Thursday, February 4, 2016

NHC 17 Recap: Some Consolation

Save for my outcome in the tournament and flying home without an oversized cardboard $800,000 first-place check, National Handicapping Championship (NHC) 17 was a wonderful experience in every regard for me as a weekend warrior.

I returned home with a bit more cash than when I left, which is good for any Vegas trip.

In between the mentally taxing (and it IS, more than my professional work perhaps) handicapping tournament, I took in Mountain West hoops (UNLV vs. Boise State), caught up with fellow Scarlet Knight and ESPN and Sirius radio personality Steve Cofield, and had a blast with my cousin and her husband over Hot N Juicy crawfish and, later, a great 80s hair-metal tribute act on Fremont Street.

Recapping NHC 17
Onto "business" was great seeing Monmouth-area friends Terry Flanagan and Jennifer Prince in the Top 10% at the end of Day 1, plus ally Dan Camoro (Oregon) in second-place heading into the championship round.

And, as is the norm in all courses of travel, I sat with even more New Jersey people (Pete Rogers, Caitlin Findley and Frank Gryboski), plus Delaware Blue Hen alum and SF Bay area qualifier Dan Fischer, scribe and Laurel Park-area resident Lenny Moon, and aspiring stand-up comedian and professional horseplayer James Timinck from Suffolk Downs.

Aside from some gut-busting antics, getting to pick my colleagues brains on handicapping and tournament play was invaluable.  Anyone who has visited a racetrack knows there's lots of free but bad info or "tips" available, but the NHC offers a treasure trove of good info for the open minded who continue to work at the handicapping craft.

The reality of a weekend player competing against full-timers and some of the best in the game who've been at it far longer is even clearer for me than my first appearance last year, but a few things happened along the way to confirm that I am getting closer to my goal, first to score a Top 10% finish in an NHC and, ultimately, make it to the final table and score that big check.


It did not necessarily show on the state sheet, but over the first two days of the tournament I handicapped the tournament races far better, coming away with a handful of winners after only scoring once (a $16.60 place runner) in 30 races during the first two rounds of NHC 16 last January.

There's no consolation for finishing the 2-day play-in to the Championship round tied for 519th-place (of 626), but I had some longer-priced horses that were game and finished 3rd or 4th at high odds and outperformed some "logical" horses in deep fields.

Last year, I went long too often and, in some cases, on illogical horses.

A strong ending to Day 2 was a confidence booster entering Day 3's consolation tournament.

Now, the notion of consolation sounds anticlimactic when the $800,000 championship is the Holy Grail, but the NHC puts $50,000 up for grabs in the college hoops equivalent of the NIT tournament.

As a weekend player, however, I now have a greater appreciation of the value of teams still wanting to compete in the post-season, albeit for lesser rewards.

In the case of the consolation tournament, top prize is $10,000 cash plus a $10,000 entry to the Breeders Cup Betting Challenge and, candidly, just as lucrative as finishing 15th place in the NHC (a $20,000 cash prize).

After ending Day 1 with a mere $21.20 bankroll, I saw value earlier in the Day 2 card in some races at Aqueduct and Tampa and came away empty.  Far behind the leading pack, I took some big swings mid-tournament on Friday and missed, then decided to use the final few mandatory races to simply notch a victory or two to gain some momentum heading into Saturday's consolation tourney.

The final "mandatory" was on perhaps my favorite course to handicapping - the 6.5-furlong downhill turf at Santa Anita Park.

In contest play I landed on 8-to-1 Behest, a sprinter trying the course for the first time and trained by Phil D'Amato.

Now, I make very few cash "side bets" when competing in tournaments, but I liked the horse's chances enough against a suspect field and put Behest atop 7-to-2 Q'Viva in a $10 straight exacta and cashed that, as well as a straight win bet, for ~$500 of profit, so Friday ended on a high note.

Friday's late score gave me added confidence in making a run on Saturday, where everyone started with a clean slate and the option to play 10 of 29 races carded for the consolation round.  (Players in the Championship bracket also played by the same rules.)

Third lesson learned, perhaps, is that racing luck is at least part of the equation.

Much as I heard from a reliable source that the NHC runner-up benefited from three horses being "put up" to first after another horse in the race was DQ'd (including horses around 45-to-1 and 14-to-1....basically $100 of tournament bankroll), I on the other hand ended Saturday's consolation round a nose from finishing around 15th-place (worth a $1,250 prize)...and a length from probably taking down the $10,000 cash and $10,000 BCBC top prize.

The leaderboard showed me tied for 34th-place in the end with a $109.90 bankroll.

I could go two ways here -- discouraged that I finished out of the money even after one of my best afternoons as a tournament handicapper, or realizing that next time back to Vegas for NHC that I can put up as big a day as the rest of 'em.

The silver lining to Saturday was that I stuck to my initial strategy to merely sprinkle in (rather than largely rely upon, as happened in NHC 16) long-shot picks, even as a few "cap" horses padded rivals' bankrolls by the maximum $64 of winnings in the contest's earliest stages.

I missed on 3 of my first 4 (of 10) selections, scoring just $6 of place money in the other.

NHC 16's NJ Horseplayer would have swung for the fences, but not so at NHC 17.

In the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, I picked up $13,70 of win-place money on 7-to-2 (ironically) Jersey-bred Sunny Ridge in just a 6-horse field.

Finding additional value in another short field, with my next (6th) selection I took a shot on horse-for-course J.R.'s Holiday in the Kitten's Joy Stakes from Gulfstream,  Jockey Emisael Jaramillo rode to perfection to score for me at 19-to-1 and run my bankroll to $72.90 with 4 "bullets" remaining.

This is merely speculative, but based on an otherwise quiet ballroom with no one else seemingly rooting for my horse, my next selection was the one that likely would have put me up top to stay.

Race 6 from Gulfstream set up as a paceless turf race with just one true front-runner, Thinking of Mom, a local (NJ) horse trained by Eddie Plesa that I figured could dictate tempo and lull the others to sleep.  The horse was totally dismissed by the bettors and sent off at 48-to-1, or 2x-3x the morning line from what I recall and so offered great value.

Now, (and can verify this) I gave heavy consideration to ultimate winner Sawyer, but viewed him as a consummate hanger who would not pass Thinking of Mom in the lane, which is entirely what happened, even though Thinking of Mom set dawdling fractions conducive for this slightly "lower class" horse to wire the field.  She was courageous, but just tired in the end.

Even knowing the outcome, I still would make that selection again.

My next selection, in highsight, was the aforementioned "nose defeat" that kept me from coming home without around a $1,250 NHC prize check. 

Although I generally eschewed maiden races during the entire tournament and opted as a pre-contest strategy to stick with the caliber of races more in my comfort zone, I used my 8th pick on a first-time starter, but on the downhill turf at Santa Anita.  

The field in Race 1 (link to the Bloodhorse video) was middling at best, but 9-to-1 Algorhythmic drew a favorable outer post position and the services of accomplished turf rider Brice Blanc and I thought had a shot.  

If the race goes another 50 yards, Algorhythmic passes the winner and nets me roughly $20 of win bankroll to complement the $7.40 place payout, but them's the breaks when running off the pace. The horse flew late, but ran out of time.

I remained in the hunt with my next pick, nailing 8-to-1 gate-to-wire winner LaInesperada in Race 7 at Aqueduct for $29.60 more of winnings to get to a $109.90 bankroll with one selection to go, but my need-the-lead pick in Race 2 from Santa Anita was sluggish and did not factor.

I am not one for moral victories, and was equal parts "bummed" finishing just out of the money, but as a weekend scrub against stiff (and often full-time) competition, nearly a week later the 34th-place finish of 450-475 consolation tournament entrants is quite the morale builder.

For whatever reason I performed my best in NHC 16 and NHC 17 in the consolation rounds.

Perhaps those who miss out on the Championship round mail it in and play half-heartedly, giving an upstart like me an opportunity to pounce on peoples' indifference.

Maybe everyone's sort of worn out from pouring so much preparation and emotion into the first two rounds of the NHC, leaving little else for minor spoils.

Or, maybe I am simply better "on the fly," spending less time analyzing races and talking myself off of winners and sticking with my gut instinct on who can win.

The latter theme is not a magic formula, but one that I'm finding more useful in my broader contest play, and one that I'll consider in my bid to qualify this season for a third-straight NHC berth.

It's a long road to get back to Vegas and my expectations are generally realistic if not tempered, but having done it in back-to-back years I expect to test my mettle at the Treasure Island in January 2017 and use this space about 12 months from now about coming home with prize money.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Front-Runner To Vegas

On my flight home from a fun experience at the Lone Star Park handicapping contest on December 5 (recap to follow before year's end), and in subsequent conversations with friends on the NHC Tour, I resigned myself to turning the page on qualifying for this season's National Handicapping Championship (January 28-30, 2016) and focusing instead on next season's NHC.

Sincerely, I was content to cheer on my friends who qualified for next month's $2.5 million championship from afar, but I had a gut feeling this past Saturday about other events of December 19 and at the last moment entered the NHC qualifier on  

Saturday would be my day, I thought to myself that morning.

My CYO basketball team of 7th-8th graders had a really good week of practice and seems to be developing as at least a competitive second-year team in an established league, so as coach I rolled the dice on a full-court diamond press to cure our sluggish starts thus far this season.  

The boys responded, forcing several turnovers and jumping to a 10-2 early lead and winning 32-25.

Emboldened by our first win of the season in four tries, my mission for the NHC qualifier Saturday was to start fast as well.

I did so in the opener with 10-to-1 Little Popsie in Race 7 from Aqueduct to tie 32 others atop the leaderboard at $32.30.  

Popsie's early speed from a rail draw and no other $40k claimers of merit proved wise in a 5-length victory. 

In the third of 12 mandatory contest plays, I landed on another front-running type, 7-to-2 Financial Modeling, in a 6-horse stakes at Aqueduct with sexier names (Kid Cruz and Mylute among them) and watched him roll by 4+ lengths to gain $13.20 of bankroll.

Two and three contest races later, 5-to-1 Solemn Tribute and D'bunnyphone were nursed toward the leads of their respective races and vaulted me to the top of the leaderboard halfway through an event featuring six more races and three from FairGrounds, including two with larger fields scratched down to half their size, making it hard for my rivals to make up ground through enormous long-shots. 

Two "place" scores in the second-half of the contest were enough to cap my bankroll at $93.30 and a 5th-place finish of 519 contestants, securing my passage to Las Vegas next month.

Priceless Conversations, Valuable Friendships

In hindsight, I had some great discussions with friends on the NHC Tour last week (Paul Zerbst, Damian Sasso and Dan Camoro among them) that proved extremely valuable to Saturday's success. 

Foremost, however, was a pep talk of sorts from NHC XVI and BCBC qualifier James Timinck, an extremely talented contest player and handicapper who, as any true stalker would, scouts my play and noted that I had gone "too long" with the long-shots of late in small-dollar online tournaments.  

As anyone who has visited this site knows by now, my premise is to find playable long-shots; not to fish for huge prices and hope to get lucky, but maybe an 8-to-1 or 10-to-1 morning line runner who takes zero money but can win at a price.  I live to find inefficiencies in the market. 

On Saturday, I kept in mind James' observation that incremental scores of $7-$8 often are the contest players' friend, and so I scaled back my expectations a bit for which long-shots could win, especially in a month where I find the fields nationwide (outside of 2-year-old prospects) generally bottom-of-the-barrel and that horses who get the lead tend to score.  

To be sure, Saturday's race victors were almost exclusively on or near the lead and Little Popsie proved to be the longest-shot to win.

Grinding through small-dollar scores is normally not my recipe to contest success, but in doing so I accomplished my last-minute goal, which made James' advice all the more valuable. 

Lessons Learned

Outside of my enthusiasm for qualifying for the NHC for a second straight year, and getting to hang with usual playing partner (and first-time NHC qualifier) Terry Flanagan and reunite with some other great Tour players I met at last year's NHC, I can approach Vegas from a far savvier perspective.

I have been through the ringer once already, so to speak, and now know what to expect in terms of travel, accommodations and set-up/layout of the contest venue and format.

It's no longer that oasis in the desert.

Last year, I was more excited and almost content just to be there among the pros.

Next month, I will return to Treasure Island with a mindset of a competent handicapper looking to crack the Top 10% and return to Monmouth County with a larger prize. 

I also return to Vegas with a bigger bank of knowledge, gleaned from conversations with my newfound friends on the NHC Tour -- an extremely welcome and honestly unexpected byproduct of my $50 annual membership fee.  

There are others, like me, who compete part-time on the circuit but are excellent contest players and, first and foremost, quality individuals willing to help others succeed at the track.

Surely there are others with bad info or who will never take me (or other part-timers or long-shot players) seriously on the NHC Tour, but in my five years on the Tour I have become adept at vetting the advice and the personalities.  

Approaching Christmas, I am lucky and thankful to have found such a classy group of peers, so a tremendous "Thank You" to folks like those named above and the likes of Stephen Fitzpatrick, Marie Jost, Peter Pruzinsky, Josh Kamis and others so giving of themselves in shaping me as a better handicapping contest player. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Lone Star State of Mind

I am not afraid to think or act outside the box at times.

It's a necessity for part-time NHC Tour members, like me, who are competent handicappers but maybe constrained by budget and/or schedule; in short, those of us with full-time jobs, kids and other obligations that keep us from entering every single handicapping contest on the planet.

Consistent with my core premise for finding playable long-shots, and thanks to a horse named Kenjisstorm, I am rolling the dice on 2 final qualifying events in a last-ditch bid to qualify for Vegas, including a qualifier halfway across the U.S. on Saturday, December 5.   Certainly not high stakes, I'm gambling around $300 (total) on me posting two decent contest results.  

NJ Horseplayer hitting the road
for December 5 NHC qualifier
in Texas!
To me, it's a lower-risk (and more fun) proposition than, say, similar entry fee tournaments on where, for one, I hate the outdated contest interface and, two, I am likely to face full-time sharks who have already dual-qualified for Vegas and are playing for Tour points and cash. 

Last week, I vaulted up the standings of the current Del Mar 2015 Bing Crosby Season Online Challenge to end the week in 91st place (of 2,495 players) by virtue of Kenjistorm's dominant win in Friday's contest race at 23-to-1 odds.  

With four races to go in the Del Mar contest, I probably need a fortuitous score on a long-shot or (less likely) run the table in the closing week to crack the top 2 for an automatic NHC berth.  Otherwise, a Top 100 finish would net me around 2,000 points to push me toward 5,000 in the Tour standings -- good enough to keep my NHC dreams alive via a Top 150 finish.

I'm figuring it'll take around 8,000 NHC Tour points to crack the Top 150 of the standings, and so I'd need to find another 3,000 points to have a puncher's chance at reaching Las Vegas.

Strategically and budgetarily speaking, I needed to find spots that fit my mindset.

So, in addition to the final NHC qualifying tournament of 2015 on this Sunday, November 29 (up to 5 spots up for grabs at a $155 entry fee), I have already entered and booked my passage for the "Last Chance" NHC qualifier at Lone Star Park outside of Dallas, TX.

The latter might appear to be a ludicrous choice considering that I live in New Jersey, but credit the management at Lone Star Park for the free entries for all Tour players (and rewards card members) to next Saturday's season-ending tournament...and to American Airlines for same-day nonstop flights from Newark to Dallas for around $130. 

As far as I can tell, Lone Star Park is still accepting entries for the December 5 tournament.

So, on Saturday, December 5, I'll be flying to Grand Prairie, TX to compete for 1 of 2 NHC berths against horseplayers in the Lone Star State and to check out a new track in my life's travels.  

The rationale is simple.  

I am unavailable in the final live qualifier in my area (Monmouth Park on January 2, 2016), and candidly, it costs me less to fly to Dallas in one day to compete compared with a like offering at the track 15 minutes from my house (Monmouth's Jan. 2 tournament costs $200).  

Wish me luck!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday Breeders Cup Picks

As I'm not a public handicapper, but want to air out my picks so that when I cash for stacks I can point to this and say "a ha!"

Anyway, consistent with history, I'm sticking to a $50 bankroll on Friday.  Stellar Wind is my top selection among the four races and I think she can take the Distaff as she got a brutal trip in the Oaks back in May and, in my view, is clearly talented and a great value at a 12-to-1 morning line.  

Otherwise, I like Valid in the Dirt Mile and think Liam's Map is a "play against."

Race 6: $2 double 7 with 9, 10 = $4
Race 6: $1 exacta box 7, 8, 9 = $6
Race 6: $0.50 Pick 3: 7, 8, 9, 12 with 3, 9, 10 with 4, 10 = $12
Race 6: $0.50 Pick 4: same as above but with 9 as a single in final leg = $12
Race 7: $5 exacta box 9, 10 = $10
Race 9: $1 exacta box 1, 7, 9 = $6

Good luck to all, and I will blog my Saturday picks tomorrow. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

NHC Qualifying Season Winding Down, But Del Mar's Fall Freebie Worth A Try

NHC Tour players like myself still looking to qualify for the $2.5 million National Handicapping Championship or simply pick up NHC Tour points are running out of opportunities to make it to Las Vegas in January 2016, but there's a great no-cost online tournament about to set sail this Thursday.

In conjunction with the 2015 Bing Crosby Meet at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club from October 29 through November 29, the track is offering 2 slots to the 2016 NHC through an online handicapping tournament that's akin to its summer tournament that attracted nearly 5,000 players.

Whereas most of the NHC Tour world is focused on this weekend's Breeders Cup Championship, players need to remember to sign up for the Del Mar fall contest by Thursday in order to be eligible for the top prizes in addition to NHC Tour points that will be awarded.  No late sign-ups.

Only 1,260 players have registered to this point, but I anticipate the final number of entrants will at least approach 2014's of nearly 3,500 players.  Hey, for me, the fewer the merrier in my bid to qualify through a Del Mar online contest for a second-straight season. 

In my view, Del Mar is providing a unique and great service for Tour and non-Tour players alike in offering two expenses-paid trips to the 2016 NHC in Vegas.

The contest format is unique, too, in that players are required to make at least 10 (of 22 possible) mythical bets of $100 each on 20 races (1 per day) run at Del Mar and 2 at this weekend's Breeders Cup (the Distaff on Friday and the Classic on Saturday). 

Win, place and show (or any combination thereof) are the only "wagers" offered, and there are no restrictions on the number of horse per race that can be "bet."  

For instance, if you are torn between American Pharoah and Beholder but are intrigued by 30-to-1 longshot Effinex in the Classic, you can split your $100 bankroll on Saturday between the three in any combination of win-place-show. 

A running bankroll is kept throughout the Del Mar season and updated daily.  

In short, you start at zero dollars and rise or fall in the standings based on your daily outcome.  If you hit a $10 winner (4-to-1 odds) on Day 1 on a $100 win bet you'd be at +$400 ($500 minus $100); lose your first bet and you start Day 2 at -$100.  Go 0-for-22 and finish tied for last at -$2,200. 

There is no exacta, trifecta, superfecta or any other kinds of "exotics" wagering; the emphasis, really, is to pick winners.  From past experience, I find that you'll need at least a handful of long-shots to have a shot at winning, so roll those dice. 

For more information or to register, visit the contest website or contact contest coordinator Chris Bahr at  Good luck to everyone that enters!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Stay Composed When Handicapping Contests "Get Late Early"

I have marathon experience, having slogged through New York City's 5 boroughs 3x in my life.

My average time was in the 5-hour ballpark, which is why I equate thoroughbred marathon stakes races to bottom-level claimers, since citing my own pedigree and lack of breakaway speed one does not need to be a sprint champion of any sort to get to the marathon finish line.

Handicapping contests are similar and require a mix of guts, self-belief and patience.

Later this afternoon I will be competing as 1 of 66 entries in the NHC Qualifier on, with 2 berths to January 2016's NHC in Las Vegas up for grabs.

I earned my $295 entry with a 3rd-place of 46 in Wednesday's $22 pre-qualifier.

Two Keys

I am picking up experience with time, but not a proficient enough pedigree player to be extremely confident in maiden special weight races with several first-time starters and especially two-year-olds.

In Wednesday's 5th race from Belmont, however, Trappe Shot first-timer Trappe Play seemed appealing based on my nascent knowledge of pedigree.  I recall her father's greatness in 1-turn races and, especially, his gutsy loss by a nose to Sean Avery in the 2011 Vanderbilt Stakes.

Trappe Play was confidently handled from a wide post (#10 of 12) by Jose Lezcano in a 6.5-furlong sprint and scored an easy 2.75-length win at nearly 14-to-1, yielding $42.20 of win-place bankroll to vault me into fourth place at the time. 

Plainview's win in Race 6 thrust me into third and, fortunately, no one near me in the standings hit the $19 winner in the contest finale, so luckily I held onto the final prize for Friday's $295 NHC qualifier.

The ultimate key, however, was patient handling -- a concept I have touched on past writings but, sometimes, is easier said than done.

In the opener of Wednesday's contest (the full Belmont Park card), Sol the Freud stole the race at nearly 10-to-1,  Four of the 46 contestants had Sol, while several of us picked up $3.30 of place money on Be a Hero but were already $26.70 of bankroll behind the leaders, 

Granted, there were 8 races remaining on the card, but with some thin-ish and chalk-looking fields, I could not argue with players reaching for prices earlier than planned.  I stuck to my guns with horses I liked in the 4-to-1 to 6-to-1 range, landing a place in Race 3.

"I do believe some players tend to respond to missing an early price with an immediate swing to tray to match, not unlike a football team ditching its running game upon being down 14-0 in the first quarter," said Terry Flanagan, my friend and first-time NHC qualifier by way of the $200 Monmouth-Woodbine Challenge on September 20

Josh Kamis, of nearby East Brunswick, NJ and a 2015 NHC qualifier through Derby Wars, generally does not ditch his ground game after a sizeable early score by his opponents.

"After being down what seems to be insurmountable in any contest, you really need to take a deep breath and relax," said Kamis, also a guest blogger with The Tournament Edge.  "Yes, I've written about hitting tilt, but you really need to stay calm and keep to your guns.  You still have bullets left."

Channeling Yogi

Flanagan and Kamis are in agreement when players find themselves in a similar situation midway through or in the closing stages of a handicapping contest.  

"Of course you'll need to recalibrate along the way,"  Flanagan said.  "If it's 3-4 races after the early price you missed and you haven't made up any ground, you should probably start price-shopping.  As the late Yogi Berra might say, it can get late early in contests."

Off line, I have spoken at some length with Kami about contest preparation. 

Josh is a proponent of handicapping contests from back to front, giving him foresight to long-shots later in the card that make more sense, rather than (in an early deficit) prematurely tossing aside logical, shorter-priced plays and incremental bankroll gains that could build to that decisive long-shot score in the later stages. 

"Let's say a 10-race contest (you're) down $30 after one race...there are 9 races to go!," said Kamis.

"With that, I can relax and tell myself I have 2 possible long-shots and a few mid-price chances.  I like my chances to come from behind and cash some way in the contest.  By picking up $10 per race, in my mind at least I should be OK in the end with at least a chance, and that's all I can have a chance," Kamis continued.

After wrapping up work Friday, I get the chance to test my patience in a field rife with several multiple qualifiers (i.e. players playing 2 tickets) and where 13 races (Belmont 6-10, Gulfstream 6-10 and Churchill Downs 8-10) afford enough of a cushion to stick to my guns if other players hit a big price early in the contest.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

NHC Freebie Contest Goal: Hit 2 Cappers

Seriously folks, my post this morning is not out of crankiness because of Rutgers' last-second defeat to Washington State last night (the chicken and beef gyro/Greek tailgate kicked some tail, BTW)...

Nor that the NHC Tour put another of its five "free" members-only contests on the day of a live Monmouth Park contest -- the final one of its season, and where I will be spending this afternoon but had to quickly 'cap another 7 races outside the 23 races at Woodbine and Monmouth...

Nor that rain washed all races off the turf at Belmont...

Nor that I finished in the bottom 10% of the Del Mar Summer Handicapping Challenge and was nowhere close to defending my 2014 co-championship...

It's more out of the quality (or lack thereof) of races on today's 10-race program for No. 4 of 5 National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Tour "free" contests, open to all Tour members and offering four spots to the $2.5 million NHC in Las Vegas in January. 

The fields are mostly deep, but let's face it...pretty bad.

And, again, Belmont's off the turf.

Nonetheless, I find that it presents a great opportunity to take some shots on outsiders against morning-line favorites that, in my view, are nothing special.

My goal this afternoon (and assuming my top picks do not scratch) is to hit 2 of my bomber selections in the NHC Tour freebie and pick up some Tour points.  Otherwise, I do not put a ton of effort, admittedly, into a 1-day contest with 2,000 players; it's not worth a ton of my time.

Here is a look at the horses I entered as top selections for the NHC Tour freebie.  Tour members can still sign up here before first post of Race 6 from Woodbine around 3:30 p.m.

Woodbine 6: #7, Aldous Snow (8-1), is bound to sit closer to the front in a seemingly pace-less field and was not in as good a form going into last year's Grade 1 Northern Dancer; has a good shot.

Belmont 6: #11, You Lie (20-1), has early foot as evidenced two back at non-winners of 3 lifetime and broke her maiden over a sloppy Gulfstream track.  Off the turf and with a field scratched down to 5 runners, I hope to get 7-to-2.  

Churchill 7: #8, Trawee (20-1), seems to be improving, but I use the term loosely in a bad $5,000 starter allowance field, and I like that 3 back she was game against $25-$30k beaten claimers where she finished second at an elongated sprint distance.  No shoe-in, but facing a 9-to-5 favorite who has beaten up on fields at Thistledown and Something-Or-Other Valley.

Belmont 7: #7, Second City (30-1), is live, in my opinion, off a game effort last out vs. similar at Saratoga and has won before with Kendrick Carmouche aboard.  Worse long-shots than this one, especially for a gelding with a win over an off surface.

Belmont 8: #9, Saratoga Dreamer (10-1), WAS my top pick anywhere until scratched from the Allied Forces, so I will side with #5, Conquest Tsunami (12-1) in a race shortened to 5 furlongs, as I figure any horse tried in the Delta Jackpot (a tight bullring track) has enough speed to maybe surprise #8, Ready for Rye, whom others will view a shoe-in at 9-5 morning line.  Taking a stand against.

Churchill 9: #3, Emmajestic (6-1), was overmatched two back on the same oval against $75,000 optional claimers and drops down even more from Grade 2 company at Indiana Downs to an easier condition and very evenly-matched field.  

Woodbine 9: #2, Button Down (12-1), cuts back three-eighths of a mile and faces tougher here, but I'd take Joel Rosario over Luis Contreras any day and I sense this 4-year-old filly gets a nice stalking trip and can fire late, similar to her maiden-breaker in May. 

Churchill 10: #12, Renn Lake (30-1), faces awful $5,000 claimers here and returns to the site of his best speed figure (November 2014).  The last two efforts show, to me, that against this field Renn Lake will at least be game, as evidenced by in-the-money finishes in 50% of his 20 dirt starts.   

Belmont 9: I loved #7, Constantine (20-1), but with the field scratched down to 5 horses and off the turf, I take a shot at "front-running" #9, Majestic Guy (30-1) for VERY low-percentage connections but where the horse's lone win was on a sealed sloppy track. Play at your own risk. 

Woodbine 10: #2, Grand Arch (6-1), is my top pick in a Woodbine Mile that, in my view, is merely so-so.  I tossed half of the field (3 thru 5 and 7 thru 9) and simply figure Luis Saez will cleanly stalk rail horse Obviously and win a Grade 1. If my earlier picks are flops, I might switch to #6, Tower of Texas (15-1) at a price but am sort of spooked by his late collapse in his last out at Woodbine.