Thursday, February 23, 2012

Save the Date: Monmouth Park sets 2012 NHC Contests

(Correction on Feb. 24, 2012, regarding Monmouth-Woodbine contests in June and September; 2 (not 1) NHC spots will be awarded to on-track Monmouth Park players at each contest. There is no duplicate contest being held at Woodbine at the same time.)

Initially, I planned solely to pan Monmouth a bit for allowing non-NHC Tour contest players to win spots in the 45-player Simulcast Series Challenge invitational on April 28, but am more enthused by the release of on-track NHC-based contest dates at The Shore's Greatest Stretch, and that my solicited input may have had some positive impact on the schedule.  The early lowdown:
  • Saturday, May 19: $200 Preakness Day contest for 2 NHC seats
    • Kudos to Sophia Mangalee and her team for scheduling an event around one of the Triple Crown races.  As noted on February 9, NJ Horseplayer speculates that contests scheduled around the Derby, Preakness or Belmont can perhaps draw new players who are otherwise on track to wager on major races; in other words, a captive audience.  Including races from presumably deep fields from Pimlico should also prove very enticing to people seeking big payouts and considering handicapping contests (i.e. low-risk, high-reward proposition). 
  • Sunday, June 3: $200 Monmouth/Woodbine Handicapping Challenge for 2 NHC seats
  • Sunday, September 16: $200 Monmouth/Woodbine Handicapping Challenge for 2 NHC seats. 
    • Positives include full fields expected at Woodbine for $500k Woodbine Oaks and $150k Plate Trial on June 3, and the contest tracks (Woodbine, in particular) will offer plenty of opportunities to score big prices 
Separately, a $100 contest for one 2013 Horse Player World Series tournament will be held on Saturday, July 21.  I'm not an HPWS guy, but it's a live contest. (Editor's note: Sophia informed NJ Horseplayer on Friday that the reason Monmouth Park did not make this event an NHC contest is because the NHC Tour counts July as the first half of the season, which we speculate has to do with the new Tour standings format rolled out by the Tour last month.)

Again, these are early findings, but the combination of 8 National Handicapping Championship seats up for grabs through contests at Monmouth Park (two from the SSC, and two each from the above-noted contests) is a great start, though the absence of NHC-oriented in July and August, during the prestigious Saratoga meet, is an early drawback.  Perhaps financial (i.e. uncertain ownership at Monmouth ties the marketing staff's hands in terms of announcing other dates or buying more NHC seats) or scheduling conflicts (i.e. with other NHC Tour dates at other NTRA venues) are at play, but hopefully NHC Tour players based around Monmouth will get at least another on-track opportunity for a contest later in the summer. 


Keep Non-NHC Tour Players OUT of the SSC Invitational

NJ Horseplayer's opinion may upset or alienate some readers, but Monmouth's press release Monday about Chris Russo's (no, not "The Mad Dog") impressive last-race win in SSC#2 on Saturday and listing of the Top 15 finishers got me thinking -- why should SSC entrants who are not NHC Tour members get spots in an exclusive invite-only tournament for two spots in the National Handicapping Championship?

Two of the top 15 finishers among the 265 contestants in SSC#2 were not Tour players, which is fine; let them compete for prize money only as the rules specify.  I am fine with  them winning prize money, whether these are one-off players kicking the tires of the contest world, or people who compete regularly but have no interest in NHC or are merely too cheap to part with $50 for the annual Tour membership.  

In my opinion, Monmouth needs to make the 45-player SSC Invitational -- a key local on-track tournament for any NHC Tour player -- exclusive to paying NHC Tour members.  In the case of this past Saturday, for example, I would propose that the two highest finishers outside the Top 15 (NJ Horseplayer, as usual, not among them) who are NHC Tour members should get those spots on April 28, much as Tour players down the food chain win spots in other NHC-based tournaments where a player who has already qualified for the NHC but wins yet another qualifying tournament relinquishes his/her seat to the next-highest qualifying tournament finisher(s).  Another idea is to give the total number of spots to the SSC Invitational won by, hypothetically, 5 non-Tour players to the top-5 bankrolls of NHC Tour players in either SSC#1, 2 or 3.

Otherwise, to give entries into an NHC-drive tournament to non-Tour players devalues the $50 membership fee.  I hope consideration is given to this thought next season, as it is probably too late to change now. 

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