Monday, June 20, 2011

On to the Irish Derby

The timing might not work perfectly, but I am hopeful to next check in from across the pond with some highlights of the opening day of the Irish Derby festival at Curragh.

Slightly nicer than ACRC ;)
The NJ Horseplayer clan is packing up for the Emerald Isle, and at least I am very much looking forward to three staples of the culture - Guinness, golf and horse racing.

If anyone has been and can offer sage advice about the Irish circuit (with more of a value add than "watch for Aidan O'Brien's entries"), please drop some comments below.

Otherwise, I at least recognized one horse - Viscount Nelson, unimpressive in the Manhattan Stakes at Belmont on June 11 - who is listed for Friday's card in the Grade 3 International Stakes.  The fields, too, appear a lot deeper than what I'm used to in the U.S., though any potential visit will lean toward a social experience.

In the meantime, if the travel schedule works according to plan, I should be back in time to enter the handicapping contest at Monmouth on July 2.  (Speaking of which, it appears that Monmouth has cancelled, unfortunately, the contest scheduled for August 28.)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Father's Day treat

Quite the gift yesterday when 36-to-1 Pool Play closed the field to take down the Stephen Foster, catapulting me to 31st among NHC Tour players (102nd overall) on the Public Handicapper.  Picking Rahystrada in the Colonial Turf Cup was a plus, albeit much smaller ($9.80), as well, so I'm feeling good this morning and hoping my wife and kids say "let's head over to Monmouth Park this afternoon."  At least I can dream a little...

Anyway, a Happy Father's Day to all of you other Dads out there on what's shaping up to be a banner day weather-wise.  I failed to take down the grand prize, but my entry to Monmouth's "Dad of the Year" contest - a story about my favorite experience with my father ("Tony the Retired Mailman") at Monmouth - was good enough to score a consolation prize that we'll take advantage of later in the season.

2011 at AC Race Course
There's no better man in the world, in my opinion, and if you ever see his mug at Monmouth betting another chalk exacta, wish him well.

Here's my story, and I'm sticking to it...
Visitors to The Shore’s Greatest Stretch may bask in the warm summer glow of cashing that big ticket or feasting on crab cake sandwiches and sipping a cold beer with Dad on a hot summer Sunday in Oceanport, but my finest recollection of Monmouth Park remains the monsoon-like Friday card of the 2007 Breeders Cup.

Apropos of a retired letter carrier perhaps, but neither sideways rain nor drenched clothes nor sloppy track (nor poor handicapping) could dampen the enjoyment of (as Dad calls it) “doping out” the races, talking horses and family life, and bonding with the most significant man in my life, whose lessons when I was a boy now unwittingly seep through the rearing of my own daughter and son.

Whether tirelessly working two jobs to put two often unappreciative kids through college, or mustering up the energy after daily 13-hour workdays to be steady quarterback for the neighborhood kids in our summer twilight football tussles, "Tony the Mailman," "Turtle" or "Hobo", as some have called him over time, remains a lesson in selflessness, devotion and love -- the true personification of “Father.”

Now he, as a grandfather, and I, as a devoted father in his footsteps, have few opportunities to share our passion for handicapping thoroughbreds at resplendent Monmouth Park (part of our family fabric for four decades) but neither of us will forget the wettest but most glorious day of not cashing a single ticket. 
Happy Father's Day, Dad!
Love, Bill.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dabbled in new online contest site

In the name of due diligence I participated late last Friday night in a $50 handicapping contest at Horse Players Qualify, which bills itself as an "official qualifying site for the Horse Player World Series at the Orleans."  (HPWS is a year end tournament similar to NHC, but lesser in grandeur, from what I understand). I saw other listings for this outfit on the NHC Tour website and was curious, so I gave it a spin.

Entries were capped at 150, with prizes awarded to the Top 10 finishers, with the Top 5 gaining entry to a tournament (unrelated to the NHC Tour) at the South Point Casino in Las Vegas in August, plus hotel nights and travel vouchers, and finishers 6-10 winning cash prizes up to $400.

The 8-race card at Hollywood Park comprised the contest, and I only went 1-for-8 (tied for a lousy 112th place) in what was the usually thin-fielded, chalky California fare, where the biggest winner paid $8, outside of the apparently suspect $57 winner of Race 7, Doc Can Dance, whom DRF reports should not have been eligible to compete in that particular starter allowance (the top 22 contest finishers, coincidentally had Doc).  In no way do I disparage the contest, but in my view, Hollywood is one of the least interesting contest tracks.

Anyway, the contest website worked well functionally and similar to the free contests put on by TVG or the NHC Tour freebies, where you have to lock into a pick either at or a few minutes before the listed post time (others let you change on the fly until the race starts). Players were given 10 points for every real dollar payout at the track for win and place wagers, and highest total mythical bankroll took down the prizes.

I'm not entirely sure I'd participate again, but am keeping the site bookmarked for future reference.  NTRA includes Bettor Racing/HPQ as an NHC qualifying venue, but even after some email discussion with officials at Horse Player Qualify, and with the confusing layout of the website, I'm still not quite sure how the tie-in to NHC works, though it appears that players need to finish at or near the top of $150 qualifying contests in order to advance to a championship in September, where players will compete for 6 NHC Tour Championship tournament seats.

I would encourage other NHC Tour contest players giving the site a look, but considering the depth of the contest tournament schedule through the summer, including the 20 NHC spots up for grabs over the July 4 weekend in live-money "super-qualifier" contests at Monmouth Park and Hollywood Park, I am likely to redirect my efforts elsewhere for the time being.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Congrats to the local connections of Ruler on Ice!

Anyone who frequents The Shore's Greatest Stretch and does not feel proud of the Monmouth connections who took down the Belmont Stakes on Saturday with 24-to-1 Ruler On Ice needs their head examined.

If I was going to lose with my top choice Brilliant Speed (a creditable third at 10-to-1 after running four lengths wide for much of the race), no better combination than to local trainer Kelly Breen, owner George and Lori Hall and  jockey Jose Valdivia Jr., whose post-race interview on NBC (which, unfortunately, I could not find) was about as sincere as one could expect in the wake of such an emotional championship.

Courtesy of, here is Valdivia's reaction in the press conference following the Belmont victory:

Personally, my results on Saturday were dreadful, exhausting my $101 bankroll for the afternoon, but somewhat excusable in that the rainy conditions were far worse than I anticipated when placing my bets on Friday and, in my view, set the stage for the bombers that won.

Notwithstanding my joy for the Monmouth connections, I firmly believe that Brilliant Speed was the best horse in the race.  Sure, Animal Kingdom was done after clipping heels with Isn't He Perfect (and nothing like a huge dose of sour grapes from rider John Velazquez), but in my view Johnny V's comments about the weather were inauspicious, and Joel Rosario put Brilliant Speed in a spot to avoid getting mud thrown in the horse's face and then stalk the front-runners coming into the homestretch.

Of course the 3- to 4-wide trip throughout was not the shortest distance in a 12-furlong marathon, but the horse absolutely had every chance to win before fading in the final 300 yards.  The only question is whether Rosario could have moved Brilliant Speed inside coming into the final turn (it looks around the 2:40 mark of the video below that he considered it and changed his mind, if by design or the horse got spooked and preferred the outside) I certainly think this is a horse to watch as the season progresses and Brilliant Speed matures moving toward the Breeders Cup.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Brilliant Speed in the Belmont

The 15-to-1 line on Brilliant Speed for Saturday's Belmont Stakes was too appealing to pass, considering my expectation that Animal Kingdom and Nehro will be co-favored, and 10-to-1 morning line choice Master of Hounds may prove the "wise guy" selection, if the 5-to-2 current odds (albeit on a small Thursday night sample of 403 contest players as of around midnight) on Public Handicapper are any indication.

In the meantime, I built my tickets for Saturday around Brilliant Speed and was really impressed by his Bluegrass performance after stalking a slow pace to win at 8.5 furlongs and think he'll appreciate the extra distance.

Sticking to my Triple Crown race budget of $100, I cobbled together $97 worth of selections, playing a lottery-like $8 Pick Six ticket (with 4 singles and two races with two horses) more or less for the fun of it, the Belmont, two Pick 3s and the late Pick 4, but I would advise reading these with extreme caution, rather than my rose-colored glasses:

  • Race 6 - The TVG Acorn, $2 Pick Six: 3 with 2 with 1,7 with 5 with 7,9 with 5 (Total: $8)
    • Again, this is akin to playing the PowerBall, but I do feel pretty confident in singling Wildcat Brief in the True North (Race 7), considering his strong close first off a 7-month rest on May 14 in the Decathlon at Monmouth, which favored front-end speed that day; Wildcat (8-to-1 M/L) made up 8 lengths to finish second by a length-and-a-quarter to winner This Ones for Phil, who is part of a 2-to-1 entry this Saturday with D'Funnybone.  But, first, I need to hope Savvy Supreme can knock off 3-to-5 favorite Turbulent Descent in Race 6 (The Acorn).  My single on Strike the Bell (12-to-1 M/L) in the Just A Game in Race 9 is more of an endorsement of the Ramon Dominguez-David Donk connection, and I'll single Brilliant Speed in the finale.  I just really do not like the Pick Six sequence, particularly the turf races filled with a lot of the usual suspects who take turns winning every third or fourth time out; but, for $8, what the hay. 
  • Race 7 - True North Handicap, $1 Pick 3: 2 with 1,7 with 1,5 (Total: $4)
  • Race 8 - Woody Stephens, 50-cent Pick 4: 1,5,7 with 5 with 7,9 with 1,5,9 (Total: $9)
    • Not in love with either of the top two choices - Travelin Man (2-to-1 M/L) and Arch Traveler (5-to-2), but need to include these to escape the first leg. I've been burned by Justin Phillip (NYRA analyst Andy Serling's call on Thursday's race chat) a few times before and landed instead on J J's Lucky Train at 6-to-1, figuring the horse has to be decent after finishing second to Wood Memorial winner Toby's Corner and Belmont Stakes entry Monzon earlier in 2011.
  • Race 9 - The Foxwoods Just a Game, $1 Pick 3: 5 with 7,9 with 1,5,6,9 (Total: $8); $5 exacta box 5-1 (Total: $10)
    • I am more than willing to let Gio Ponti (6-to-5 M/L) beat me in leg two, figuring it will be tough for this $5 million-plus winner to bounce back from a 10-week layoff after running in the Dubai World Cup on March 26. Prince Will I Am (5-to-1 M/L) was in tight early in his last effort on May 7 and I expect will get a better trip this time around. Straight Story (12-to-1 M/L) otherwise looked appealing to me, and trainer Alan Goldberg is 5-for-9 early in the meet.
  • Race 11 - Belmont Stakes (Total: $58)
    • $10 exacta box 1-5 (Brilliant Speed-Master of Hounds)
    • $5 trifecta box 1-5-9 (includes Animal Kingdom)
    • 50-cent superfecta box 1-5-6-9 (includes Nehro)
Best of luck to everyone getting involved in the Belmont card this Saturday!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Irate Irace; Hartley Takes Down $12k in MP Contest

Over a quick lunch break I had the pleasure of reading Oceanport Councilman and member of the Borough's "Monmouth Park Task Force" Joseph Irace's biting commentary in this week's Red Bank Hub.  No means by design, but my recent blog posts and relative thinking about Trenton making New Jersey's live racing program the sacrificial lamb for the umpteenth revival effort for Atlantic City echo much of Mr. Irace's commentary, though he gets a few extra fist pumps for dubbing Atlantic City "a financial and social corpse."

entirely agree with Mr. Irace's thesis in the guest column, with two caveats - the notion of pitching the Meadowlands as the track primed for casino-style gaming could be perceived by some as a not-in-my-back-yard posture, and slot gaming at the track is not the antidote to a fragmented, dysfunctional racing industry, where the tracks and horsemen have for too long served their own interests ahead of the horseplayer (lower-takeout propositions, such as Monmouth's new Place Pick 6 are a good, albeit late, start).  But, in the end, Mr. Irace's points about Trenton forsaking the state's racing program for the benefit of AC remains very well taken, especially when considering that all parties need to agree on a plan to stem the tide of a shrinking pool of discretionary dollars (i.e. wagers) from leaving New Jersey for Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York.

Meanwhile, I saw that Manahawkin's Victor Hartley took down the $200 contest (and a berth to the NHC next January) at Monmouth Park on Sunday with a courageous play (as I speculated on Monday) on 30-to-1 Padraig in the Woodbine finale. Congrats to Victor!

Monday, June 6, 2011

An Unexpected Late Scratch

As they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

My excitement in the buildup to Sunday's handicapping contest at Monmouth and strong preparation for the Woodbine races in advance was all for naught, as my son ran a fever and eliminated any chance of me getting to Oceanport in time to register.

Homebound until my wife returned from her afternoon outing around 430p (would you believe that, yes, a FLOWER SHOW took priority over whittling away some money at the track), I decided to simulate contest picks from home and, sure as can be, would have hit two of three top Woodbine calls with 11-to-1 Riding the River in Race 2 (paid $25.70) and 4-to-1 Benestar in Race 6 (paid $10.90) -- certainly some ammunition for at least a decent run at the contest leaderboard, but to no avail.

Who knows what would have happened, but the outcome was likely moot, with the leaderboard (I ran over to Monmouth around 5p to lend much-needed support to a wilting Red Rock or Bust) showing the first-place contestant over $4,000 from a $100 starting bankroll.  I can only speculate, based on the drastic move late in the contest, that this contestant had 31-to-1 Padraig in the Woodbine finale

Meanwhile, back to my misery...I otherwise would have bet Classy Zip in Race 4 to win (Zip finished 3rd), and was dead wrong on Action Plan in Race 7.  I did not handicap the full Monmouth card outside of the Survival at the Shore contest plays -- races 6, 8 and 11 (the only one I nailed was chalky 3-to-2 Tastefully Smart in the 11th) -- in advance, fully expecting to wing it from the home track.

Ah, the joys of parenthood, and the frustration of identifying live horses for a handicapping contest and not being a part of the action.  But, hey, my boy is healthy again, and there'll be other contest opportunities ahead (when is simply the major question for an over-obligated NHC Tour player). 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Gearing up for Sunday's contest at Monmouth

Outside of printing the past performances in advance, I will not be able to study tomorrow's Monmouth-Woodbine Challenge card much in light of a busy Saturday agenda, but the online contest slate is a busy one on this first Saturday of June.

The organizers of Survival at the Shore are doing a wonderful job, in my view, of offering intriguing, deep-fielded races, and Saturday's is no different. Somehow, I have survived without sacrificing a lifeline and hope to continue that today, with Silent Bolt at 3-to-1 in a 12-horse maiden claimer in Race 2, 9-to-2 Silent Empress in Race 9 and 5-to-1 Nina Springs in Race 10.  Unlike real-money contests, I typically do not go overboard on extreme long-shots this early in the contest, with 4,600 out of 6,500 players still alive. I am hoping to make it to June 30 without sacrificing a life preserver, and if I can certain take some shots at bigger prices. Right now, I'm in about 1,500th place with a modest $71.20 bankroll, about $90 behind the leader.

Public Handicapper has some interesting races as well, namely the Grade 2 Californian from Hollywood at a mile-and-an-eighth.  Soul Candy looks compelling at 12-to-1, considering this hard-knocker has trained well off a 10-week layoff and I anticipate will be able to run into heady fractions set by Aggie Engineer, Gladding and 4-to-5 M/L favorite Twirling Candy.  Prices galore in that field.

Otherwise the 8-horse Aristides Stakes, a Grade 3 at 6 furlongs from Churchill, is also wide open, in my opinion, though I am going with Here Comes Ben at 4-to-1, as I anticipate the benefits of the rail position and second off a layoff; it looks to me like Ben needed the 7-furlong Grade 2 Churchill effort on May 7 after a 6-month layoff and will appreciate the cutback in distance.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Huge buzz about NJ racing

Although neither has anything to do with postings about handicapping contests, I wanted to share four compelling articles either directly involving or with implications for the Garden State's live racing and casino programs:
  • Bill Finley's piece on, "Better days ahead for Monmouth?", identifies an angle that I overlooked in criticizing Governor Christie for getting into bed with the casino lobby and taking such a firm stand that threatened the state's teetering racing industry: no one expected anyone to really step forward with keen interest in taking over either the Meadowlands or Monmouth.
    • "Christie and the Atlantic City boys were outsmarted," Finley wrote, perhaps correcting speculating, too, that "the only plausible explanation for (Christie's) actions was that he wanted racing out of the way so that a casino could open at the Meadowlands and no one would have to share a dime with the racing industry. His fat cat friends in Atlantic City would have the money and what figured to be one of the most successful casinos in the world all to themselves." 
    • Citing industry insiders, Finley went on to suggest that casinos could become a reality at the Meadowlands within two years. I have have argued here for months that a very workable solution would have been to involve the AC casino interests in a revitalization of the Meadowlands and perhaps converting Xanadu into a gaming destination.
    • Either way, New Jersey is even further behind the times with New York soon to open casinos at Aqueduct and possibly Belmont in the very near future.
  • Speaking of which, John Brennan of the Record writes about the uncommon alliance of Jeff Gural and Morris Bailey, the respective "white knights" for the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park, both of whom have interests in the casino business as well and fortify the notion that at least one of the tracks (namely the Meadowlands) would make a great site for a casino and help stave off the outflow of New Jersey wagering dollars to Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware.  
    • (Of course, whether union propaganda or reality, Mr. Bailey and the ownership group for Resorts Atlantic City are cast in a bad light in this report from the Press of Atlantic City that AC's largest casino union is encouraging Resorts casino workers apply for food stamps, owing to low wages.) 
  • Anecdotally, a report on signals that both houses of the Illinois legislature passed a measure to allow slot gaming at the state's race tracks, which from afar is certainly worth watching for proponents of similar legislation here in New Jersey.  
  • And putting a bow on things, this Associated Press report essentially piles on AC, highlighting how the casino interests got drunk on early success and have driven the city to the ground with a dated business model, inability to enact sports gambling legislation and failing to react to the threat of gaming in NJ's neighboring states. The comments below that piece are actually pretty effective in articulating a small-sample view of what turns so many people off to AC, and why forsaking the racing industry to revitalize AC for the umpteenth time was a poor decision by our state's leadership.  I guess we can only hope that The Boss was right in saying that "maybe everything that dies someday comes back..."
    Bruce Springsteen - Atlantic City by jpdc11