Thursday, January 6, 2011

Observations from season-opener NHC Tour contest

Kudos to the Top 5 finishers in Sunday's NHC Tour Online Kickoff Challenge, all of whom cracked the $70 mark in notional winnings and won berths to the 2012 Vegas championship; pretty impressive in hindsight, considering the relatively chalky outcomes that would have yielded a notional $116.40 (a meager $11.60 per race of combined win and place money) to anyone who by some miracle could have correctly picked the winner of all 10 races. For this particular contest, players were picking from predominantly bottom-rung claimers at Aqueduct, Fair Grounds and Santa Anita.

For background, for those even newer than me to the NHC online tournament format (this is only my second year as a Tour member), the contest is based on 10 notional $2 win/place bets on a single horse each race in a predetermined card, unlike live-money tournaments in which I've competed where horseplayers can pick from a few different tracks (as set by the contest organizers) and wager on more than 10 races. The contest winner, in short, is tasked with accruing the largest notional bankroll among all contest players.

One cannot tell which winners the Top 5 finishers selected in Sunday's contest, but in all likelihood, I'd venture a guess that many presumably hit on some big second-place runners in the contest races. To be sure, the biggest singular payout of the card was a $22 place maiden claimer at Aqueduct (NHC caps the payouts at $42 for winners and $22 for place horses, meaning a contestant cannot bag a 99-1 shot and walk away with top prize...$64 is the maximum anyone can "win" per contest race - still an exorbitant sum in this contest format). Pegasus Papou went off at 65-1 and finished second by a nose to the chalk, Fuhrlang (I had 16-1 Rightuplynn'salley, who was a well-beaten 4th out of 10 after a poor break from the gate under C.C. Lopez).

Pegasus Papou and the 9 other horses that finished second in Sunday's contest races yielded an impressive $101.30 combined, or only $15.10 less than the winners' payouts just for being the runners up!

From this, one can say it is no mystery that winning contests is not necessarily about picking short-price winners, but deciphering who can beat the favorite, preferable at long odds. Looking back to Sunday, and in keeping with my New Year's resolution to revisit tournament outcomes and share insights, there were few races where I kept to my initial selection. Both proved pretty fruitful -- Weather Warrior finished a game second at 23-1 and paid $15.40 to place in a maiden claimer at Fair Grounds to a 6/5 winner, and Why Then ran on for $10 place money at 15-1 in a 6f maiden claimer at Aqueduct to a 2-1 favorite. Not bad.

Now, I'm not about to endorse going overboard and picking anything at double-digit odds, but I wasn't too far from hitting on three other horses that finished a game 3rd at 11-1, 15-1 and 31-1. So, even though I did not hit on these selections, I came away feeling much better when my initial selections for those races (I prefer to "dope out", as my Father would say, the contest race past performances the night before) went off at far less intriguing odds and failed to hit the board. I will always go off initial selections when prices turn unappealing (i.e. 10-1 M/L down to 5-2) relative to the rest of the bottom-of-the-barrel fields.

The lesson learned from Sunday, I suppose, is that it is perfectly rational in an online contest format to recognize that you're better off moving off that horse that you liked at 5-1 M/L but was beaten down to even-money favorite (i.e. anything at Santa Anita with four legs and Rafael Bejarano or Joel Rosario aboard) a minute prior to the site locking in your selection and finding that longer play who can reap a nicer payout. In all likelihood, losing out on a notional $6.40 of contest winnings (i.e. $4.20 for win, $2.20 for place) will not be your downfall.

Now if we can only get the NHC Tour online tournament organizers to adopt the contest format (where you can alter your selection up to post time, rather than 1 minute prior to the posted race time)...but that's a topic for another day.

Feel free to share your thoughts, and by either Friday night or Saturday morning I hope to chime in with selections (and my rationale) for the four Gulfstream races that are part of Public Handicapper's free "Winter of Our Discontent Challenge", where at present I am 5-for-16 with a notional $2.20 profit and just inside the Top 500. I'll also share some thoughts about Del Mar's online contest, which is a great forum for keeping up with one's handicapping during this quiet winter season.

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