The New York Racing Association's handicapping contests have always held a special place in the contest world landscape and that place has now grown dramatically as players can now compete online via NYRA Bets.
The 2019 Gotham Challenge marked the first time players were able to register and compete online in a handicapping tournament via NYRA Bets. The format saw an increase of 101 entries over last year's event, with 224 contestants competing for $36,400 in cash prizes as well as seats at upcoming tournaments.
Emily Kyrillou, of Jersey City, New Jersey, picked up her first win in a NYRA handicapping challenge, ending the day with a bankroll of $10,327 while collecting $12,740 in prize money. In victory, Kyrillou selected one seat to the 2019 Belmont Stakes Challenge.
“We were extremely pleased with the Gotham Challenge, which nearly doubled in participation in large part due to the ability to play online via NYRA Bets,” said Lynn LaRocca, NYRA's Senior Vice President and Chief Experience Officer. “While we always want to encourage our local players to enjoy the amenities of our on-track experience, the opportunity to expand our reach online is paramount to growing the platform.”
The next NYRA contest takes place on Saturday, April 6 – the Wood Memorial Challenge – and is expected to feature a prize pool of more than $50,000. That's a big number for a contest that costs just $400 to play.
One of the players who will be competing is Mitch Schuman. He's been a regular in NYRA events ever since the early 2000s. Schuman, 60, a criminal defense attorney for New York County, came to racing relatively late in life.
Schuman is a good friend of noted contest player Bill Shurman, who took him along to the 2002 Belmont Stakes, where he saw Sarava return $142.50 for every $2 bet on him while bringing War Emblem's Triple Crown bid to an end.
Enlivened by the experience, Schuman was a fast convert to racing. He started learning the art of handicapping almost immediately thereafter.
“A couple of months after that, Bill called me and told me his brother, Paul, had qualified for the National Handicapping Championship,” said Schuman, who said that at the time had no idea what a handicapping contest was, let alone the significance of the NHC.
But Schuman was intrigued, and tagged along to Vegas for the trip, competing in a rival contest that same weekend at the Barbary Coast [a contest that eventually morphed into the Horse Player World Series)' On this trip, he met other contest stalwarts including Steve Wolfson, Sr., and Steve Wolfson, Jr., the latter of whom would go on to win that year's NHC.
“After day 2 of the Barbary Coast contest I was in first place and at that point I was hooked on contests,” he said. “I ended up tenth and took home $7,000. I heard about another contest in South Dakota coming up from Jamie Michaelson. I went there, finished first, and qualified for my first NHC.”
And it remains that returning to the NHC is his primary goal in contests each year. He's qualified 14 times in total and 11 in a row. Over time, he's become involved in the NHC as a member of its players' committee.
“Since my first contest in 2003, handicapping contests have changed and grown immensely,” he said. “Not all of the changes have been for the good, but overall there is more opportunity for handicappers to find their niche and excel. I've worked with very dedicated people on the players' committee who have really helped grow the sport. When Steve [Wolfson, Jr.] won back in 2003, he was playing for $100,000. Now there are multiple contests offering much larger prizes. Online contests and the [NHC] Tour have made contests an every-weekend affair for me.”
The NYRA events are Schuman's favorite way to get to the NHC.
“I love New York racing and the venues,” said Schuman, who lives with his wife in Brightwaters on Long Island. “Saratoga is one of my favorite places in the world, the track and the town. I consider Belmont to be my home track and regularly go there with friends and family.”
And the contests suit his style, especially since the switch to live-bank rules a few years back. “The contests are well run,” he said. “They have a long history of talented people running those contests.”
Schuman's strategy in live-bank events might be described as text book – the proven template for success in the format. “I try to make one big bet on the horse or horses I like best,” he said. “If that opinion comes up late on the card, I make show bets to maintain my bankroll for my big play.”
Schuman has also had plenty of success in poker tournaments, and was asked to compare the two.
“The biggest difference is that with poker you just have to show up,” he said. “For most handicapping contests I take a day off from work to prepare and do my homework. For the NHC I arrive on Tuesday to get to work for Friday. In that way poker is easier. Its similar in that you have to recognize value in both venues, the will pays, the pot, and the prize money at risk.
At the end of the day, there's no question as to which he prefers. “Handicapping contests will always be first and foremost for me,” he said. “I love the beauty of the horses and handicapping with my friends.”
In order to enter and play online, contestants must be registered NYRA Bets account holders. New NYRA Bets members are currently eligible to receive a bet $200 get $200 bonus.
To sign up for the Wood Memorial Challenge now, visit NYRA.com.
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