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Horseplayers: A Review

A review of the debut episode of Horseplayers on the Esquire Network.

Mike Stobe

Horseplayers, a new reality show on the Esquire Network (check your local provider for channel listing), debuted on Tuesday night and follows the title named personas as they play the ponies on a daily, weekly and yearly basis at tracks around the country. A few years ago we had Jockeys, now we have Horseplayers - a show specifically about the bettors.

In the first episode the show introduces a group of horseplayers with personalities as big as their bankrolls. That's really what they're going with for this show - the personalities - and it makes sense given that this is TV entertainment. Someone that sits in the corner of the track and doesn't speak to anyone and stares and his form and TVs all day (yes, I'm guilty as charged) isn't nearly as interesting to watch on the tube as players with more gregarious or eccentric personalities. And, let's be honest, there are tons of personalities to choose from at the track.

So, for the first episode, we get the following cast of players: Peter Rotondo, Jr., Peter Rotondo, Sr., Lee Davis - Team Rotondo - are out at the Big A on Cigar Mile Day. John Conte, 2009 National Handicapping Tournament winner, is also out at Aqueduct. Christian Hellmers is out at Santa Anita Park for the 2012 Breeders' Cup and he's playing in the $10,000 buy-in Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge.

Personally, I find the day-to-day activities at Aqueduct the more interesting side of the episode, perhaps because I already knew what the results were going to be with the Breeders' Cup side of the story. And the Aqueduct contingent wasn't in a contest setting where they "had" to do certain things in order to win; it was more of a typical day-at-the-track feel, which I think resonated more with my experiences.

The show follows the players as they handicap and make bets throughout the day - winning some and losing others - will offering a look at the emotions that go along with the analytical task of picking the right horse in the rigth race. An issue that's going to crop us a bit for those of us that follow the game closely is that at times there will be a lack of suspense during certain scenes as most of the "high pressure" or "big bet" situations involve races where we already know the outcome.

Case in point: on Cigar Mile day at Aqueduct, Team Rotondo had a Pick 4 and other bets working around Groupie Doll. Victor Conte placed a win bet on Stay Thirsty. The show builds the drama with the shots of the race and, of course, a cutaway to a commercial right as the horses reach the finish line, leaving the audience in suspense as to who will win big and who will go home with nothing among the big bets.  That suspense is only going to exist for those viewers that never saw the 2012 Cigar but, for the rest of us, we already knew Groupie Doll would be nosed out by Stay Thirsty.

Ditto out at Santa Anita where Hellmers was trying to win the Betting Challenge, a contest that would ultimately be won for the second consecutive year by Patrick McGoey. Or when Hellmers placed big wagers on Little Mike and Fort Larned. I already knew how the races were going to unfold so the "will they win or lose" tension was non-existent. So, I think for the hard core racing fan, the betting outcomes are probably not as interesting as the process the players take in reaching those conclusions.

On the other hand, I think the show does a very good job of trying to get inside the heads of each player as to their thought process of selecting horses and bets. Hellmers goes over the numbers on his laptop and then heads down to the paddock to check out the horses in the flesh. Conte talks about class. Team Rotondo argues about Jersey Town over breakfast at a local diner.

Conte had a quote during the show that went something along the lines of "there is only one way to win but a million ways to lose." And, truly, the only way to win is for your picks to be right. But I think you could tweak that quote a bit further to "there is only one way to win but a million ways to get there."

The handicapping process is as varied and diverse as the cast of characters that make up the betting public on a day-to-day basis. There might be only one way to win - cashing a ticket - but there are multiple ways to get to that point. Horseplayers provides a fun and entertaining glimpse at the different paths that a few take to arrive (or attempt to arrive) at that winning destination.