Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lamentation of a New Jersey NHC Tour player

The NJ-based NHC Tour player
"I never worry about action, but only about inaction."
-- Winston Churchill

The topics are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum, but based on past experience as a community activist on an altogether separate issue (volunteer chairperson of NOPE, which in a nutshell convinced the U.S. Navy to turn back on a costly and dangerous plan at a nearby weapons station) than horse racing, I posit that NJ-based NHC Tour members MUST band together to improve our opportunities to compete in ADW-sponsored play-ins to the $2 million championship tourney.

In light of my commentary last week about the inability of Jersey horseplayers to participate in the rising number of contests sponsored by operators such as, Xpressbet and the monthly DRF Bets Tournament League, I contacted the editors at the Daily Racing Form about whether there was a way for DRF to let NJ horseplayers "buy in" (i.e. pay a real $2 per-contest-day fee, or about $40 a month, for mythical winnings) to the DRF online tournament for the right to win a Vegas seat.  Editor Lonnie Goldfeder, prompting addressing to my question, responded on Friday that "we are unable to get around the rules which state you have to be a DRF Bets member (and therefore one who resides in a state which makes you eligible) to be able to enter the tournament league."

A state which makes you eligible (NJ not one of them, of course)...

First and foremost, I give DRF a TON of credit for an inventive, NHC Tour-friendly proposition, whereby contestants make a $2 live bet per day on the Form's free "Race of the Day," which also comes with in-depth video analysis to help the players dope out each day's race.  In my view, this is an excellent low-cost venue (especially for limited-bankroll players like me who cannot plunk down a few thousand bucks to travel for big buy-in tournaments elsewhere in the U.S.) for an NHC Tour player to pick up one of the coveted Vegas invitations.  One seat is given in each of April, May and June to the player with the largest bankroll, and a well-placed $40-$42 is all it takes.

However, and this is no blame of DRF, but rather onerous regulation and politics, the eligibility part is what sticks in my craw.  I might have miscounted the number of invitations given to winners of these ADW-sponsored NHC tournaments, but the NTRA calendar shows upward of 40 NHC seats up for grabs for Treasure Island in January 2012, or roughly 12% of the total spots, available through these kinds of ADW-based tournaments.  That's nothing to scoff at, considering Monmouth Park gave away just two seats in Saturday's Simulcast Series Challenge and, according to the current schedule, there are only three more NHC seats to win on August 27 (though I learned yesterday that another spot could be available in an early June handicapping contest). This should come as no surprise to any horseplayer in light of the uncertainty over the track's ownership.

This is entirely speculative, but based on anecdotes and observations (and in light of the machinations of the Meadowlands' tellers union in Jeff Gural's bid to save that track from extinction -- I suppose unemployment is better than a pay cut), I would venture a guess that account holders with NJ's ADW,, are stuck behind the graft and archaic legislation that maybe worked years ago but only prohibits competition and the ability of the state's horseplayers (i.e., taxpayers) to shop for a better product.

The typical horseplayer? I don't think so.
Really the only other thing (next to the outdated rules in the state about race-day minimums, union-influenced tracks, etc.) that prohibits NJ players from having accounts outside the state-run ADW and, more significant to contest players like myself, even greater access to opportunities to reach the NHC Tour championship is the horseplayers themselves.

Perhaps the common stereotype of the horseplayer as a codger who actually saw Seabiscuit race War Admiral, is entirely accurate and the industry will simply dry up, but I beg to differ.

I observe that the racing industry, despite its sectarian ways, is making inroads electronically in drawing more players into the game, especially via online contests (i.e. that resonate with the younger set.  And, despite the continued downward trajectory in U.S. handle in March, there are pockets of relative health (i.e. boutique meets like Saratoga and Keeneland, success of the reconfigured Gulfstream Park, racing having its own satellite radio station and two networks - TVG and HRTV - that bring the sport right into peoples' home), and the Kentucky Derby remains one of the most-watched sporting events in our nation.

In closing, I would argue that it is really up to the industry's customers - in this place, New Jersey horse racing enthusiasts long taken for granted and, specifically, NJ-based NHC members - to unite, or as Morgan Freeman's character "Red" famously said in one of my all-time favorite movies, Shawshank Redemption, "get busy livin', or get busy dyin."  

If anyone else is ready to get busy, leave a comment below with your contact info, and spread the word.  The initiative could be as simple as a petition from all NJ-based NHC Tour players and a letter to all of the state's legislators and Governor Christie.  If nothing else, it's worth a shot.

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