 lead, but was carefully watching the odds on the #9 horse which was 5-1.
Figuring that a 5-1 winner would pay around $17, I switched from the 9 to the 1, then back to the 9 and was trying to switch back to the 1 but ran out of time. It turned out I still would have won by $1.10, but waiting for that to go official would have been the most excruciating 2 minutes of my life.
On day 2, I had 8 horses that hit the board and just got in the zone and kept picking winners. With 5 races left, I knew I had to hit all of them to close it out, so I reached out to my guys and talked it out. Bobby Shoemaker and Eric Pineiro were big on Mr. Roary and that gave me reassurance as it was the horse I felt strong about. I felt confident could make a good run just needed David Spielman to make a mistake. I have to give him all the credit as he held on with those last 2 at Santa Anita. I was certainly going for the Win!
I feel my best move was in the last race of the tourney. I was solid on #3 Tiz A Billy, but landed on Mr. Roary after watching the post parade. I made the change with about 15 seconds left on the clock. WHEW ! That move pushed me to 3rd place instead of dropping to 5th. It is still sinking in with me. I am proud to have finished so well, against such a strong field.
Overall, it was a fantastic tournament and we look forward to more great tournaments in the future! The comments in the chat by fellow players summed it up pretty well!
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