The top finishers in Keeneland's well-regarded spring handicapping contest, the Grade One Gamble, hail from all over the country.
Runner-up Alberto Fernandez is from Miami Beach, Houston's Nick Tammaro finished third. In fourth was Rob Rosette of Chandler, Calif; Alan Anthony of Woodbine, Md. secured fifth in the April 13 live bankroll contest at Keeneland.
But in terms of taking down the top prize, the home team prevailed as Lexington's Evan Trommer finished first with a final total of $9,170 after starting with $2,000. Besides the $7,170 in winnings, Trommer also secured the top tournament prize of $16,000.
Trommer credited Keeneland director of simulcast operations Jim Goodman with putting together a well-run contest that attracts top players from all over the country. While Trommer, 49, scored a victory in the fall 2012 live-bankroll Keeneland handicapping contest, he remains humble about his handicapping skills.
"You always love winning a contest at your home track," Trommer said. "I was surprised, I really was. There are a lot of great handicappers in that room, a lot better than me. I just got lucky; it was my day."
Handicapping contests have proven popular with players and Keeneland regularly offers such events with a variety of formats and a variety of price levels, whether it be $10 or $25 for a Wednesday on-track contest or Friday simulcast contest, a couple hundred dollars on a win-place format, or a few thousand for a live-money event.
The enjoyment players experience in such contests was portrayed well in the recently concluded reality television show, Horseplayers, on the Esquire Network. On that show, the regular characters were trying to qualify for the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championships in Las Vegas, an event Trommer punched his ticket to for a second time with his April 13 contest win at Keeneland.
The NHC contest features a format in which players are required to bet the same amount to win and place on a horse. In those formats, because of limited opportunities, Trommer said players typically have to connect on some longshots. Live-money contests like Keeneland's Grade One Gamble allow players to incorporate exotic wagers into their play.
"I'm an exacta player, so I like that," Trommer said. "In these, you don't need a longshot, just the right horses and betting strategy."
In the Grade One Gamble, Trommer hit win bets and exactas in the first two races to seize the lead. He then connected on similar wagers in the seventh and eighth races. A wrinkle in the contest rules require players to wager half their bankroll on either the final (race nine that day) or second-last race.
After long study about which race to wager half his bankroll, Trommer decided to make his stand in race eight and connected on a $900 across-the-board wager on Ready to Act, who won the Beaumont Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select (gr. II) as the 9-5 favorite. Trommer also hit the exacta in that race multiple times with Sweet Whiskey (which returned $22.60 for $2).
Trommer made his stand in the Beaumont Stakes, won by Ready to Act - Keeneland Photo
Trommer notes that if he had decided to bet half his bankroll in the final race, he likely would not have won the tournament. Choosing the correct race helped him prevail.
While such strategy decisions are important, in terms of handicapping Trommer does not try to find some deep, hidden reason of why a horse may prevail in a race. He likes to look at the horses in the paddock or on the track, a skill he has confidence in, but overall tries to stick with more of a basic handicapping approach backed with well-crafted wagers.
"Part of my strategy is not to over-think it. You go into that room and the guys in there, I know they're much better handicappers than me. They know more about horses, more about horse racing," Trommer said. "My greatest component at Keeneland was probably luck, so I don't go in there and over-think it. I'll pick up my Form, sometimes that day."
Trommer has enjoyed horses most of his life. He grew up in the San Francisco area near the former Bay Meadows racetrack. In college he began attending the races regularly. He has owned horses since the 1990s, some on his own (as Wind River Stables); some in partnership.
While he has owned or partnered in top horses like multiple graded stakes winner Black Seventeen and grade III winner Court's in Session, he gets a kick out of horses at all levels. He said a claiming horse named Grandma's House gave him and his wife Kathy, who competes in other equine events and also enjoys horse racing, many fond memories.
"I remember one time we claimed him back and then he won a $12,500 claimer for us. We watched him come out of the test barn and start heading down to the shedrow and you would have thought this horse had won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). He was just walking all full of himself; just thought he was the neatest thing in the world," Trommer said. "After he walked, the next thing you know he was on his back and rolling. Just great personality."
Trommer said Black Seventeen, who was saddled by trainer Brian Koriner to victory in the 2008 Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park, also had a lot of personality.
Black Seventeen won the 2008 Vosburgh Stakes - Skip Dickstein Photo
"When they would lead him over, he would always hold up the procession because he would have to stop, look around, just take everything in," Trommer said. "He was all about just taking in the sights; he was a great horse."
One of the reasons the Trommers moved to Lexington was to be around horses and they have launched the successful Village Host Pizza. That business, and their equine pursuits, keeps the couple busy but they love to get to Keeneland, especially in the mornings.
"We don't always have much time but when we can get to the track in the morning, we love watching the horses work, being near the horses," Trommer said.
Trommer said he's increased his tournament play and could really set his sights on it once he retires in 15 years or so. As for now, he hopes to deliver a strong performance in his second NHC appearance early next year.
"Last time I went down there I was just happy to be there. It was a tournament I'd always heard about and wanted to get to. I did okay. I ended up 105 out of 460 the first time," Trommer said. "This time I'm going down with a little more serious attitude. When you finish in the top 25% the first time there, you start to think, 'Hey I have a legitimate shot at this thing.' I'm pretty excited about it."