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Matt Bernier: Horseplayers' Young Gun

Matt Bernier

Matt Bernier is the unlikeliest character on Esquire TV’s new reality series, Horseplayers. A 23-year-old part-time real estate agent, and full time handicapper, living in the western Massachusetts suburb of West Springfield, Matt turned a first time online tournament win into a starring role on Horseplayers. 


Bernier affords his Cinderella-like rise to what will always be his all-time favorite Thoroughbred, Jersey Town. This handicap veteran was an 8-1 shot in a short field with two heavy favorites, Shackleford and To Honor and Serve on the Jockey Gold Gold Cup undercard race, the Kelso Handicap in 2012. Seeing the two heavy hitters as vulnerable, Bernier put Jersey Town in as a key tournament pick, and then played a round of golf while the races went off. 


A surprised Bernier saw his name atop the leader board – the handicapping one, not golf – at day’s end. So, a trip to Vegas for the National Handicapping Championship was earned. He didn’t win the tournament, but he was noticed as being one of the youngest tournament qualifiers at 22. A few months later Bernier received an email asking if he wanted to be on a TV show about betting horses. After an initial, skeptical reply of,  “Yeah, sure,” a Skype session with producers was arranged and three weeks later Bernier was at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby and filming. The rest, well, is evolving history.


With Horseplayers just wrapping up shooting and the second episode ready to air, I spoke with Bernier, who was still catching his breath. He was courteous and thoughtful through our 30-minute conversation. What follows is the first part of that interview. Enjoy!


Is it fair to say you’ll be seen as the young gun on Horseplayers

Yeah, I think I’ll definitely be considered the new guy and the fresh face. There are a couple of guys on the show that are still younger guys. You know, you’ve got Christian Hellmers, Peter Rotondo Jr., and even Kevin Cox. I make a joke about it kind of often: You go to an OTB or I when I went NHC last year, half the people in the room are old enough to be my father and other half are old enough to be my grandfather. I didn’t have anybody to relate to. I would say I’m the young buck of this group.


Could you use just a few words to describe each member of show?

John Conte: old school, knows his stuff, scary reminds me of my grandfather.

Christian Hellmers: incredibly knowledgeable, Southern California lifestyle, oil and water, me and him.

Peter Sr: very much like a father, one liners left and right.

Peter Jr: big brother figure, knows 98% of horse racing community.

Lee Davis: a lot like Peter Sr. father figure, one-liners galore .

Kevin Cox: New York through and through, one of the best tournament players around.

Michael Beychock - another father figure, very similar to me personality wise  


How much reality is in reality TV?

I would say, and I am going based on what people working on the show have said also. This is as real as it gets…it’s a horse race and ultimately you can’t fake the results. They are what they are. So, you see the reaction, not necessary in real time, but you see how we were feeling at the time for better or worse. That’s kind of the best part about this, you can’t fake it.


How did you feel placing a bet on a typical day when you don’t have cameras following you around, compared to how it was camera and crew? Did it change anything for you?

Well, the camera and crew part for me, I eventually get used to it. As far as making my own bets I wouldn’t say they we’re necessarily different. I can’t play as nearly as big or often as the other guys do, but the big difference was that during tournament play, which you’ll see in the weeks to come that we need to explain why we’re doing certain things. I know a lot of people have had concerns that we’re not getting into the handicapping part of it – that’s all coming once tournament time starts. It really doesn’t necessarily affect the way I go about doing things…it’s an extra thing we have to do – make your bet than immediately explain to the camera why.


How much is left on the cutting room floor?

I remember asking one of the producers one time and again my numbers are probably going to be way off… they said they had thousand of hours of footage that they had to trim down to essential 10, 45-minute episodes. I don’t how, I said, “God bless whoever is the one doing it you have so much to pull from…”


Are you primarily an online player or are you an at the track kind of guy from West Springfield? What’s the percentage of where you place your bets?

For me the vast majority is online just because…I don’t want to say I’m in no man’s land out here. You’re out on the Eastern part of the state (Massachusetts), I consider my home track Saratoga. I can get to Saratoga in about an hour and ten minutes, where it will take me an hour and fifteen minutes or an hour in twenty minutes to get to Suffolk. I am close enough to the tracks in Long Island – Aqueduct and Belmont – I’ve been to them. I do the majority of my stuff online. And then in the summer I’ll go to Saratoga four, five times during the meet. Hopefully more now after all this stuff has happened.


In episode two of Horseplayers you eluded to having to pay the rent with a bet, are you a professional handicapper? Is it a part time job? Do you have another part time job supports your handicapping?

I’m still involved in real estate, but I think the term professional handicapper…I know for a handful of the guys on the show this is, truly, this is what their income is. I guess at some point I could eventually go down that road, but at the moment the bankroll is not there for me realistically do that. I still do it, and I do very well with it. My buddies kind of give me a hard time, saying that actually real estate is a supplement to my horse racing because I make a majority of money off horse racing. I guess if you want to call that the professional part of it so be it. I like to think I’m good at my hobby… I guess you could say entrepreneur. Why classify one thing as the true profession, let me have a couple of different things I can dabble in.


So far there has not been a lot of the how, the Horseplayers handicap, so what is your process or emphasis when you go through the past performances to formulate your bets?

I’m big on race shape. I would like to be able to visualize before a race happens, what I think is most likely to happen. Let’s just say you go through a race ten times, who’s going to get to the lead the majority of time, barring a bad break or some racing issue and go from there. I like to go about pace – if you get a race loaded with front end speed then obviously it’s more likely to set up for someone from behind or vice-versa. I like to envision how the race will be run. I’ve heard a lot of people recently say they don’t think pace matters hardly at all - that it’s all kind a class thing. To each their own, but that’s what makes the game fun, that there’s not one tried and true method to do it.


Would you say playing the horses is humbling?

Oh, absolutely and you know I’ve had a lot of success out of the gate last year. The first tournament I entered, I won. I qualified through DRF.bets for the NHC. They did the whole nine yards – paid for the flight, hotel and all that stuff.  So I went out to Vegas (in 2012) thinking this is cakewalk. Just write a check for $750,000 right now and I’m going to cash it. I got out there and quickly realized it was full-on-deer-in-the-headlights kind of thing. If you’ve never been out there during the NHC, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever been around. You know what, you can think that you’re the greatest handicapper in the world. And I would expect most people to – and I keep stressing that …look, you can’t go into an event, or go into a race card thinking you’re going to lose, because if you’re thinking that way, you’re going to lose. But if you’ve never been to NHC, it’s unlike anything you’ll ever deal with. The amount of tracks going on, and the amount of races going off, people hooting and hollering. It’s hard to focus. It’s a marathon to a "T". It is just a draining, draining event. Anyone who has success out there deserves all the credit in the world.


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Older Comments about Matt Bernier: Horseplayers' Young Gun...

These contest do nothing to reproduce reality. The PRO knows exactly WHERE and in what wagers their strengths and weaknesses lie. A stupid contest totally eliminates all their demographic research and adaptation and forces one and all to take drink at the same trough...Ridiculous. In the real world the pro manages his "protfolio" just like a player on Wall Street.
The thing that differentiates the amateur and the pro is two fold: WHEN to bet big and wager creation......Amamtuers NEVER take the time to evaluate the markets and just plunk
I hope we do not know the same Gamblers. Somehow the ones i know,i seiously doubt Vic knows them. I am not saying they are not good. All you need is an opinion on horses. It is not Rocket Scienttry. For example,let us say we are allowed a $2 wager on every designated race. After 5 races you have won every race(for arguments sake you selected a $15 winner in eaxh) You are 5 for 5 and handicapping your butt off with nice prices. I on the other hand have stunk up the joint in the first 4 races. My horses have run so bad,they are actually the favorites in the ensuing race ,beacause of the head start. In the 5t race i hit a 40-1 longshot that i fluked with. Guess what,you the graet handicapper is now running 2nd to a Magician who pulled a Rabbit out of his butt. That is the life of handicapping tourneys.
Intent is very important and it’s not in the PPs. >> Contests – You’re right, you have to be lucky but you have to be good enough to put yourself on horses where fortuitous events can work in you favor as well. Wonder if you and t_v know many of the same gamblers.
Not as much that the show is fake,that the contestants are.They build them up. Crown, i know gamblers that are considered the best in the world living in NY and also from Vegs. I have always said,and not to take anything away from them. Unless someone is privy to inside information which others do not have.Mind you this could be a plus or a negative. But at least you know when their is intent to go for it.This never guarantees winners. if you do it correctly ,like many of the succesful gamblers do. It is predicated on bankroll.When they hit the big super or a big P6. 9 out of 10 times,the horse that makes the ticket so lucrative is part of(as it is called) A SPREAD TICKET. You use any horse that has a pulse to compete. To do that you need the funds. This show talks about The Handicapping contets. One of the players highlighted finished 2nd in the BC challenge.My friend David who owns Vyjack.He won the initial one at Santa Anita. Going into the last race he was ner the bottom with low funds. He did what Amino and i always kid about.He pulled a Daryl Lamonica and went long. He liked Zennyata in the Classic,his key was Gio Ponti going turf to poly.Not that he loved him so much,but he presented value and intrigue. He bet a big cold exacta and keyed him 2nd with all in the tris for like $15 triple. It came in and he won. Just like the other contestants,These tournaments are not what they say>Handicapping contests.I have played in many. You do not win by picking or handicapping winners. You win by looking at what Longshots have the best chance of finishing 1rst or in the money.Then pray that this is their day.Like one of the contestants.When he won his,he leap frogged something like 15 people to win. Do you think it is because he was good.No,he had an option of 1 or 2 horses and he picked the right one and got Lucky. My point and where i think it is a joke,the guys on the show are good.So are thousands of others. Including you ,if you played on a level playing field with most of them.
tmallios, thanks. I was just curious. I enjoy the show, but I guess it may be because I assume that it is not 100% true to life just because its on tv. I like it because I do learn a little bit about how others watch the sport and how other people predict outcomes. I generally go to the track with my kid and dont have many fellow fans other than this site to talk racing with or strategy. I have done alright with my simple method of looking at which horses are hot and which ones I have a gut feeling are going to win. I enjoy looking at the various ways they gather intel on the race.
I saw the first 2 episodes and Matt is the ONLY one who impressed me...Otherwise the show is a joke...I have been there senn it and done it against the best and held my own...I can give a story line for this series that would improve it 100,000 per cent... If matt is real time like they say I would love to sit at the round table with him for a pick 6 ...
Just like being in medicine and watching ridiculous soap operas masquareding as medical shows. Their sterile tehcinque is crap, NO doctors or nurses wear heavy eye shadow or it could flake and land in the wound, etc etc
Sorry Crown,i got cut off.Unlike many,i use my real name. I will not lie or say things from confidance like others do.It can always get back to me.Then i lose relationships. But i am not sking you to believe me.Just things are not what they are made out to be.I guess that is my hang up,maybe if i did not have this knowledge,i might enjoy the show.
why do they always portray the HOLLYOOD sterotype. All the good players I know are as eclectic a group of people as can be: a programmer, a mathematician, a radiologist, a newspaper man, a radio journalist, a chaplain on the back side, an executive with Bayer Aspirin, a retired school teacher...YES the vast majority of the major players have enough water under the bridge to know that they are in fact doing.
No offense taken Crown and a fair oint. Because it is a reality made for TV gig. I saw the first 2 shows,i would never watch any further. Far from the truth without me going into details.But lie i said,for TV and i don't mean Vic. It serves a purpose.
simple Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Once you OBSERVE a system, the mere fact of that observation (how many put on in front of a camera) can change the system in ways not predicted.
tmallios, not challenging you, but why so?
tmallios, not challenging you, but why so?
I enjoy racing,knowing most of the NY contingent on their,i find the show a joke.
I like the show, I find some of the guys very entertaining. My wife knows little about racing, definately not an enthusiast, she started to get into it, however if they are going to draw more fans like her, the parts of the show about the events or personalities should be beefed up and take some of the gambling and numbers out.
* enthusiast who liked the show?
Liked so far but doubt show will last. Plays to too small a segment of the population. Does anyone know a non racing entu
I'm liking the show so far.
I like the show. The Rotundo's are my favorite.

Tony Bada Bing began his lifelong quest of finding winners more than 35 years ago as a fifth grade student. This is when his grandfather first took him to the many Off Track Betting facilities sprinkled throughout Long Island, NY. While many kids his age were clamoring to hit the beach or an amusement park during summer vacation, Bada Bing was spending it in stuffy, smoked-filled rooms filled with retirees and reprobates listening to Marshall Cassidy on tape delay calling Saratoga.

This passion was further lit by his father, who took Bada Bing to East Boston's Suffolk Downs, only after Bada Bing learned to read the Racing Form. For most of his young adult life a summer rotation of NY OTB, Suffolk, and the now shuddered Rockingham Park in Salem, NH filled his betting days. 

Notable winners along the way: Willow Hour's and Runaway Groom's Travers wins as well as Derby winners Grindstone, Thunder Gulch (which he called in print the day before) and Super Saver. His latest quest is to hit the Kentucky Derby superfecta.

Bada Bing plays tournaments at Derby Wars, bets through several account wagering sites and has blogged about Thoroughbred racing for the past four years. He prefers the bigger meets of NYRA and California as well as seasonal meets of Gulfstream, Churchill and Oaklawn. He likes vertical, multirace wagers like Pick 4s.

He has produced several Horse Racing Nation videos, in addition to blogging. He can be found at Twitter @tonycbadabing. While away from the track Bada Bing enjoys time with his wife, who tolerates and supports his passion, and his two children.


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