Monday, July 2, 2012

Riding the (Heat) Wave

Just as TV and radio play-by-play announcers have a way of jinxing a quarterback who has thrown 15 straight completions or a basketball player who has hit 35 straight free throws, no doubt tonight's entry is going to set NJ Horseplayer on a string of bad luck until 2016, but here's to spitting into the wind.

NJ Horseplayer does not
endorse redneck surfing
I learned some valuable horseplayer lessons in what proved an unexpectedly active weekend of online contest play over a sweltering weekend here in Monmouth County -- exactly three-quarters of a mile from where water mains collapsed and had residents scrambling for water.  (Next to "neglect" in the dictionary you'll now find NJ American Water Co.'s infrastructure and executives.)

A fifth-place finish (out of 82 contestants) in Friday's late-night $20 NHC preliminary feeder yielded the best financial outcome -- $195 credit for an upcoming NHC event.  I only had two (of a possible 10) winners of seven races from Hollywood Park and three from Lone Star, but both were prize-clinching scores on Cal-bred maidens where I thought two longshots made lots of sense.

My thesis was simple -- maidens with one troubled race who continued to run hard despite finishing out of the money in their first try. 
  • Full Dancer was 6-to-1 on the morning line in an 8-horse field of $50k maiden claimers in Race 2 from Hollywood Park, two of which were first-time starters and the rest who had run at least two races.  Perhaps my logic was misguided, but two angles were appealing here: 
    • Dancer's connections gave this three-year-old colt two months off from racing after being (over)aggressively placed in a stakes event run in 21.3-44.4 through the first half mile, but still trained the horse six times since the debut (i.e. signalling a healthy horse); the works were nothing to write home about, but neither was Friday night's field. 
    • More-rational placement in a far-less distinguished field gave Full Dancer a legit shot to stalk a more-sensible pace and close late in the stretch, which is exactly what happened as Full  Dancer officially won by 2.5 lengths but was probably 6-8 lengths the good, with Brice Blanc riding this one 4-5 wide into the stretch (replay)
  • Sibella was 20-to-1 on the M/L and drew even less interest in a 9-horse field of maiden special weights at a mile on turf -- surprising, in light of middling foes, including three with a combined 49 starts, including 4-to-1 third choice Vonn Nez (which begs the question: how long does it take to realize certain horses are just claimers?)  I had three angles in mind:
    • Post relief: Sibella's only start was a six-furlong turf sprint from the tough 12 hole, so placement in the fourth spot of a nine-horse field was much more beneficial
    • Possible tactical speed: Maybe I read too much into one start, but Sibella's past performance reflected an ability to break well from the gate (she broke second from the gate first time out under upstart return jockey Vinnie Bednar), and even as she pulled back to eleventh-place at the first call, Sibella made up ground to finish seventh that race
    • Lack of early speed in the race: The combination of factors 1 and 2 played out to perfection as Bednar guided Sibella to a relatively uncontested gate-to-wire score at 24-to-1 (replay). 
      • Payoff to NJ Horseplayer: contest max $42 to win (bettors at the track took home $51.40) + $13.60 to place = $55.60 winnings
The other observation, from this as well as my two efforts in small-potatoes $12 "double your money" contests on on Sunday, is that early leads in online contests usually help, but do not always guarantee favorable outcomes. 

Perhaps equal parts losing focus (last three races in Friday's contest run between 12:30a-145a ET) and emboldened by hitting two lucrative long-shots, I went 0-for-3 after Sibella's big score vaulted me to second on the leaderboard, but fortunately held on to one of eight NHC prizes.  However, in my first of two $12 contests on Sunday, I jumped out to a lead after the first race in a 7-player event, only to finish 90 cents out of the money when I figured picking the chalk in the last race would be insufficient to finish in the money; that wasn't the case.

In my more-successful first-place finish in a similar nighttime event featuring seven races from Churchill Downs, I cold-decked the Race 2-4 Pick 3 to jump to a big early lead and held on for victory despite going 0-for-4 the next four races.  The last race proved interesting and a valuable learning experience -- control what you can (i.e. handicapping races), rather than anticipating selections of others on the leaderboard.  

Granted, I am not often ahead in these things, but the final contest race scratched down to 5 horses.  I immediately threw out a 50-to-1 morning liner with zero chance, and avoided two others hovering 2-to-1, recognizing that my foes needed far bigger prices to have a chance to usurp my lead.  That left two horses -- Political Agenda, who was 7-to-1 but in a big field would have been something like 20-to-1, and Biker Boy, whom I liked but I figured would not give enough lead-protection to me at 3-to-1.  

In a preemptive strike against my competition, I went with Political Agenda, who (as I worried) faded quickly after leading about half of the race, only to watch Biker Boy score an easy victory, paying $10.40 to win and $4 to place.  Oddly, NONE of the other contest players chased a price, and most went for a 2-to-1 shot who finished off the board and would NOT have produced enough cash to take first place in the contest.  And no one took Biker Boy...

I still would have earned a top-3 prize payout had others picked Biker Boy, but the finale (at least last night) suggests that not all players handicap with the same motive, and that unless I need a late-contest long-shot to have a shot at making up ground on the leaders, I need to focus more on my own handicapping and establishing greater conviction in a contest scenario.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts, and let me know if anyone is planning on playing this Saturday's contest at Monmouth Park!

1 comment:

  1. Bill,

    Great point about focusing on your handicapping and not those around you. If you pick the winner it doesn't matter who they picked. Also it is impossible to handicap who others will land on. You don't know if they put in their picks early and never came back or if they are trying to win or maintain their position. Stick with your top choice and you will benefit more often than not.