Where Do I Sit?
This is a response to the insightful, honest and revealing article written by Eric Wing on the Horse Tourneys blog. You can read the full article here, but the gist of the article was that the first decision a tourney player makes might be the simplest on its face but is one of the most important. And that simple decision is: where do I sit?
For everyone going to the Horse Player’s World Series this weekend you might want to give Wing’s article and this article a read.
At the National Handicapping Championship I’ve had a couple of experiences that turned out differently based simply – and I totally believe this – on where I was sitting.
At one of my first NHC tournaments held at the Red Rock I got in late and arrived even later at the venue meaning I had little to no choice of where to sit. A complicating factor was that like many contestants I had a guest who also served as an asset to my handicapping during the contest – my brother Ben. The set up at the Red Rock didn’t allow for guests to be seated in the player’s area so I was forced to fashion a make shift chair and bar stool situation somewhere right outside the player’s area that first year. Needless to say my results were miserable as well as my player experience.
The second or third year at the Red Rock I was able to secure a player’s carrel in the sports book and my brother and another friend were able to secure seats right outside the area and this setup, while still imperfect, was an improvement and my performance improved as well as I finished in the top 25. An additional factor in my positive seating decision that year was my pair of immediate seatmates in the sports book.
The one on my right would not show up until after lunch and then leave within a few hours without speaking and the other was a great young guy from Toronto who was quiet and conversational when appropriate. As I got down to the final few races that year, he was also very supportive and helpful with post times and standings and I know that helped push me up the leader board.
The next year was at the Treasure Island. Again I arrived late and found myself looking for a seat in the auxiliary ballroom as all of the seats in the main ballroom of the contest had been taken. Yes, you would have thought I learned my lesson but I’m hard to learn up sometimes.
If you are unfamiliar with the setup at the NHC at the TI there is a large ballroom with table seating and all the frills and fracks of a regular tournament – teller windows, tournament windows, a podium for Eric Wing to make announcements, a place to get Racing Forms, programs and two much needed temporary bars for cocktails. The auxiliary ballroom is across a hallway and is exactly like the main ballroom setup except it has nothing the main ballroom has except chairs and tables.
It is sterile but quiet. So on the first morning of the 2012 tournament I found myself once again looking for two seats. I came upon a table that had an open seat and adjacent chair so I took it and put my stuff down on the other seat to hold it. After about 2 minutes I regretted the decision. There was a constant talker at the table who had no companion but wanted everyone to know what an expert he was in everything – not just horse racing. I couldn’t handicap because all I was thinking about was how am I going to sit here for two days and listen to this. And, not only was he talking but he was angry – mad at the world. The coffee was cold; the Danish was stale, blah blah blah. As I was slowly counting each and every second of anguish another gentlemen came down and politely said I took his seat – the one I was saving for my brother. As I began to form words in my mouth to answer him the loudmouth got into the conversation and took my side, which was not even a side since I hadn’t said a word. At that minute I noticed behind the man was his wife – who was in a wheelchair and I said, “please take me seat – I’ll find another.” And, I did and it turned out to be a blessing. The argument on seats continued for another 15-20 minutes at the other table.
The table next to the original one was in the corner and there were a few reserved signs on the table but I took a shot and asked the guy sitting there near the reserved signs if I could sit down. He said, “Sure pal.” I put my stuff down and put my brother’s stuff down and settled in. Thirty minutes or so passed and the guy had his two friends sit down with him. They discussed races in a respectful and quiet tone. My brother came down and sat and we went on about our business. There was another fellow at the table as well who wore spectacles and was very serious about his studies and over the course of the two days, he said rarely a word or cheered for a horse. In other words, this was a great player’s table.
Now, I am by no means quiet during the race. But, I was not prepared for how my 2012 seatmates cheered for their horses. More on that later. Go to the middle of the first day during Gulfstream and a capper comes in – Freddy the Cap – I will never forget his name. I look around and no one at my table is cheering or letting on anything. The races goes official and our tablemate – the one with the spectacles and quiet is leading the tournament and he had the cap horse. His name was Peter Behr and he would go on to win the Breeder’s Cup Betting Challenge a few years later. But during the race you couldn’t tell if he had the capper or the horse that came in last. That is a good – if not great – tablemate.
A few races later the trio of guys from New York start yelling for a horse. But, they weren’t just yelling. They were beating their programs in unison like a well-choreographed horse racing concert almost in lock step with the horse’s stride. I was cheering as well but I stopped mid cheer – hard to do – and just looked on in amazement as these guys put on a rooting show of shows. It was only a preview for what was to come. Those guys were Peter Rotundo, Peter Rotundo Jr. and Lee Davis – my eventual castmates and instant friends on Horseplayers. And, if you’ve seen the show (by the way, Esquire Channel is finally showing reruns) you know exactly the ballet of cheering I’m trying to describe.
As the next day wore on the boys from New York cheered on my horses till the end. I said about midday that if I hit a horse coming up at Gulfstream it was going to get crazy and after that long shot came in it certainly did.
You can view the video of the final race here and see how these guys, who 24 hours prior I didn’t even know, were rooting for me in that race. Oh yeah, the guy who didn’t even cheer his own capper, Peter Behr, he’s the one right next to me cheering from the get go that last race.
The point of this is not to re-live what was a life changing moment for me but it is to reiterate the point of Eric Wing’s article that the most important decision you make at a tournament is one of the first – where to sit. If it doesn’t feel right, if the people at the table turn you off or send off bad vibes then it isn’t good karma and you should get out of there. Just like players need to trust their instincts on selections and go with their gut – that same principle applies in spades to the decision on where to sit at a tournament. In my case, the stars aligned to force me to make a move when my gut was telling me the same thing. There is no way I would have won the 2012 NHC without sitting at that table with those guys – no way. That’s how important that specific decision was for me and it can be for you too at your next tournament.