Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Conviction Pays Dividends

There is much rejoicing in the NJ Horseplayer camp tonight on the heels of a maiden-breaking first-place finish in the twilight NHC Preliminary Feeder tournament on Wednesday.

Beating the 75-player field puts me in an upcoming $195 play-in tournament (players can either pay this entry fee in full, or finish in the top 10% of such $20-entry fee "feeders"), where at least three NHC Tour members will have a shot at a berth in National Handicapping Championship XIV in Vegas.

There are three such tournaments the next three Saturdays, though May 19 is out because of the live contest at Monmouth and May 26 may prove difficult, being Memorial Day weekend.  We'll see about May 12.

(Image by Larry McManus)
Conviction is the key takeaway from Wednesday's tournament, especially after finding myself $50 notional dollars behind the leader after Belmont Race 6 bomber Drink with Pride scored at 26-to-1 to pay the contest-max $42 win plus $17.40 place.  At least I had place runner Red Leader in that race, giving me two scores through three of eight contest races.  (The contest comprised four races each from Belmont and Arlington and, as always, notional $2 win-place wagers.)

Although there were only five contest races remaining, some logical long-shots were worth considering, notably Gabrilicious in Race 7 from Belmont.  It was too soon to start prospecting bomber odds, but I considered Gabrilicious quite an overlay hovering 15-to-1 as the field neared the starting gate.

My first-glance selection, My Trickster, was below the 6-to-1 morning line and therefore less appealing, and upon further consideration it was a bit disconcerting to find trainer Richard Dutrow putting a young horse who showed promise directly into a cheap claimer.  So, we hit the switch two minutes before post in favor of our close second choice, who seemed dismissed by investors despite two decent but recent troubled trips at Gulfstream.  The move paid huge dividends, with Gabrilicious holding off Ashcroft Silver to net us $45.20 ($31.80 to win, $13.40 to place) and catapult us to fifth place with a notional $54.60 of winnings.

After picking second-place finisher World Premier in Belmont Race 9 to score another $4.70, my $59.30 of notional winnings was still good for sixth (the top seven in the feeders earn $195 contest entries for use at a later date) with two races remaining.  A defeat in the next race, Arlington 7, set us back one spot in the standings, posing several options heading into the finale.

Far too often in these kinds of online contests I have either been near the lead, only to be burned when I go short but someone's desperation bomber long-shot miraculously wins to knock me from the top flight of the standings -- case in point, last Wednesday's feeder, when my pick ran second to a 50-to-1 shot -- or, shoe on the other foot, I switch from my first choice to reach for a big price.  Then again, this is likely the shared lament for all handicapping contest players.

Mistie Royale, 12-to-1 on the morning line, perfectly fit the NJ Horseplayer mantra of "playable long-shots" in an $25k claimer at a mile on the Arlington turf (Race 8). Typically, I stay away from maiden-breakers going up the ladder to winners for the first time, but this 3-year-old ran well enough in two $35k maiden claimers at Gulfstream at 7.5 furlongs and a mile-and-a-sixteenth, and the rest of the 11-horse field comprised a lot of Hawthorne shippers (no disrespect) and I expected my backup selection, Deluxe Air (6-to-1 morning line) to be an underlay, considering the horse was in-the-money in six of eight tries at Arlington.  With that in mind, I gave Deluxe Air plus morning-line favorite Carousel one last look, considering I thought Carousel was best in the field, but ultimately stuck to my guns, even as Mistie Royale slipped to 7-to-1.

Clearly such conviction paid off, as jockey Tim Thornton (seen in this video replay) led Mistie Royale sharply out of the gate toward the rail and stalked the early leaders in a nice ground-saving trip. Once clear coming into the home stretch, and simply hand-ridden to that point, Thornton passed the early leaders and gave Mistie Royale a tap before racing home to a nearly 2-length victory, netting us $22.60 ($16.60 win, $6.60 place) to run my bankroll to a contest-winning $81.90.  (Deluxe Air finished second-to-last and faded badly, while Carousel finished second.)

Winning any tournament is a good feeling, but certainly tempered, being that Wednesday's was merely a feeder to an NHC qualifying tournament, rather than a direct qualifier.  Besting a field 3x the size of Wednesday's, and having to finish in the top 3 or 4 is a Herculean task, but certainly instills a higher level of confidence for NJ Horseplayer heading into a $195 contest, in terms of sticking with a playable long-shot thesis and identifying undervalued runners who make sense in terms of beating favorites and second choices.

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