Wagering "only" $100 instead of $200 on True Timber to win the Cigar Mile cost me a Top 2 finish and probably a $4,000+ cash profit and NHC qualification at Monmouth Park's Dec. 5 handicapping contest.
Am I broken up? Absolutely not. It was still an awesome outcome and a great -- and rare -- pandemic-era day out of the house with a good friend, as Monmouth provide a safe venue and an egregiously distanced event in a surreal year.
Finishing 5th and turning a $300 entry into $1,400 was surely a solid outcome, but I've grappled a bit with how to frame missing an opportunity for 3x that profit and an NHC berth.
A typical horseplayer's lament, I suppose.
If nothing else, I've come to the stark realization that, to make a big splash in these tournaments, my live-bankroll mindset needs to deviate more from the risk tolerance in my investment and retirement accounts, which is more moderate and research-based than overaggressive.
It's an honest personality self-assessment for why I've only hit the board every so often in Monmouth's unique live-bankroll slate, and why I probably am better suited to the notional $2 win-place format of online events.
Granted, many buy 2 entries to my 1, but the winners of the Monmouth tournaments don't hesitate to go guns ablaze for the win, and if they lose so be it. They go home and try again next time.
I've seen it first hand through friends Peter Rogers, Terry Flanagan, Jennifer Prince, Damian Sasso and Frank Grybowski, to name a few. Each at times has found success not so much my nailing 50% of their wagers, but knowing when to go "all in" on a particular horse, and not always on the contest finale.
I had that opportunity with 7-1 True Timber last weekend and didn't take it.
I had built a $257 bankroll halfway through the tournament, grinding out a few show wagers and a wire-to-wire 4-1 winner in race 4 at Tampa Bay Downs before burning $50 win-place ($100) on Dovey Lovey in Race 7 at Aqueduct, my first of my three strong opinions on the card. That and another semi-big wager and up-the-track finish from my second bullish opinion of the day (Race 8) dented my confidence and bankroll to $57.
As so many live-bankroll players are prone to do, I blew $20 chasing an ill-advised horse who flopped in race 7 at Tampa, leaving me with $37.
On my heels, I regrouped, sitting out the next few races and contemplated how to parlay my final 37 bucks into something productive.
Race 8 at Tampa provided such an opportunity, with a notable jockey change to Antonio Gallardo on Night Things, a 2-year-old from the "also eligible" list making his second start vs. protected maidens. The horse won at almost 10-1, turning my $20 win-$17 place wager into $276.
Back in business!
Before the Cigar Mile, I liked another horse -- at Tampa again -- who cost me $20, finishing second at 7-2 instead of winning as I'd bet, putting me at $256, enough for an asertive bet on my final "strong opinion."
In hindsight, I'm confident my aforementioned friends might have gone all in on such a bullish call, but the conservative side of me thought "well, my last two top bets stunk, so what'll be different here?"
I'm not the only horseplayer with such self-doubt, but it cost me.
I should have let the risk-taker in my mental struggle win out and wagered $200 to win on True Timber as contemplated.
Instead, "moderate-risk" Bill bet $100 and cashed, but another $830 of winnings would have run my bankroll to $1,816 and been game, set and match.
Fast forward to the contest finale -- Race 11 from Gulfstream Park -- I sat in third, $50 behind second and about $120 out of first. With no strong conviction in that 12-horse race, I set a simple goal to leave the track with at least $900 in my pocket, and play a logical horse and hopefully run my bankroll above $1,100 and toward where the tournament leader sat pre-race.
It worked out, as 3-1 Frost Or Frippery survived a horrendous trip and a photo finish for the win; my $50 win-$20 place bet vaulted me to a $1,153 final tally, but only good enough for 5th place, surpassed by two other contestants.
A true "gambler" might have turned such strong handicapping into a monster day. Yet that's not where I am at this point, nor will I ever be. I'm not a gambler.
I'm a contest-focused player, and after several bad performances in past Monmouth tournaments, there's an element of satisfaction turning a good profit on strong handicapping and enjoying the action.
On top of that, I've mostly avoided trying to qualify for the 2020 NHC. I lost interest once the NTRA, intent on an in-person Las Vegas event, shifted the national championship to late August 2021.
That's about the time I hope -- fingers crossed for a widely available Covid-19 vaccine and a return to normal life -- to be moving my two kids into college.
I realize now that I can live more with missing out on NHC qualification than letting a major cash score slip thru my fingers. It was there for the taking.
Not enough guts, not enough glory.
Live and learn.