Friday, March 30, 2012

Great Handicapping, AWFUL Betting

Typically, NJ Horseplayer waits a day -- a "cooling-off" period, if you will -- to share handicapping tournament outcomes, but bone-headed second-guessing cost me a $195 contest entry fee to a National Handicapping Championship "preliminary feeder" on and hopefully sharing some thoughts will help me to achieve a better night of sleep.

Before leaving to hang with my extremely cool son, Shane, over a pizza at Ninette's (the best in the Tinton Falls, NJ area), I handicapped the 10-race card (comprised of races from Santa Anita, Turfway Park, Mountaineer and Fair Grounds) and entered picks in advance, in the event we stayed out later than anticipated.  Now I regret not keeping the lad out for another 2-3 hours...

NJ Horseplayer's reaction to
awful second-guessing in Friday
night online contest play
Upon arriving home, I was in the top 25 of 80-plus contestants, scoring in four of five of the races on the card with relatively chalky outcomes.  From there I got too fancy and turned what ultimately would have been good enough for a first-place finish in two of the three events on Friday night and a second-place finish in the tourney where I signed up into a gut-wrenching outcome.

The sixth race on the card, Race 12 from Fair Grounds, featured a 10-to-1 morning-line third-time starter named Parrelo that made a lot of sense in an 11-horse $10k maiden claimer.  Drawn to the rail, this three-year-old was stretching out for the first time and ran decently in its prior two, and I liked that Miguel Mena stayed aboard for trainer Greg Foley -- a decent winning combo.  At the last second, however, I gave another glance to Zippidy Do Hah (my second-choice in earlier handicapping), who was hovering 9-to-2 off a 4-to-1 morning-line and was making a drop from $30k maiden company and ran a credible fifth in its prior race.

Needless to say, I switched my selection at the last second on the "class drop", only to watch Parrelo run past Zippidy in the last 150 yards or so to score at 11-to-1.  Instead of banking a combined $37.20 in notional win and place earnings, I collected $5.80 to place.

Over the course of the final four contest races, I switched off all of my initial selections, which ended up amounting to one winner and three second-place finishers, giving up on $24.20 more of notional winnings as none of my alternate selections finished first or second; chasing prices cost me there.

So, instead of sticking with all of my initial picks and finishing with an $89.60 bankroll in calling top-two finishers in all but one of the 10 contest card races, I ended up with $34 and finished in 31st place.

Only about three years or so into this handicapping contest circuit thing, NJ Horseplayer's learning the frustrations of days where good, above-average or excellent handicapping goes out the window when getting too fancy in selecting horses and second guessing initial selections.  Fortunately, Saturday's an off day on the contest scene as the NJ Horseplayer clan makes its way to the Museum of Natural History in NYC.

Seeing laser light shows and dinosaur skeletons with the wife and kids will prove extremely therapeutic, much as blogging my contest fates serves as a reminder that some bad contest days are part of my evolution as a handicapper, and that there are lessons even in a bad outcome.

It's that, or (as a contest handicapper) make the same mistakes and go the way of the dinosaur. Feeling a lot like T-Rex tonight, but looking forward to brighter contest outcomes this season.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Best Laid Plan Gone Astray...Partly

The show-based handicapping contest wagering strategy contemplated here and that prompted a NJ Horseplayer blog respondent to coin the plan as "flawed" actually proved valuable in yesterday's SSC #3 contest at Monmouth Park, but ultimately two poorly ridden horses put an end to my contest hopes.

Of my first six (of 10 mandated) contest wagers, I scored on all three show wagers (each yielding at least 2-1) and missed on three $10 win wagers, getting me halfway through the Aqueduct-Gulfstream-Tampa card with a 6% ROI on my bankroll. I theorized going into SSC #3 that I could "move the chains" toward the mid- to later-card and "save up" for 1-2 well-placed win wagers that could vault me into the Top 15.

As noted Saturday, I found two horses mid-card that I thought had a decent shot of scoring at big odds, and rested my contest hopes on these, for lack of finding any plausible shots later in the afternoon.

The first was Loaded Lady ($10W/$16S) in the sixth from Tampa, listed at 20-to-1 but bet down to 8-to-1 at the open.  This four-year-old ultimately drifted back toward 15-to-1 and got off to a great start from post 4 in a 10-horse field at 11 furlongs on the turf, but jockey Willie Martinez inexplicably settled back as the field crawled to a 27-second opening quarter and nearly 54-second half before the horse ultimately finished dead last. Typically I do not harp on "poor trips", but I knew Loaded Lady had NO chance after seeing the opening splits.  There went one-quarter of my bankroll.

Another quarter of my bankroll ($25S) disappeared only moments later (the races almost went off simultaneously), when in Race 5 from Gulfstream (8-horse field, 1-mile turf), a $25k claimer, Jesus Castanon put 10.6-to-1 Zubani to sleep out of the gate.  The horse looked sharp (not a front-runner, but looking spry) out of the gate, but was pulled back to dead last and ultimately ridden 3-4 horse wide around the oval in a race run in 24.4-50-1:14 through three quarters before finishing seventh.

Two misplaced wagers launched my capital-preservation strategy out the window.  More than halfway through the contest card, and recognizing that show-based wagering would not give me enough winnings to make one big bet in one of the final races, I made six losing $10W wagers to put an unceremonious conclusion to my Simulcast Series Challenge season.

In the end, good handicapping rules all, and with the majority of winning horses in yesterday's 32-race handicapping contest card winning at 7-to-2 odds or less, kudos to those who were able to able to manage their bankrolls better and call enough shorter-priced winners to hit the top 15 and qualify for April's SSC Invitational.  However, I am not yet ready to abandon the notion of capital preservation to survive into the later stages of live-money contests and make one well-placed win wager in the late stages.

The next opportunity for NJ Horseplayer is the Preakness Day contest at Monmouth Park. Between now and then, we'll dabble on the online circuit and see what happens.


Went the Day Well came between what compounded a maudlin day and what could have been a glorious afternoon for the NJ Horseplayer camp. The Vinery Spiral Stakes was the ninth of 10 carded for Saturday's NHC Tour Online Challenge, and I was high on Holiday Promise to upend this Grade 3 Derby prep field at 9 furlongs, and got 25-to-1 to assume that risk.  I was banking on Heavy Breathing to be the favorite off an impressive hand-ride win at Gulfstream and going to the lead, and thought Holiday Promise might stalk and have enough late kick to get lucky down the stretch.  Mission accomplished...except for Graham Motion-trained Went the Day Well (5-to-1), who was stronger down the stretch and took the Vinery.

Sure, I got more for Holiday Promise's place finish ($21.80; NHC Online Challenge awards players notional win and place earnings) than Went the Day Well's combined $18.40 WP, but my move in the standings from 101st to 35th suggests a win rather than a runner-up finish might have been the difference in grabbing a Top 4 spot (qualifying me for Vegas) and finishing 49th as I did. Note, too, that I originally had NHC contest Race 10 winner Close to the Edge (Race 6 from Santa Anita; 5-to-2) but shifted to the absolute longest shot in that field at the last minute, knowing I needed at least $24 of notional winnings to crack the Top 4. I would never have selected 61-to-1 El Pocho otherwise, but therein lies the difference between live-money and points-based handicapping contests.

Finally, congrats to fellow blogger Ray Wallin (Jersey Capper) for finishing tied for 40th in the NHC Online Challenge and landing within the Top 25 of SSC #3 going into the final race before bowing out. It was great to finally meet Ray yesterday, and to mingle with some other players during SSC #3, which is a great venue.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Monmouth Park, NHC Freebies on Tap

Of course one of the NHC Tour "free" online handicapping contests is today, coinciding with what I would consider a better contest: Monmouth Park's third (of three) Simulcast Series Challenges.  Winning a tournament (the Top 4 win spots in the 2013 NHC in Las Vegas) with 1,000-plus contestants sort of obviates the need for aggressive handicapping, but a quick view of those 10 contest races comprising the NHC freebie lend some valuable, productive insights for SSC#3.

Six of the 10 NHC contest races are part of the SSC#3 card, which includes the full 32 races from Aqueduct, Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs.  (The other four include three stakes from Turfway Park, and a nine-horse - sure to scratch down to five runners - sprint from Santa Anita.).  As always, the SSC requires contest players to make at least 10 W/P/S wagers of at least $10, and as well documented the past few weeks, NJ Horseplayer is hoping to remain disciplined in a show-based contest strategy, incrementally increase a $100 starting bankroll in hopes of making a big win or win-place play at the end -- a winning strategy in recent live-money contests at Monmouth Park.

There are three interesting long-shots tied to the NHC freebie that I've got my eye on; whether I play them during SSC#3, and how (i.e. to win, place or show), is another question.

  • Storm Warnings (8-to-1), Gulfstream Race 8, $30k claimer: Probably over-matched last out on December 17 in $44k allowance where one-time stakes runner Santiva lost by a neck.  A Beyer-best 82 vs. suspect field, and trainer with pretty decent turf ROI with the switch to Juan Leyva (has been decent on GP turf, from races I've seen) suggest this one is worth a look at a mile on turf, especially with the two favorites drawn way outside (posts 10 and 11).
  • Zubani (10-to-1), Gulfstream Race 5, $25k claimer at a mile on turf: Glad that Scott Volk-trained Kelly's Pic scratched, since I had given serious consideration at 6-to-1. The four horses with the lowest morning lines look quite similar, in my view, and looking elsewhere I am willing to toss Zubani's last race, where the horse was too aggressively spotted. Race two back against $25k company at the distance suggests the horse can hang with these, and Allen Irwinski is 13% with turf runners.
  • Loaded Lady (20-to1), Tampa Race 6, $16k starter handicap at 11 furlongs on turf: Colleague Red Rock or Bust can attest to my theory that turf races of these distance are the equivalent of a $3k claimer at Los Alamitos, and so I handicapped this race seeking big balloons. There are several angles here for NJ Horseplayer: 11-horse field of mostly so-so talent, third off the layoff for a horse that's 4-for-8 in-the-money on turf (but no winners), and relatively good closing speed and back at a level where bettors may dismiss the horse. Beyer figures do not stack up well versus horses to Loaded Lady's outside, but the horse's connections have spotted this one vs. some much tougher on turf, and the horse ran creditably in some of those races. At the very least, I will be playing this one for show money, but perhaps this is the latter-contest type play where I pull the trigger on a sizable win bet.
Side note: Captain America, a part of NJ Horseplayer's DRF Watch List, is listed at 15-to-1 in the sixth from Hawthorne and might be worth a look and side bet. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Eager to Test New Strategy on Saturday

Perhaps the logic is as exciting as watching paint dry, but I am getting antsy about testing a show-wagering handicapping contest strategy touched upon a few weeks back here on

Nothing fancy about
NJ Horseplayer
Admittedly there's scant glory in picking a thoroughbred that finishes second or third as opposed to a well-place win wager on a hefty long-shot, but heading into Saturday Simulcast Series Challenge #3 at Monmouth Park, finishing in the Top 15 is the primary goal en route to a spot in April's SSC Invitational and a 2-in-45 shot for a seat to NHC 14 in Las Vegas next January.

Tuesday evening I handicapped and made selections on 10 races in advance of a Wednesday contest on, adhering to strict guidelines in shadowing that tournament as if I were perched in the Monmouth Park Clubhouse restaurant across the table from Red Rock or Bust playing in SSC #3, rather than participating in an online tournament.  The parameters were simple: a notional $10 show wager only on horses in fields of at least 8 and with odds greater than 5-to-1.  Races 2 through 5 on the Aqueduct and Gulfstream cards comprised my "shadow" tournament.

Three races were automatically eliminated (5- and 6-horse fields), leaving me with seven hypothetical selections.  I would have lost on three races but scored in four of the seven that met the standard, with horses 8-to-1, 10-to-1, 21-to-1 and 25-to-1 all cracking the top three and yielding show payments (on a $2 wager) of $4.80, $9.80, $9.40 and $6.80, respectively.  The outcome would have been an $83 profit on the $100 starting bankroll -- far better than I fared in SSC #1 and #2 and decent powder for a sizable late-day wager (win bet, in all likelihood) to perhaps crack the Top 15.

One can debate the merits of such a strategy or the appeal of show betting, but citing my analysis of my performance in SSC #2 in February, in addition to the outcome of my Derby Wars test run, I would argue that I stand a much better chance of meeting my objective to advance to the SSC Invitational in April.  Sure, this no guts-no glory approach is ultra-conservative, but I need to remember to convince myself on Saturday that a capital preservation strategy could pay dividends in lasting to day's end and advancing.

Of course, first I'll have to get cracking on my handicapping to identify some potential long-shots in advance, which I hope to address in print before Saturday's big contest at Monmouth Park.

Speaking of which, if you have not yet seen the piece, I was invited a few weeks back by Monmouth Park's Sophia Mangalee to guest-blog in advance of SSC #3.  Similar to my blogging hobby, I had a lot of fun with that piece, and was honored to be approached, let alone published, on a "professional" website.  Anyway, here's the link for interested readers:  Enjoy!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Story Up on Monmouth Park's Blog

Sophia Mangalee, contest director at Monmouth Park, thought enough of the NJ Horseplayer's ramblings to request my perspective about Simulcast Series Challenge #3 coming up on Saturday, March 24.

Here's a link to that piece (published Thursday), and as a relative newbie it is entirely flattering to be up there (albeit temporarily, since I am just a weekend hack) with Brad Thomas, perhaps the foremost authority on thoroughbred handicapper in the U.S.  Please enjoy!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Derby Wars Kicks It Up A Notch With $25k Tourney

Since first waxing poetic about last fall, this upstart online handicapping contest provider has greatly increased the opportunity for horseplayers to play in five-day-a-week contests (for cash and bonuses), and is breaking ground this Saturday, March 10, with a $25,100 tournament that draws no comparison and is, perhaps, the most lucrative yet of the online niche. goes "Emeril"
on the online handicapping
contest circuit is a utopia of sorts for New Jersey-based horseplayers and those in other states that limit access to online contest participation.  As an NHC Tour member seeking to advance to the annual National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas, NJ Horseplayer is prohibited from winning an NHC seat through notable venues such as, and the like (hopefully the privatization of Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands will change that), but provides a great alternative to horseplayers focused on the expanding contest circuit or honing their contest skills, and has quickly and firmly established itself as the industry leader.

There are two ways to claim a spot in Saturday's groundbreaking $25k tournament -- a straight $175 entry fee, or winning a "$25k Shootout Token" in smaller daily tournaments this week leading up to the event.  On Wednesday, for instance, will give away two $25k "tokens" through contests costing as little as 2,000 points (DW customer accrue points for either bankroll deposits or by placing in the Top 10 of points-based fantasy contests) and a 50-person survivor tournament that costs a mere $4 to enter.  As of Tuesday, 82 of the 165 eligible spots in the $25k tournament were claimed, leaving players plenty of opportunity to buy or win a chance this week at the $10,000 top prize.

Speaking of prizes, the payouts seem rather equitable.  NJ Horseplayer is by no means an expert in takeout comparisons (i.e. to other contest sites or versus real-money wagers on- or off-track), but the payouts for this Saturday will total $23k cash to the top 18 finishers, plus another $2,100 of "$25k Shootout Tokens" (12, in all).  The roughly 13% takeout is well below several parimutuel alternatives (i.e. Pick 3s and 4s at many tracks) and comparable to the mid- to high-teens we find for other daily Derby Wars tournaments.

With little in terms of NHC tournament action on Saturday,'s timing to introduce a novel $25,000 handicapping tournament could not have been better. is giving away up to six (6) NHC seats on Sunday, but the $160 entry fee for a less-than-1.67% shot at winning and 5% shot at coming away with anything (10 entries to a future tournament will be awarded to 6th-15th place) may be better spent on a tournament offering prizes to the top 12%.

In a perfect world (for yours truly and other NHC Tour players), the $25k Shootout this coming Saturday would provide eligibility to the National Handicapping Championship, but much as the online contest website quickly burst onto the scene last year with what is by far the best user-friendly interface of any peer site, NJ Horseplayer speculates that may again enter the NHC realm down the road.  (Brian Zipse, Managing Editor at affiliate HorseRacingNation's parent Horse Racing Labs, nee Immerse LLC, emailed NJ Horseplayer that no decisions on this front have yet been made.) 

Best of luck to those participating in's maiden $25k Shootout, and keep a gallon of water handy to wash down NJ Horseplayer's dust, just in case we find our way into the tournament.


For related thoughts on the $25,100 Shootout, check out the takes of blogger brethren Red Rock or Bust and Equinometry.