Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Online Contest Schedule Heating Up

A few times a week I'll visit the NTRA's schedule of handicapping tournaments on the NHC Tour website, hoping to catch something new that offers me a shot at the 2012 Championship as the qualifying season moves into the homestretch.

October's schedule is pretty robust and definitely heavy on online events.  Ellis Park affiliate highlights the card with seven events, offering 24 seats to the Vegas tourney in January 2012, while an apparent upstart called will offer four $25 tournaments, each with a shot at one coveted NHC seat., which recently hosted its big $50,000 Players Challenge, is also back in the mix. Save for a 10-seat super-qualifier at Thistledown in Ohio, the slate is heavily weighted toward online tournaments, which favors players like me who cannot travel the states to enter live tourneys.

Outside of the lack of an infinite bankroll, the only drawback, perhaps, to the online tournament format is the distraction of home.  For instance, this past weekend I was entered in Ellis Park's freebie make-up from August's cancelled contest, but could barely pay attention owing to various family commitments and chores. I finished in the top 25%, having handicapped the 10-race card for barely an hour on Saturday morning, but really watched from afar, and until a few minutes ago did not go back and look at race replays. (My highlight on a day where many long-shots finished first was with 15-to-1 two-year-old maiden Awalkinthemoonlite in the 7th from Arlington; otherwise, I finished with $68.60 in winnings on a mythical $40 bankroll - not bad, but just as good as finishing one spot short of winning an NHC seat).

Anyway, it is simply interesting to find so much more online action this season compared to last - my first semi-serious effort at qualifying for the NHC Championship.  I hope some of these organizers will consider a robust slate in the dreary winter months of January, February and March, when the slate of events seems so much quieter but the weather (at least here in the Northeast) is conducive to kicking back and playing the ponies from what I have heard TVG often dub as "the 3,000-mile couch."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Not Yet Ready for Primetime

Sunday's futile outcome in the Woodbine-Monmouth Park Handicapping Challenge at Monmouth proved, yet again, that I have a long way to go before becoming a credible contest challenger.  At least I have a day job.

Reflecting upon Sunday's contest, and halfheartedly sticking to recent consideration of a handicapping contest strategy predicated on place wagers, not all was bad, hitting back-to-back $10 win wagers on 5-to-2 winners in Leonessa and Pound Foolish in the sixth and seventh from Monmouth.  However, the bottom line was that my conviction for (and larger wagers on) three longer-priced horses sealed my fate in squandering my $100 contest bankroll, though not officially until the second-to-last contest race.

I stuck to my guns early in the context, hitting on a $10 place wager on Bluedacious in the opener from Woodbine to push the bankroll to $114.50.  (The contest mandated at least five wagers of at least $10 each on the Woodbine and Monmouth cards, and Bluedacious was a clear "move-the-chains" type bet).

Five consecutive losses (two straight win wagers, two win-place plays and a pure place bet), including my first of three "best bets" on the day - Miss Keller in The Canadian Stakes - dropped me to $54.50 before the two straight Monmouth victories, where I could not justify making place wagers on 5-to-2 horses and ended up climbing back to a $105.50 bankroll.  (Too bad Garrett Gomez miscalculated the 9-furlong Canadian distance by about a mile, as he waited too long to rally Miss Keller, who CLEARLY had enough but met BQE-type traffic and rallied too late to have threatened at nearly 11-to-1.)

From there, bupkis.

I loved Widgmore Hall in The Northern Dancer, but could not justify a wager at less than 3-to-2 and landed instead on 11-to-1 Hailstone, who finished fifth, about three lengths back.  Then, I burned up most of my remaining bankroll on two long-shots late in the contest who nearly gave me a thrill - Golden Galleon (a two-length loss in The Politely Stakes at Monmouth at 7-to-1) and 34-to-1 Riding the River, who almost pulled off a shocker before relenting in the shadow of the wire in the Woodbine Mile.  I have yet to see official contest standings, but my $20 win wager would have yielded about a $700-plus payout and perhaps a shot at the top of the standings (where the leader had less than $500 on what was a mostly chalky day).

If nothing else, the contest provided me with some thrills, and consolation in seeing my man Red Rock Or Bust briefly get into the Top 5 when hitting on a $50 wager on Turallure in the Woodbine Mile, but as both of us eventually met our ultimate contest demise, the NHC Tour Championship seems far less attainable this season.

The live-money contest slate is likely complete for me in 2011, though I will certainly compete in the Ellis Park make-up event this Sunday and some other online freebies, but I'm still looking for some answers as to how to go about playing the live contests, from both bankroll management and wagering perspectives.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Considering a "Place" Contest Strategy

A recent hiatus in live-money handicapping contest play, a few very near misses in this weekend's Public Handicapper online contest, and some dabbling with Equibase's free handicapping tournament has heightened my consideration of a strategy based on place wagers in this Sunday's (September 18) $200 Monmouth-Woodbine Handicapping Challenge at Monmouth Park.

NJ Horseplayer considers bucking
the "no guts, no glory" lure of
handicapping contests
(The $100 bankroll and $100 buy-in tournament mandates that players make at least 5 wagers on each track in order to qualify for the 2 NHC berths up for grabs). 

In my small sample of live-money contest participation (maybe 8-10, all at Monmouth, in the last 2-3 years), impatience and greed have at times gotten the best of me - i.e., playing too many races on a multi-track card, solely making win wagers on long-shots rather than building a bankroll throughout the day merely to survive and make one well-place wager toward the end.  To be sure, I observed two top finishers from Monmouth's simulcast contests last winter about double their $100 starting bankroll and hit nicely with a $200 bet in the final contest race.

Now, granted, any contest success comes down to excellent handicapping, but bankroll management and timing of making a "big" bet are equally important.

Results from my Equibase contest picks (under tfbill, if the link does not work) two days ago got me to analyzing a "what if" scenario.  Assuming a $100 contest bankroll and $20 place wagers down the line on each of the eight contest races (four each from Kentucky Downs and Belmont Park), I would have netted $177, with four second-place finishers paying $8.40, $6.70, $3.80 and $2.80.  As only two of those four horses won their races, a combination of $10 win-place wagers would have netted less.

Granted, hypothetically speaking, five straight losses would make for a short contest day, but a 77% return without a win bet is a tempting proposition, considering the minimization of risk and my endorsement of long-shots.

I tinkered in one contest with win-show strategies to no avail; typically, the show payouts, even on some longer-priced horses, were not enough to justify embracing such a strategy, in my view.  The show bet would serve well in terms of capital preservation (i.e. holding onto a top-3 spot toward the end of a contest card) but not accrual.  Place wagering, based on my simple Equibase analysis, might prove more beneficial to contest players like me, who can always find value but are inexperienced in bankroll management and do not necessarily like to stick to the sidelines in races with deep fields.

Please share your thoughts on this notion, and whether anyone has had success or failure with place-focused wagering or contest strategy.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Only 10 More Months Until Saratoga and Del Mar!

The NFL season is as much a highlight for me as any football fan (especially as a long-time Jets sufferer), and being entirely unprepared for my annual fantasy football draft is an annual rite of passage. However, I am already missing the extremely high caliber of the Saratoga and Del Mar meets - a wretched performance in the latter's free online handicapping contest notwithstanding - surely, like other U.S. horseplayers.

Somehow, however, I will press on, focusing again this week on the gamut of online opportunities on Public Handicapper (rather than belaboring analysis here, visit my selection page on, though I am extremely high on Vickies in Town in The River Cities at Louisiana Downs), but will also be making a stop at Monmouth Park for some of Saturday afternoon's card, which I've yet to study.

As time allows, I hope to get back into blogging full bore ahead of next Sunday's Woodbine-Monmouth handicapping challenge at Monmouth Park and hope to catch up on some other topics lost amid some late-summer vacationing and trying to live through an extensive home renovation.  Among them, I hope to revisit the Night School seminar on handicapping contest strategy (something I proposed on the chat and, of course, could not attend live that evening), and explore the growth of the online contest circuit, where I seem to be locating even more tournament venues for opportunities to reach the 2012 NHC.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Forego-Woodward Double

Hopefully everyone survived Hurricane Irene without much damage. Our home in Monmouth County, NJ was unscathed, but many people near us are still without power while others sustained major water damage. From a horseplayer perspective, Monmouth Park cancelled its card last weekend, which had to be a major financial hit during the peak of the summer racing meeting, but the Labor Day weekend's shaping up nicely.

Melancholy is setting in, with both the Saratoga and Del Mar meetings winding down, but Monmouth will still be kicking it for another two months, including the Monmouth-Woodbine Challenge handicapping contest on Sunday, September 18, which is next on the docket for NJ Horseplayer.

In the meantime, here are two ideas for this afternoon's 9th and 10th races from Saratoga, which are two of the four races this weekend on Public Handicapper.

Giant Oak in the Woodward
Jersey Town (6-to-1) has a legitimate shot in the Forego Stakes over the 7-furlong Saratoga dirt after a decent second in the Teddy Drone at Monmouth off an 8-month layoff.  Sidney's Candy (4-to-1) looks extremely tough from the No. 2 post and should dart to the lead, but I have questions about the turf-to-dirt switch and am banking on Escrow Kid (15-1), Regal Ransom (6-to-1) and Rule By Night (15-to-1) setting swift early fractions, setting up for a stalking type who can save ground into the long Saratoga stretch.  I'm envisioning a scenario similar to last week's call on Caleb's Posse, who nipped Uncle Mo in the closing strides of the 7-furlong King's Bishop, and hope to see a sub-47 second half-mile time.

Giant Oak (8-to-1) seems like a decent value in an 8-horse field highlighted by Havre De Grace (8-to-5) and Flat Out (5-to-2), but I find these two very vulnerable.  I have not been a big fan of closers at the Spa, but it appears there are at least four, maybe five, players that will vie for the lead in the 9-furlong, $750k Woodward Stakes.  If Shaun Bridgmohan can keep Giant Oak in the same zip code as the rest of the field, I think this 5-year-old Grade 1 winner has a decent shot at a price. Mission Impazible looked intriguing at 10-to-1, but I have concerns about the horse's effort in the Whitney.

If time allows, I might take a look at the Ricks Memorial from Remington Park for the Public Handicapper contest, but in the meantime, everyone enjoy their final summer weekend of horseplay!