Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Costly Jockey's Objection

As horseplayers are apt to lament the "tough beat" more than revel in a big score, I'll play along.

Inactive from writing here on handicapping contest play on account of a great new job and four-month run coaching my son's CYO 8th-grade hoops team, I'll use my first post of 2017 to whine about how Tampa Bay Downs jockey Daniel Centeno cost me about $1,500 and a seat in an NHC qualifier.

It happened in Saturday's Simulcast Series Challenge at Monmouth Park.

With a scant 152 participants, the bar was low for a Top-15 finish needed for a berth in the April 29 SSC Invitational.

After squandering most of a good 7-1 score (on a $15 win wager) on aggressive losing plays on my two best bets of the day (including Centeno's Tampa Bay Derby entrant No Dozing), I had a seemingly meager $18.50 of bankroll remaining with time running out.

In the SSC's live-bankroll win, place and/or show betting format, however, a player can make up ground in a hurry.

There were two options -- put "it all" on a gigantic long-shot and cross my fingers, or parlay two horses that I had liked in the final races at Tampa and Gulfstream Park, scheduled about five minutes apart. And the latter track, notoriously late and inconsiderate of its customers' time.

Confident, and in a shift from my penchant for long-shot plays, I opted for a parlay, even as I joked to my father about my low hit-rate on picking back-to-back winners. I figured I would have enough time to wheel my winnings from Race 12 at Tampa into a sizable win wager in Race 13 at Gulfstream.

I figured incorrectly.

After a slow loading process -- common in a race for "maidens," or horses who've never won or in some cases even run a race -- Boudicea's Revenge won at odds of 3-to-1, and so I figured my bankroll would be $60-$70, which I would use to bet the rail runner to win Gulfstream's 13th race, where the horses were still a few minutes from starting.

Excitedly, I moved to a betting terminal and waited for the Tampa race to be declared official so that I could collect those winnings and complete the $60 win bet that I prepared on Yankee Perfection, the rail horse, who was trading at odds of about 9-1.

Then it happened. 

About two minutes after Boudicea's Revenge crossed the finish line first, the track's race caller announced that Centeno, the rider on the 6th-place runner in the Tampa finale, lodged an objection with the race stewards against the jockey of the 4th-place runner. Jockey's objections are a part of the game, but usually when it involves winners, and NOT ones that finished way off the board. 

That announcement came at 6:21 p.m. Eastern time, and 40 seconds later the track photographer snapped Boudicea's Revenge's picture in the winner's circle, while over the loud speaker the track announcer confirmed that the jockey's objection didn't involve the top 3 finishers. Ugh.

I and a few other contest players waiting for Tampa to post the final winners' payouts were left sweating it out as, on Florida's other coastline, the runners at Gulfstream were seen on the TV starting the loading process for race 13. 

That race ended up going off at 6:23.56 p.m.

Tampa's announcer couldn't declare until 6:24.24 p.m. that Centeno's claim of foul had been disallowed and Boudicea's Revenge paid $8.20 on a $2 win bet

That $74 hit my contest wagering account about 30 seconds too late.

And as fate would have it, a little more than two minutes later, Yankee Perfection would cross Gulfstream Park's finish line first, paying $20.40

In other words, a $612 payout, plus $425-$850 of contest prize money for fourth or fifth place and a berth in the SSC Invitational, that I missed out on because of a jockey who got his rear-end kicked all afternoon at Tampa Bay Downs on the track's biggest day, failing to win a race in six mounts and wanting to act out.

If you watch the replay, the claim of foul was baseless and should at least merit a fine for wasting everyone's time. That it was on a skittish horse who finished a well-beaten sixth, five lengths off the winner, against another who barely finished fourth is even more infuriating. My horse did nothing wrong.

Turning the experience to a positive, however, as a handicapper I suppose I should be the anti-Centeno, avoid further whining, and take solace in having mapped out consecutive winners to end a live-money contest. It's a good reminder for when I'm in that spot again down the road.

My handicapping logic and strategy were clearly solid, which is a good takeaway as I try to win my way into the National Handicapping Championship for the third time in four seasons.

Next time, I'll just need a little more on the "luck" and better timing ends of the equation.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Trying My Hand as a Public Handicapper

So, earlier this week I received a surprise email from Scott Carson, founder of Public Handicapper, to be an "editor" for the site's "The Winter of Our Discontent Holiday Handicap" contest, which kicks off Saturday and runs through January 28.

NJ Horseplayer seen weekly at
As an enormous fan of public service, and since I've been a regular PH.com participant for the last 5-6 years, I jumped at the chance to volunteer to break down and make publicly available selections on four of the top U.S. thoroughbred races each weekend.

Plus, I add to the already-charismatic roster of expert editors whose role, outside of winning the contest, is to provide insights that may help bettors win money at the track.

Mine and my colleagues selections can be found here each week, with analysis on each race (as of Thursday night there was a technical glitch that hid my analysis of my first two picks, but that'll be fixed shortly). 

For those new to the Public Handicapper, it's a free handicapping contest site where players make mythical $2 win wagers on 1-4 races per week and at least one hours before the listed post-time for each race.

The winner is the person who accrues the highest bankroll in the tournament after meeting the minimum requirement to make selections in 12 of the contest races.

Prizes for this particular tournament are largely cash and consolation-types (i.e. free past performances), coming off the May-November contest that awards two valuable seats annually to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC).

In that one, I finished in the Top 200 (of 4,000-plus contestants), which is the best I've ever done in what is a rigorous grind where the races are difficult and the competition top-notch.

The winter of discontent contest that begins on Saturday is a perfect example, featuring three extremely deep and difficult races from Gulfstream Park in Miami, FL, and a 12-horse, Grade 1 turf race at Del Mar in San Diego, CA.

If anyone has questions about joining the contest, let me know and I'll try to help. Otherwise, just click the "Sign Up to Play" link on the site's left toolbar and follow the simple instructions.  

And remember to click on "Editor's Picks" up top to get mine and the other experts' selections and analysis...and I just might tip a half-full pint of Guinness your way as a sign of goodwill.

If my picks don't work out for you, remember that you get what you pay for (my services are free).

Friday, November 11, 2016

Bing Crosby Contest Starts Today

It's last-minute notice, but if you're interested in a free shot at a seat to the 2017 National Handicapping Championship (NHC), entering Del Mar's online handicapping challenge by this afternoon could be your ticket.

Del Mar in San Diego, CA, kicks off its "Bing Crosby" meet this afternoon.  The season, and handicapping contest, run through December 4, and again they're offering players a free, online tournament for two berths to the NHC.

Here's where you sign up: https://www.dmtc.com/contest/31.

As there's no cost to play I can't complain, but the format has been changed this year to one that I'm admittedly not crazy about.

Consistent with years past, players get a mythical $100 bankroll per day on which to place bets on a pre-selected race each racing day. In years past the wagers were limited to win, place and/or show, and payouts were capped at a robust 30-to-1.

This year, Del Mar has broadened the "wagering" card to exactas and trifectas and removed the cap.

The benefit for players who like to play those wagers is that one major score could be the difference.

The drawback is that it's not really about picking winners anymore, the basis upon which the NHC champion is determined each season. I see the positives and negatives, but for the latter think that someone can just get lucky playing a $100 trifecta with their three favorite numbers and getting lucky.

Regardless, I'm entered to play (user name "billhobo") and have had success in the past, qualifying for the 2015 NHC through Del Mar's summer contest.

It's a lot of fun to play, so make sure to enter; and for NHC Tour players it's a must, since Tour points are awarded to the Top 10% of finishers, consistent with other NHC-focused contests.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Trenton Screws Up, Yet Again, on Casino Bill

A few friends and family have asked, so here goes.

My vote on Public Question #1 is a resounding "No", with advice to the State Legislature, especially South Jersey politicians to go back to the drawing board and get your head out of the 1970s.

After 40+ years of abominable mismanagement of casino gaming in Atlantic City, including Governor Christie's stupid backing with tax incentives of completion of the Revel, the state wants us to support an ill-drawn plan that would put a multistory casino in Jersey City, another 10 miles away at the Meadowlands, and again screw the state's thoroughbred program and Monmouth Park.

Rightfully, Oceanport's leaders have called this out. The bill's logic is so flawed and has far more question marks than answers, typical of NJ politics where it's "vote yes now with 10% of the details and transparency and we'll figure it out later...once our friends get paid."

What NJ needs, and what many voters would support, simply, are smaller "neighborhood" casinos at Monmouth Park and the Big M that daytrippers will use and that will steal business back from nearby racinos in New York (Yonkers, Aqueduct) and Pennsylvania, where PARX (Philadelphia) is physically closer to A.C. than Monmouth Park.

Only in NJ would legislators back a bill that spitefully excludes Oceanport as a potential site. That's because, by this bill, a new casino has to be, specifically, 72 miles outside of A.C.

Guess how far Monmouth is from there?!

That's right.

I was in A.C. two weeks ago, solely for a convention. It's clear that after 40 years of failure, in a dire market with an outdated business model and looking to take the state's racing industry down with it, the Vegas by the Shore theme is a misnomer. It's a convention city with a gambling side business and has never evolved. If they'd had any sense, they would have backed expanding the NJ market and cross promoting itself through partners at Monmouth and the Meadowlands, but that hasn't happened. Instead, much as they got buddy Chris Christie to strip the tracks of millions of dollars of annual profit-sharing (so they wouldn't put casinos at the tracks), they view A.C. in a bubble. They're instead learning that the ends of monopolies can be a bitch.

At the same time, anyone who went to Monmouth this summer knows it's struggling, at least in part by Trenton's doing. The horsemen get blame too for failing for years (a fault of the ENTIRE racing industry) to ever really cultivate new racing customers. The scraps they'd get from a "Yes" vote on Tuesday, to me, seem to leave it shortchanged, no matter Monday's backroom, last-minute deal for the Big M's operator to give the thoroughbred interests a bigger cut...IF...he gets a casino.

And, at that, I'd rather not see a Jersey City casino cannibalize one at the Meadowlands or turn the City into A.C. North with a vacant 40-story tower after money disappears with all sorts of graft, leaving taxpayers holding the bag.

If Trenton gets it's act together and tells the A.C. lobby to shut up (after four decades they've learned little), legislators can then come back with a workable plan in a year or two that both the thoroughbred and standardbred operators want and that could prop up the state's breeding and racing program, via Station Casinos-style racinos found in our neighboring states.

I'd rather take my chances, too, were I operating a track, seeing what shakes out with the Oakland Raiders' potential move to Las Vegas. If that happens, the NFL would have zero leg to stand on in opposing sports betting in NJ, which is something we all want and I posit could happen sooner than any revenue benefit from two No. Jersey casinos. Sports betting would be a boon to the tracks AND A.C.

It's a "NO" vote for me on Tuesday and may -- much as NY and PA racino operators funded the no-casino TV and radio ads in NJ the last several months -- be time for A.C. and the horsemen to pool some money together to silently fund ads pushing for the Las Vegas Raiders.

Friday, November 4, 2016

3 Big Ideas for Saturday's Breeders Cup on a $100 Budget

On the heels of a 158% return on Friday's $50 investment, I have three horses in Saturday's Breeders Cup that bettors might ignore but who could produce a handsome profit at minimal cost and perhaps land me in the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) in January.

Tamarkuz did exactly as expected on Friday and paid $129 on our $10 win wager in the dirt mile.  I unfortunately turned down advice to use Gun Runner in the exacta (paid 50-to-1) but look ahead.

In my preview on Thursday, I noted a $150 bankroll and maybe more in the event of a decent Friday score, but for the sake of readers held to a C-note, I'm reverting back to $100 worth of wagers on Saturday, centering on three key horses, listed in sequential order.

Ambitious Brew (10-to-1) is my top choice in Race 7, the Turf Sprint. 

On another track this might not be the case, but Santa Anita's downhill turf course has generally favored horses with experience over the 6-and-a-half furlong route that starts atop a hill, turns right, crosses over a small dirt strip turning for home, and produces blazing fractions.  It's perhaps the most interesting race in all of North America.

Brew drew post 10 in a 14-horse field that'll fly home in about 1:11 or less but is extremely deep and puzzling.  Candidly, I toss European horses from the race for lack of experience on this type of track, and think the U.S.-based runners have a distinct edge, and especially those with past tries on the surface.  Plus, the snobbier set among Breeders Cup handicappers may summarily dismiss a U.S. horse, so we'll get at least 10-to-1 odds.

Outer draws are generally favorable, and here jockey Mike Smith gets a great spot inside three contenders who either prefer to run late or are cutting back in distance.  If Smith can get him into 4th or 5th at the end of the downhill and let Pure Sensation (1), Obviously (2) and Mongolian Saturday (3) knock each other silly the first half mile, then look out.

I think Brew's got home field advantage, with 5 wins in 10 tries on the downhill.

Mondialiste (15-to-1) has a serious shot in Race 9, the Longines BC Turf. 

Ask anyone I know and they'll tell you I think marathon turf races are cheap claiming horses dressed as champions (since the paces tend to be dawdling), but here people need to keep an eye on Flintshire, one of the best racers on four legs.

I had the pleasure of seeing him in person at Saratoga this summer, and he's definitely one for the ages, having won about $9 million on the track by age 6.

He's the 5-to-2 favorite and basically got a paid second-place workout in his prior race, where he loped along and got beat by a really game horse (#5, Ectot, 8-to-1) on a really yielding turf track.

Nonetheless, I think he's vulnerable here and may get softened up a bit by Ectot and local horse Ashleyluvssugar (15-to-1) in the early stages, setting up for a horse that I backed heavily in the 2015 Breeders Cup Mile but finished second after getting set so far back early by his jockey.

In my opinion, Mondialiste may be the best turf horse in the field tomorrow, and will certainly appreciate added distance after mostly running at just a mile.

Look for him to sit mid-to-rear of the pack for a bit, save ground, and look for an opening in the stretch before rolling home at a square price, probably around his morning-line odds.

Gomo (20-to-1) is perhaps even more extreme, yet I love her chances in Race 10, the Filly and Mare Sprint, at seven-eights of a mile.

There's no clear goddess in this 13-horse field, as far as I'm concerned, and so I went looking for an outsider who at least once showed a really big race, has a bit of local (Santa Anita) experience, and is likely to get dismissed by the bettors.

A 31-to-1 overlay on the odds board at www.publichandicapper.com (I was 1 of only 23 backers, out of around 900 players, as of 10 p.m. ET on Friday) suggests very few think she has a shot, but a few angles tell me otherwise.

Gomo is a Grade 1 winner.  Granted, that came last fall as a 2-year-old on a wet track in the Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland, and she has had only two races since, but she showed clear talent and put in a tremendous effort even without being prompted in the Unzip Me Stakes on October 1 at Santa Anita.  For my money, the effort in the video here shows she was sharp off a 6-month layoff and probably could have beaten the field if prompted, but was using that race for a Breeders prep.

And maybe this is something only a long-shot player like me could enjoy, but local trainer Doug O'Neill might have found a vulnerable enough field to steal this one, and I believe Gomo's jockey Mario Gutierrez's best of 3 opportunities to score on Saturday's Breeders Cup card.

IF somehow I'm correct on Gomo, I might have an outside shot at sneaking up toward a Top 2 finish and NHC berth in the finale to Public Handicapper's season-long contest. A win by another of my top three choices certainly would advance that prospect.

Otherwise, for the non-tournament players out there, using any one of or all three of these selections could produce a decent profit on the Breeders Cup.

Here's my Top 3 selections for Saturday's 9 Breeders Cup races:

BC Juvenile Fillies
1. Union Strike
2. American Gal
3. Sweet Loretta
BC F&M Turf
1. Al's Gal
2. Lady Eli
3. Sea Calisi
BC Sprint
1. A. P. Indian
2. Masochistic
3. Drefong
BC Turf Sprint
1. Ambitious Brew
2. Obviously
3. Mongolian Saturday
BC Juvenile
1. Klimt
2. Lookin At Lee
3. Classic Empire
BC Turf
1. Mondialiste
2. Flintshire
3. Found
BC F&M Sprint
1. Gomo
2. Tara's Tango
3. Finest City
BC Mile
1. Dutch Connection
2. Alice Springs
3. What a View
BC Classic
1. California Chrome
2. Melatonin
3. Hoppertunity

Here's what you get for $100 of bankroll.  These plays spread quite a bit, and all will key around my top 3 horses.  Save for some Pick 3 tickets, I generally avoid races where I lack strong conviction, where fields were short (BC Sprint, BC Juvenile and BC Mile), or, in the case of the BC Classic, I think a horse (California Chrome) will annihilate the field.

Race 5 -- $1 Pick 3: 1, 5, 8 with 5 with 10 = $3 wager
Race 6 -- $5 Daily Double: 5 with 10 = $5 wager
Race 7 -- $5 Win #10
Race 7 -- $4 Exacta: 10 with 2, 3 = $8 wager
Race 7 -- $1 Exacta: 2,3 with 10 = $2 wager
Race 9 -- $5 Win #6
Race 9 -- $4 Exacta: 6 with 4, 10 = $8 wager
Race 9 -- $1 Exacta: 4, 10 with 6 = $2 wager
Race 9 -- $2 Trifecta Box: 4, 6, 10 = $12 wager
Race 9 -- $5 Daily Double 6 with 4 = $5 wager
Race 9 -- $2 Daily Double: 6 with 3, 11, 12 = $6 wager
Race 9 -- $2 Daily Double: 4, 10 with 4 = $4 wager
Race 9 -- $1 Pick 3: 4, 6 with 3, 4 with 1, 2, 7 = $12 wager
Race 10 -- $5 Win #4
Race 10 -- $2 Exacta: 4 with 3, 11, 12 = $6 wager
Race 10 -- $1 Exacta: 3, 11, 12 with 4 = $3 wager
Race 10 -- $0.50 Trifecta Key Box: 4 with 3, 11, 12 = $9 wager

Bonus Breeders Cup Classic Pick ($12) -- $1 Trifecta: 4 with 6, 8, 9 with 1, 2, 6, 8, 9

Good luck and enjoy the Breeders...it's by far, the best racing day of the year!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Playing Friday's 4 Breeders Cup Races on a $50 Budget

For people like me crunched for time and on a budget of sorts, the Breeders Cup (BC) -- thoroughbred racing's Super Bowl -- presents a wealth of opportunities to build some wealth.

Over two days, horseplayers have 13 opportunities to make decent scores off of fully stocked fields on different surfaces and from several distances.

It's a lot to absorb and can get you to spend more than you may want.

Host track Santa Anita provides additional intrigue with its 6.5-furlong downhill turf course, which I consider one of my specialties and will be a big part of my Saturday handicapping and wagering.

My strategy and bankroll are modest: $50 for Friday's four BC and $150 for Saturday's nine BC races, with the latter subject to an increase if I can hit for something decent on Friday.

As a result, on Friday in particular, I will target my wagers around my top selection.

Tamarkuz, at 8-to-1 in the Dirt Mile (Race 7, 6:05 p.m. ET post), is my key. 

In circa-1970s Battle of the Network Stars fashion, the Dirt Mile field of 9 this year brings together one-time stars who've seen better days with some other sorts unrecognizable to the public. Yet, it's impossible to look away.

A William Devane-type stalwart, Dortmund is your 6-to-5 favorite, but 0-for-3 this year and some smaller victories on his resume since a dazzling Santa Anita Derby in April 2015.

Second-choice Runhappy (3-to-1) is 7-for-9 lifetime but was unimpressive in his only start this year; plus the mile distance raises questions for this sprinter.

I anticipate a Bob Conrad-type effort with a rocket-start but where after a short distance the Marlboro Reds and a six of Schlitz begin to catch up on tough talk.

Third-choice Gun Runner (9-to-2) had the Sept. 24 Pennsylvania Derby gift-wrapped but drifted toward the grandstand down the stretch and was beaten by lesser.

Tamarkuz offers great value and I expect will maintain if not lay over his 8-to-1 line, since California bettors tend to over-bet favorites.

I'm hopeful for maybe 10-to-1 here for a horse that ran a good second to A.P. Indian, one of the best in the U.S., in the Forego in late August, then was barely prompted in what looked like a paid warm-up for the Dirt Mile when he finished second to Anchor Down in a blazing Kelso Handicap on Oct. 8 at Belmont.

I just think the horse is ripe and will appreciate the mile. To me, he looks tactical enough where jockey Mike Smith lets Dortmund and Runhappy beat each other up, then makes his move coming home and draws away, just like Mr. Kotter did to Pappy Boyington in the ABC clip above.

My only other "strong" opinion is Stellar Wind (5-to-2) in the BC Distaff.  

The 8-horse field is loaded with speed, and my view is that Stellar Wind is capable of stalking or closing into frenetic fractions to win the race.

Wellabled, at 15-to-1 in the Juvenile Turf, is intriguing if he breaks cleanly from the starting gate and gets courageous on the lead, as he has in three of his four lifetime starts; but I'm never one to back up the truck on 2-year-old races, and so I have no strong opinions in races 6 and 8 and will mostly use European horses in my Race 6-9 Pick 4, hoping for a miraculous feat of hitting 2 "singles."

NJ Horseplayer's Selections for Friday's Breeders Cup Card

Race 6, Juvenile Turf: 9 - Wellabled (15-to-1), 11 - Good Samaritan (9-to-2), 6 - Big Score (8-to-1)
Race 7, Dirt Mile: 8 - Tamarkuz (8-to-1), 2 - Tom's Ready (12-to-1), 6 - Texas Chrome (20-to-1)
Race 8, Juvenile Fillies: 9 - Cavale Doree (15-to-1), 13 - Roly Poly (4-to-1), 11 - Rymska (20-to-1)
Race 9, Distaff: 5 - Stellar Wind (5-to-2), 1 - Songbird (6-to-5), 8 - Beholder (5-to-2)

NJ Horseplayer's Wagers for Friday's Breeders Cup Card ($50 Total)

Race 6: $3 exacta box 9, 11 = $6 total
Race 6: $3 daily double 9, 11 over 8 = $6 total
Race 6: 50-cent Pick 4 ... 6, 8, 9, 11 with 8 with 7, 9, 11, 13, 14 with 5 = $10 total
Race 7: $10 win 8 = $10 total
Race 7: $4 exacta 8 over 2, 6 = $8 total
Race 7: $1 exacta 2, 6 over 8 = $2 total
Race 7: $1 trifecta 8 over 2, 6 over 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 = $8 total

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Show-ing the Big M the Door

I admit when my handicapping and contest play stink, but there were controlled external and deceitful factors that played into my futile bid to win one of three NHC packages available Saturday at the Meadowlands and prompts me to scratch off the Big M's future handicapping contests.

It also calls into question who the hell is regulating these things.

As noted by friend and fellow Tour player Pete Rogers, there was value in Saturday's $400 buy-in tournament. Only 129 entries meant a 1-in-43 proposition per National Handicapping Championship seat, compared the about 1-in-70 for online qualifiers.

Photo courtesy of
piltdownsuperman.com &
Carol Lam - freeimages.com
On the other hand, subversively changing the rules on players midstream from what was clearly published in the contest sign-up brochure is an ugly business practice and yet another example of why American racing is losing customers by the minute.

There are constantly questions about product integrity, whether it's equine medicine and dishonest trainers, the greed of horsemen in each state in trying to ruin others rather than working together to save and grow the sport, or dirty politics.

The Big M, Churchill Downs and Belmont Park, either singularly or in combination, blocked the show wagering option to Meadowlands contest players for particular races...just for the contest, and NOT at the respective tracks.

So, if you were at Churchill Downs you could make show bets. This was not the case for simulcast bettors at the Meadowlands.

Show wagering, or betting a horse will finish no worse than third, is generally an afterthought for the majority of bettors. In most cases, betting $2 to show on a 2-to-1 favorite will yield measly returns of $2.10-$2.20, so the reward is not worth the risk when your return on a $2 win bet is at least $6.

The proposition is different, however, when in the minds of bettors with giant bankrolls a prohibitive favorite is almost a shoe-in to beat a far weaker field of horses. Imagine California Chrome coming to Monmouth Park to face $5,000 Jersey-bred claimers. In such a case, someone with $100k could make a $5k profit on a horse almost assured to finish first, second or third.

There's immense risk in such "bridge jumping," but there are also few places where you can make a 5% return in two minutes or less, and there are people crazy enough to make that bet.

At the same time, smaller-ante bettors like me can capitalize when those shoe-ins do not "hit the board," sending their backers in search of the tallest bridge from which to jump. (Disclaimer: I do not endorse literally jumping from bridges).

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I track show wagering in live-money contests.

It can be an extremely valuable tool not only for capital preservation (i.e. ensuring that you meet the minimum number of wagers needed to qualify for contest prizes and saving your money for a horse that perhaps you love later in the contest card) but also for capitalizing on "negative show pool" situations as eloquently described by America's Best Racing.

Such an opportunity arose on Saturday in the Ack Ack Handicap (Race 9) at Churchill Downs.

Runhappy, winner of the Breeders Cup Dirt Sprint, two other Grade 1 races and six straight during 2015, went off as the 3-to-10 favorite in his 2016 debut on Saturday.  The Ack Ack field included five others, but no horses close to Runhappy's level of accomplishment.

I spent 15-20 minutes studying that race and tracking the show pool on Runhappy. There was significantly more bet on Runhappy to show than for any other proposition, and so I perused the field for a horse that could hit the board in the event that it just wasn't Runhappy's day and he finished out of the money.

I landed on #6, Schivarelli, a hard knocker who won only as high as the allowance condition (several rungs below Grade 1) but had two decent races and a leading jockey at Churchill Downs.

Noticing on my 4NJBets app that show wagering was offered for that race, and in light of the Big M's contest brochure stating that win, place, AND show were the only contest options, I went to the betting terminal with a mind to wager $20 to show on Schivarelli.

The show option, however, did not appear on the terminal screen, and so I could not make my bet.

Sure enough, Runhappy tired in the stretch to finish in fourth place and Schivarelli finished third, netting an $18 return for each $2 wagered to show -- the highest payout among the top 3 finishers.

The Meadowlands' decision to eliminate the show option for that race, contrary to the contest brochure, cost me a probably $180 return on an intended $20 wager and has me thinking the NHC Tour, at the least, and the NTRA should investigate.

The Big M's NHC contest brochure amounted to false advertising.

Generally speaking, there are times where tracks announce beforehand that show betting is not an option, such as when a race has less than four runners. This happened on Saturday at Belmont Park, where Grade 1 turf juggernaut Flintshire was entered for a 4-horse Breeders Cup prep race.

Bettors know well in advance that show is not an option...and generally jump instead to place bets to guarantee their 5% return ($2.10 payout on a $2 base wager).

After the Runhappy debacle, I notified a contest consultant, who blamed Churchill Downs for cutting Big M bettors off from the show betting option.

This would not have surprised me in light of Churchill Downs being the most horseplayer-unfriendly track in America, but then I saw and showed the Big M rep a subsequent Belmont race where the key for show betting on the contest terminal (in an 8-horse field) was shut off, and therefore I am not sure of who's telling the truth and who is not.

I sense that someone behind the scenes disabled the keys (perhaps upper management or actuaries at the Meadowlands, IT folks by accident, managers of Churchill's simulcast feed), figuring most people do not bother with show wagers anyway; but here someone clearly made the wrong decision.

Sure enough in my bet just after missing out on Schivarelli I cashed on the place end of a $10 win-place wager on 17-to-1 Surprise Wedding at Gulfstream Park, who was very game and made up lots of ground to lose by less than a closing length.

Hypthothetically, let's say that Surprise Wedding won, and that I cashed a $20 show bet on Schivarelli...that would have put my bankroll at around $450 and in a good position to at least finish in the contest top 10 (i.e. for prize money) or make some big bets late on more-logical horses.

Instead, I had $89 with a few races remaining, which in the context of Saturday's contest winner amassing more than a $3,000 final bankroll is chump change.  I took 3-4 stabs on some mid- to long-odds horses who were not factors to win.

Even after adhering to my 24-hour cooling off period before publishing, I'm even angrier today with yesterday's event than I was on the ride home last night.

I'm all for honest mistakes, but am done with the Big M and refuse to spend hardearned money on competitions where the host site shifts the rules clearly laid out to contestants on the sign-up sheet.

The NHC Tour needs to be more discriminating and keep a much closer eye on its tournament hosts, and less so on overaggressive expansion and cannibalizing the circuit so that a couple hundred of regulars can play for more cash in Las Vegas at season's end.

At the same time Tour members need to hold contest hosts accoutable for their level of integrity.