Champ retains his crown
Gulfstream’s Conquer the Crown, a handicapping contest run on the day of the Claiming Crown, has been run in 2016 and 2018. There has been only one winner: Garett Skiba.
Last Saturday, Skiba won the event for a second time. He took home over $30,000 between his $12,625 in bankroll, $18,150 in prize money, plus a seat to the National Horseplayers’ Championship.
Players put up $3,000 to compete. Of that money, $2,000 acts as a live bankroll while the remaining $1,000 feeds the prize pool. In the end, Skiba had another feather in his cap.
“I do think it’s cool that I’m the only player to have ever won this contest,” he said.
Last time around, Skiba won Conquer the Crown by cold cocking a $300 exacta in the last race. This time he got the job done with a $5,000 win bet on Jorge Navarro’s Aztec Sense, the favorite in the 11th and final race.
Navarro was also the key to his getting into contention. He cashed for over $7,000 in the double that connected races 7 and 8. The eighth was won by one of three Navarro horses Skiba used, the eventual winner at 14-1, Misschief Maas. That left him near the top of the leaderboard.
“Navarro was running so hot I had to use all his horses,” Skiba said. “Last time in this contest heading to the last I was down to the felt. This time I was up at the front at the end.”
In both cases, he got the job done, proving his versatility as a player. In live-bank play, Skiba doesn’t shoot for a certain total from the outset. Instead, he figures out what he thinks it’s going to take to win as the play develops.
He said: “I ask myself, ‘Who else is in contention? What do the races look like?’ And then I build a plan from there.”
Tournaments are very important to Skiba’s play but are not his sole focus. He estimates they represent about 10 percent of his handle.
“In terms of my cash play, I’ll probably look four or five days a week but I won’t necessarily bet every day,” he said.
Skiba is an established livebank player, so it makes sense that there’s a relationship between his cash play and tournament approach.
“I use what I do on a dayto-day basis to get better at contests,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll look at a Saturday card and pre-load my account with $1,000 and look at it like a mini-tournament.”
There are obvious differences, of course. In cash play, there isn’t the same importance on being so aggressive at the end, nor is there any additional motivation to push in when it comes to the last race. “Looking at the races as a tournament helps me get a sense of how the card unfolds and gets me thinking about allocating funds to different races,” he said. “Whether it’s a tournament or my regular betting, it’s important to come up with a game plan.”
Arkansas man gets second shot
Dan Hart of Batesville, Ark., is headed back to Las Vegas after winning an NHC seat last weekend in an online contest. Hart was a rookie at the NHC last year, and burst on the contest scene making a run to the final table. He chronicled his exploits in real time by appearing on Steve Byk’s “At the Races” coverage live from the event.
Hart, 56, wasn’t thrilled with how things went once he got to the final table. He ended up 10th, and is still bothered by a DQ at Oaklawn Park that cost him a better finish.
“That cost me four placings,” he said, “and it stung that it happened at my home track, even.”
It’s been an up-and-down year for Hart.
“I had an awful slump this summer where I couldn’t hit anything,” he said. “There were so many tournaments where I would be on top after four or five races, but I couldn’t hit late to save my life.”
Looking back, the music aficionado thinks he might have put too much pressure on himself.
“I wanted to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke,” he said, “I didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder.”
Complicating matters was professional upheaval. He unexpectedly lost his job this summer after 15 years at a dental supply company.
“It was a corporate culture thing. They were going younger,” he said. “I started a new job two weeks ago at a regional bank doing retail sales and now – bang! – I’m qualified.”
Travel will be a big part of the new gig as he’ll be going around to different parts of the country working with dealers. Asked if he might sneak in a few racetrack visits, he replied, “Oh, that might happen.”
World series qualifier
There’s another chance to qualify for the Horse Player World Series this weekend on DRFT. Entries cost $94 and one in 19 entries will win a $1,500 seat. The world series is a threeday mythical-money contest taking place at Orleans Las Vegas from March 28-30. Saturday’s qualifier utilizes the all-in format, meaning that all picks must be in before the scheduled post time for the contest’s first race.
On Sunday, there is another Round 1 qualifier for the Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship. Entries cost $220 and one in five will move on to compete in the $960 buy-in online Pegasus qualifier on Dec. 15. The Pegasus contest itself takes place Jan. 25-26 and is a tremendous opportunity for horseplayers. All the prize money is added by Gulfstream, meaning players get to wager their entire $12,000 bankrolls – there’s no entry fee and you walk away with whatever is left on your bankroll at the end.
For more information about everything happening this weekend, go to tournaments .drf.com.