Tonight, Horseplayers returns to Esquire Network after a two-week Olympic hiatus. To reacquaint you to the show, and one of the players, part two of my interview with Matt Bernier follows. In the Q&A, Matt discusses the differences between handicapping and betting, skill versus luck, his go-to bet and where you might find him at the track.
How much preparation goes into getting ready for a tournament like the NHC? Are you looking at past performances until your eyes glaze over until you pass out?
Normally, I’m going into an event at some of these smaller NHC ones, it’s limited to one or two tracks or three tracks. Some of the races are mandatory, which kind of helps you know immediately what you need to take a look at. Whereas, you go out to the NHC, and you’ve got six or seven tracks and out of all of those you only have eight races that are mandatory and then you can pick from the rest of them. At that point you need to hone in on what you’re good at. Are you good at maiden claiming races? Are you good at listed stakes? Are you good at sprints? Routes? Dirt? Turf? I think that this is the first way you trim the fat. You can sit there and…you can get to a point of overload and your brain’s fried…With the NHC there are just things happening so quickly, you got to be on your toes and realistically, you’ve got to be lucky a little bit. You can break down a race perfectly, and you know what, if the speed doesn’t break then all your work is out the window. That’s a harsh reality I learned over this past year.
What percentage of luck vs. skill is there in handicapping?
I’m not going to try to change anyone’s opinion greatly, but I think there’s much more skill involved than there is luck. I always use the example of two Travers Days ago. I have a group of buddies that come up with me. One of my friends only likes to bet blindly on long shots. Well, two years ago it worked out brilliantly for him because you had Golden Ticket, Willy Beamin and he was hitting 30-to-40-1 shots. And I got shutout for the day and he goes, “You’re the one who is supposed to know what you’re talking about.” And I go, “Let’s do this for 10 days in a row, and I will bury you.” Nothing personal, but the luck is going to dry up for you sometime because you really don’t know what you’re doing. I think that’s the thing you have to stress – absolutely, luck goes a long way, but if you don’t know what you’re doing the luck will only go so long.
Is there a big difference, or is there not a big difference, between handicapping a race and betting it?
I personally think, they’re two totally different animals. We’ve actually on the show, the seven, eight of us, got into big discussions about this off camera. I’m not sure they may have some it on one of the episodes where half of us believe that handicapping and betting are one and the same and the other half us feel that handicapping is completely separate from betting. Handicapping is strictly breaking down the race and figuring who’s doing what and whose the most likely winner. Betting, to me, is a different animal. You can handicap it brilliantly, but if you don’t bet properly you’re not going to get anything out of it.
Has being on Horseplayers changed you as a bettor?
I’ve gotten to learn from all these guys the last eight months. Where coming into this, I didn’t have anybody I could talk to about any of this stuff. You know this has been a crazy ride for me. It’s been very educational, where I’m learning to structure bets differently whether it’s to play a trifecta, “Who are you keying?” It’s not necessarily who you think the best horse is, but maybe it’s just the horse that’s most likely to run in the money and at a number too. I go back to Breeders’ Cup Friday. I loved Golden Ticket, but changed my opinion just based on the way the track had been playing. But my plan all along was to key Golden Ticket as key for trifectas and exactas. I didn’t do it because I was afraid of the track. I was afraid he couldn’t come from behind. Lo and behold he still grabs second. The point is you’re looking for that horse that’s not necessarily the best or most likely winner. But you’re looking for that one that’s most likely to run in the money to work around your bet.
When you think of the last eight months of filming what has been the high point?
Before any of this started, I would tell people if you didn’t give me another dollar to bet for the rest of my life, I’d be fine. Just give my a form, let me go and be around the track and the horses and the whole atmosphere. I think for me this year we got to spend an afternoon when we were in Lexington with Zenyetta. And for me that trumps everything. There’s nothing that was even close to what we got to do that afternoon. We’ve been all over the place, and we’ve gotten to meet all kinds of people, but when I tell people that my highlight was meeting a horse…unless you’re involved in racing they look at you like you got four heads. That for me was the best part of this whole thing….Zenyetta takes the cake.
You have $200 in your pocket and need to turn it into $1,000 by the end of day, what track, what type of race, jockey, what trainer, what would be your go-to, to make that money?
As far at the track is concerned, I’m always partial to Saratoga. My friends also scored on Orb in the Derby… they immediately fell in love with Joel Rosario. They figured anything he touched turned to gold, there’s some truth to that. He’s a hell of rider. Training-wise, there are different circumstances for different trainers – Chad Brown on the grass is always good. But if you’re looking for value, you know what you’re going to get. He’s got the top horses and the vast majority of the time you’re going to have a 2-1, 3-1. If I love a horse at Saratoga, and I say Saratoga because there are always full fields and you’re always going to get 10, 11, 12 horses. And you get prices at Saratoga all the time, and that’s part of the deal. It’s a tough question…
What’s your go-to bet?
I’ve always loved the Pick 4. I’m turning a little more to the Pick 5 just because of takeout, depending on what circuit it is – in Southern California I’d lean toward the Pick 5. In New York, I’m all right with a late Pick 4. And in time, I’ve started to dabble a little bit in the Pick 6, but again you’ve got to have deep pockets for that. And that’s why, ideally if you have friends, they get involved. It makes it more fun when you have more people involved in a bet like that. If everyone is rooting for the same thing you've got a like-rooting interest, it's much more fun.
Best part about playing the horses?
For me, the best part about playing the horses…I can take the wagering part out of it. Looking at a race before they load in the gate…trying to see what’s going to happen…have the race be run the exact way you thought it was going to happen and then just kind of taking it in afterward. Either enjoy the fact that you were spot on or if you were wrong, go back and try find out where you were off and then use that as bit of a learning experience going forward.
Best place to find you at the track?
If I were at Saratoga, it would be in the back yard. As they’re getting ready to load into the gate, we’d be making our way up to the rail…most of the time it would be a back yard, picnic table, rail kind of thing. We’re not quite in the level of the suites, still out there having a good time.
Is there going to be a Horseplayers Season Two?
You know what I think, that will be up to the public. We need everybody and their brother spreading the word and watching it…hopefully. It’s too early to tell just yet.