Friday, September 21, 2012

Amen, Winston Churchill!

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." -- Winston Churchill, racehorse owner
Persistence and enthusiasm are essential attributes in any facet of life, but especially for anyone involved in horse racing, where the difference between winning and losing is often razor thin. 

Churchill: PM and, oh by the way, 
 prodigious racehorse owner
A jockey, trainer or stable that wins 20%-25% of the time is considered extraordinary (or juicing their horses).  Participants who score at a mid-teens clip are nearly just as successful.

Even the apprentice or 2% jock who regularly rides the bottom-level claimers in a track's closing race wins once in a blue moon or helps horseplayers underneath in exotic wagers.  

Meanwhile, bettors can still profit after taking a beating all day with one well-placed wager.  NHC Tour players can take down a contest with a modest bankroll and a late-contest long-shot.  

More often than not, however, most get the short end of the stick. 

Exiting the track mentally fatigued after a bitter defeat in Sunday's NHC handicapping contest finale at Monmouth Park, as always a thousand different thoughts had crossed my mind in how I squandered a good chance at finally winning a seat to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC).  To wit...
  • Could I have managed my bankroll any better?
  • Am I a good enough handicapper to even consider winning a contest?
  • What was I thinking investing $10 in a horse ridden by Francisco Maysonett?
  • Was my blood pressure much higher from the stress of the handicapping contest, or after eating the egregiously salty (though tasty) clam chowder at Monmouth Park?
Surely there were others, but after a relatively restless sleep and few days off from anything dealing with racing, I stopped beating myself up, tightened my boot straps, and got back in the saddle in an online contest on Friday after work.  I came out on the short end, but hit some decent calls and finished in the top third, reaffirming my confidence that I can compete and will remain persistent in pursuit of an NHC berth.

Echoing the sentiments of my pal at Red Rock or Bust, in hindsight there was more good than bad on Sunday for NJ Horseplayer.  After moving sideways through 3 contest wagers (including a near-miss on 9-to-1 Young Dude in the Woodbine 3; I did hit the place end of the $5WP wager), I dropped five straight, beset by several bad trips and disinterested horses.  I finally showed more patience in passing on some races, but my handicapping simply proved poor during that stretch.

With my $100 starting bankroll diminished to $41.75, I felt pretty good about 17-to-1 Sea Bank in Woodbine 6, a $50k maiden special weight where the favorites looked extremely vulnerable.  Sea Bank had just one race under his belt, but seemed logical off an unimpressive debut in which he at least ran even after a bad start -- a bullish and recent successful angle for me at the MSW level.  I banked on Sea Bank getting the lead at 9 furlongs and discouraging the other maidens, which is precisely what happened.

Sea Bank turned my $10W wager into a $171 profit and ran my bankroll to $212.75 -- a bankroll through nine of 10 compulsory contest races good enough to either sit tight and reserve for one big wager in hopes of winning the contest, or take some chances to move up the leaderboard.  

In past posts, I espoused the benefits of place and show wagering in handicapping contests.  It is always easy to second guess, but heeding my own advance would certainly have helped last Sunday.

Indulge me, if you will...
  • $10P instead of $10W on my next bet (7-to-1 Holy Smoke in Monmouth 7) would have run my bankroll to $228.75 instead of down to $202.75
  • $10P instead of $10W on 7-to-2 Any Given Royal would have pushed my bankroll to $240.25, rather than down to $192.75
  • Three races later, and $20 lighter, I would have been better served putting $15S on 26-to-1 Speaking Lib in Monmouth 9 rather than the $5W-$10P wagered; Lib ran a very game third, paying $9.40 to show, meaning that my bankroll could have been ~$218 instead of $147.75. 
  • Next race, $10P instead of $10W on 27-to-1 Clementis in Woodbine 9 would have netted me $67.50 and a ~$280 bankroll with two races remaining, instead of $137.75. 
Granted, if Speaking Lib and Clementis win their respective races, I'm probably near the top of the leaderboard regardless and looking REALLY smart, but in hindsight a smarter strategy would have been much bigger place wagers on 1-2 of the aforementioned long-shots, i.e. $50P-$75P.  These were legit picks in a real-money contest, not some online contest stabs at getting lucky. Clementis, especially, was extremely attractive, in my view, to at least run for a share in a race with a lukewarm favorite.  To be sure, 25 times $15.50 (Clementis' place payout) would have produced a nearly $400 profit, instead of the meager $67.50 booked.  

I'd have been licking my chops (and probably sweating profusely with nerves) over a $600-$700 bankroll entering the mandatory Woodbine Mile and the Woodbine finale, and probably have put a sizable bet on the obvious favorite Wise Dan. Instead, trailing in the standings and in need of a price to get near the top of the standings, I had what was still a credible $137.75 bankroll and made a less-than-confident $20W-$30P wager on Big Band Sound, who trailed throughout.  

I squandered my final $87 on Soap Opera Star to win in Woodbine 11 -- somewhat of a reach at nearly 25-to-1, but a horse 3-for-3 in the money at 7 furlongs and who had shown some early lick and I estimated could get the lead and maybe upset, but that was not in the cards, as she got within a neck of the lead in the stretch before fading.  

Clearly I landed on the wrong long-shot in the finale, but I would have been kicking myself repeatedly had Soap Opera Star finished second, considering the actual runner-up in that race (27-to-1 Summer Ending) paid $22.10 to place!  Betting (in my case) $87P on Soap Opera Star could have been equally productive, considering a ~$900 payout would have put me within reach of second-place contest finisher Mark Acerra, whose bankroll totaled $908.90.  If not an NHC berth, I could have come away with about $3k between bankroll and third-place winnings (bankroll for the third-place finisher was $755.20). 

Sunday's performance was less severe a stumble than my past live-money contest performances during 2012 in that I competed to the end, but the end result was the same -- tied for last place.

Assuming Churchill was correct, this latest failure did nothing to deter my enthusiasm for getting to NHC XIV in Las Vegas in January 2013.  I'm relegated to online tournaments as time and budget will allow for the duration of the 2012 qualifying season, but I welcome more stumbles and potential failures, recognizing that contest success and an NHC berth soon will come. 


  1. Nice back wheels underneath. That is a skill which texts cannot teach, and many do not understand. Got to use them in the verticals in real life.

  2. I think second guessing yourself, after the fact, in this game is inevitable. But you have the right attitude and keep believing in your handicapping.

    I'm a firm believer in betting only to win in these real money contests (at least it prevents me from thinking I should have bet to place or show). I think it feels a lot worse if you bet to place or show and your horse actually wins, plus you are rewarded more handsomely when you're right.

    I also started off poorly, lost my first 5 win bets, until I finally hit with a $10 win bet on a 7-1 in WO race #5. Lost every win bet I made at MTH and bet my last $90 to win on Wigmore Hall at 7/2 in WO race #8. Ended up losing my next 3 win bets and ended up betting it all, $222 to win on the WO finale winner - whom I thought was the mostly likely winner...ended up finishing third with only 3 winners the whole day. Still haven't qualified but the $$ certainly eases the blow.

    You're right, we lose way more than we win and the mental torture of a losing streak is brutal. Keep plugging away, you'll get there.

  3. Congrats on the third-place finish, Paul. $3k's a great score, and what a way to finish off the day! I dismissed Wigmore Hall too soon, who if I recall at one point I passed on somewhere around 2-1 (too short for me) before post time; 7-2 was a great price.

    I was 0-for-Monmouth, pretty much on par with this season; the track has been the bane of my contest season thus far. The 53-1 shot that scored on the day of my contest at Suffolk ruined what I think was a good chance to place in that one.

    Keep hammering away, and see you in Vegas!