Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Good call by has me weighing options

First off, I want to wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!  This is, by far, my favorite holiday, considering my view that this is what Christmas is meant to be - a gathering of family over dinner, rather than a mind-numbing 90-day run-up filled with shopping, stress and Yukon Cornelius.  Anyway, best to you and yours on Thursday!

Let horseplayers not forget, however, there are 20 of 500 NHC seats up for grabs this weekend, including the live Super Qualifier at Hawthorne Race Course, plus two interesting online contests, one where I am sure to participate (waiting to gauge the number of entrants - and my wife's and kids' demands - before picking).  This is no weekend to rest those past performances with a late-season shot at January's $2 million Vegas championship.

NJ Horseplayer contemplates
Thanksgiving weekend
tournament options
The first is on Black Friday at Ellis Park's, where I will likely land.  This $175 event features a 12-race card (from Aqueduct, Churchill and the Fair Grounds) for up to 200 players, with 4 NHC packages guaranteed (i.e., regardless of number of entrants).  A fifth seat will be added if 190 players enter.  This is evidently HorseTourney's final NHC-focused tournament this season.

Meanwhile, has yet to designate race tracks, but will be running a $150 tournament on Saturday, with "up to" 6 NHC seats up for grabs and a maximum of 300 entrants.  The organizers' decision to drop the fee from $400 (for up to 10 NHC seats) to $150 (up to 6 seats) was, in my opinion, extremely wise in light of recent trends.

A review of the contest outcomes for's last three $400 tournaments showed the events drawing a meager 80 (Oct. 15), 85 (Oct. 29) and 68 (Nov. 12) participants, even with up to 10 NHC seats per event up for grabs.  Ultimately, across the three contests, gave away just 10 spots, presumably leaving the organization with 20 "unclaimed" Championship spots.  I'm a relatively new (and very part-time) contest circuit player, but I had been under the impression that serious players historically jumped at a 1-in-22 chance of making the NHC Championship.

This prompted me to email on Sunday, asking what the organization would do with this "unclaimed freight."  I did not get a direct response, but on Monday got an email much like the other NHC Tour players about this Saturday's $150 tournament, which in my view marks a rational response to what likely addressed three scenarios:

  • A number of better players have already qualified for Vegas and have no need for a $400 tournament with no cash prizes
  • The increase in NHC contest seats to 500 in January 2012 (from 300 last year) has "watered down" the contest circuit, whereby players will now only pay a premium to enter in-person tournaments with smaller fields and a chance to win real rather than just notional prizes.
  • Players' bankrolls are shrinking, either on account of an explosion in the number of contest venues now offered (i.e. a ton of new online tournaments at places like, and or simply because of a lackluster economy where everyone has to tighten his or her purse strings.
In my view, the last three tournaments' decline in participants is likely a combination of the three, and prospective participants have more options to weigh in their contest play.  People with limitless bankrolls surely will benefit from being able to enter just about any tournament, but for the weekend horseplayers on a budget (NJ Horseplayer among them) must pick and choose.

With that in mind, and with 175 spots (out of 200) remaining on and nearly 240 spots (out of 300) remaining on, I'll likely sit tight until Friday morning to decide.  I'll let the market dictate which venue presents the best opportunity for a spot in January's NHC Championship.

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