Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Seasons Greetings!

As I'm not a "happy holidays" kind of guy, I hope that everyone has a safe and Merry Christmas!

My 2013 quest to qualify for a first time to the National Handicapping Championship fell short this season, officially ending this Sunday with a sub-par effort in the NHCQualify.com qualifier.

Realistically, I needed a Top 6 finish to make it to NHC XV next month, considering I slid down to 270th in the NHC Tour points standings and there were not enough tour points outside of, say, a Top 4 finish to qualify through the back door.

I plan on a richer recap to the season after Christmas, but in general come away feeling that as a part-time/weekend player, anything short of direct qualification (i.e. just winning a qualifier) is a reach, and the Tour points route is a bit of a pipe dream.

Well, at least the 2014 season starts bright and early, with the first of 4 Simulcast Series Challenges at Monmouth Park slated for Saturday, January 4!

I hope to see some of you there!

Merry Christmas!
Bill Holobowski

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Onset of Discontent

Already discontented about my prospects for qualifying for NHC XV in January 2014, I have primarily turned focus toward prepping for next season's run at National Handicapping Championship glory.

The current season's standings find NJ Horseplayer in 240th and on the outside looking in at the Top 150, with one tournament in my price-point to go -- the $165 event on NHCQualify.com on December 22.

Unless something else in the sub-$200 range comes up, that will be my make-or-break run at NHC XV.  It will take a Top 5 finish to either qualify outright or score enough tour points to make it to Vegas.

Lamenting about not entering the full-freight HorseTourneys.com qualifier on November 3 and missing out on 3rd-place Tour points is useless at this point, so I set my mind forward.

So, this afternoon kicks off what is a fun, no-cost tournament through January on Public Handicapper -- Winter of Our Discontent. 
Edison: Way smarter than me

The name captures it all.

Cold weather.

Drab December stakes cards.

Some early 3-year-old preps, but nothing enthralling in January.

The inner dirt at Aqueduct.

In a nutshell...discontent.

Public Handicapper offers the perfect cure.  Four "top" races each week where players can hone their handicapping contest skills during the off-season with little commitment.

Top prize isn't the lofty NHC package for winning the regular-season contest, but $500 and some NHC swag is a nice offering.

With that in mind, and keep in mind that I was 7-for-108 during the NHC qualifying season for the Public Handicapper contest (but 2-for-8 on Breeders Cup Day), I'm kicking off my season with four selections.

Either enjoy the selections, or run for the hills.
  • Tropical Turf Handicap (Grade 3): Calder, Race 6
    • Exothermic (12-to-1) is testing graded company for the first time and is facing salty competitors like Bad Debt and Paris Vegas, but seems to relish the longer distances and can close well in a race where I'm expecting somewhat testy fractions.  Reflecting (6-1) is my backup pick. 
  • My Charmer Handicap (Grade 3): Calder, Race 8
    • Rose to Gold, another 12-to-1 shot, is trying turf for the first time but is a Grade 1 winner and is fresh off a tough trip in the Kentucky Oaks back in May.  Speculative, but worth a shot.
  • Claiming Crown Iron Horse ($110,000): Gulfstream, Race 8
    • Stakes race for claiming horses...a cool concept, in my opinion.  I'm rolling the dice on 20-to-1 Whatthecatdrugin, who breaks from an extremely difficult and wide post at Gulfstream but, to me, clearly has the best gate speed and gets Jose Lezcano.  A bad break spells doom, but these are claimers, remember, and trainer Tevis McCauley has put this horse in far tougher spots than today's.
  • Hollywood Starlet (Grade 1): Hollywood Park, Race 6
    • This track cannot close soon enough.  Fields have been spotty at best, from what I have seen on television, and races have not been that appealing.  Regardless, Rosalind (3-to-1) ran a game second in the Alcibiades at Keeneland from way outside and gets Joel Rosario again after closing from the clouds in the Juvenile Fillies on Breeders Cup Friday.  
Good luck to all players today, and embrace your Discontent!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Outside Looking In

Six weeks left in 2013, I am one of many NHC Tour players on the outskirts of the 2014 National Handicapping Championship (NHC) next January in Las Vegas.

The simplest way in is to win a tournament outright.

I have a few qualifiers on my radar in the coming weeks, namely this Sunday's HorseTourneys.com and the December 22 NHCQualify.com, both of which fit into my busy schedule (Sundays work better for whatever reason) and price comfort (around $200).

Otherwise, I could lament having opted on November 3 for the bankroll-builder tournament (instead of the NHC qualifier) on HorseTourneys.com, where I would have finished third overall and picked up some serious Tour points, instead of my second-place finish and winnings of $240 of site credit.

Photo courtesy of Bitchspot
I am not one to typically lick wounds, and generally maintain a forward-looking posture, but sitting in 227th of the NHC Tour standings as of November 14, my decision that afternoon could prove an inflection point in playing in Las Vegas in January or sitting home and beginning my run for the 2014 campaign (see below).

Through Sunday, and playing in a limited number of qualifying tournaments relative to some I find with multiple entries in every tournament in creation, I have accrued 2,400 NHC Tour points.

The Top 150 in the standings at season's end earn a berth to the NHC Championship, whether or not they have won a tournament.  This is akin to Bert Blyleven's entry to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame -- more of an accumulator approach.

That makes 2 of us, Bert!
In essence, even if you play on bad teams, you earn merit for longevity -- staying healthy and accumulating enough positive stats to produce a notable body of work, but without really being the greatest among your peers.

To be sure, there is no shame in being an accumulator.

That is how I feel about my 2013 NHC season -- some admirable finishes, including three points-scoring finishes in 10 Tour qualifying events and a host of "bankroll-builder wins," but no brass ring.

A third-place finish in the November 3 qualifier would netted me 1,575 Tour points, running my season total to 3,962, which as of Sunday would have put me at 112th in the Tour standings.

Then again, perhaps nearly 4,000 points will not prove enough to even finish in the Top 150 come season's end, considering there are still several more tournaments on the NHC Tour docket, including several (i.e. TwinSpires, DRFBets, Surfside Race Place) out of my reach.

Either way, my focus remains on winning a qualifying tournament, and I have 2 (maybe 3, if Capital OTB's tournament in Albany, NY -- a 3-hour drive from home -- is open to players outside of New York-based account holders) shots at taking one down.

Otherwise, at the least I would need two very good (i.e. Top 10) finishes in my tournaments to earn enough Tour points and get to Vegas through the back door.

Monmouth Park's 2014 Contest Schedule Already Out

Assuming NHC XV is out of the cards, Monmouth Park already put out its 2014 Simulcast Series Challenge schedule, with the first of now four SSC Invitational qualifiers on Saturday, January 4, certain to kick off my 2014 NHC campaign.

Readers will know that the SSC is absolutely my favorite tournament on the calendar, and perhaps the only thing to get me through the winter mentally.

Winter contest schedule
First stop: Saturday, Jan. 4
Kudos to Brian Skirka and Monmouth's team for organizing the SSC schedule earlier than I can recall (November 7) and giving players enough time to mark our calendars.

Rules and regulations remain to be seen, but Brian's email set off some concerns on my end.

One thing's for certain, based on the email received from Monmouth Park, another SSC qualifier has been added.  In addition to January 4, SSC Invitational qualifiers will be held:

  • Sunday, February 16
  • Saturday, March 15
  • Saturday, April 5

In breaking from tradition of the top 20 finishers from 3 qualifiers competing in the Invitational for 2 NHC seats, Monmouth is adding a fourth qualifier and granting entry to the Invitational (Saturday, April 26) to the top 25 finishers of the four tournaments (i.e. 100 players).

Perhaps this was driven by player feedback for more opportunities.

I would not know, since I was never asked.

Maybe it was based on enticing more people to come to the simulcast parlor in the dead of winter.

Again, I can only speculate.

On the one hand, 40 more spots in the Invitational is 40 more opportunities in an NHC qualifying tournament, which carries even more weight than online tournaments in the Tour's points structure.

On the other hand, the bar is set much lower, taking some of the luster off what is an extremely difficult tournament series.  It generally takes a really solid effort to finish in the Top 20 of the SSC qualifiers, as the competition is very stiff.

More disconcerting, as I see it, is that Monmouth will still offer only 2 NHC seats via the SSC Invitational, while at the same time watering down the field and chance of Top 2 finish .

Instead of 60 entrants competing for 2 NHC seats, there will now be 100 for the same 2 spots.

The counterargument would be that 1-in-50 is still a pretty decent proposition for an NHC qualifier, but when you break down the prospect of $200 entry fees to each SSC event, the notion of a prospective $1,000 investment (Invitational entrants pony up $200 as well) is steep for two seats, in my view.

Maybe I'm a cheapskate, and I admit the zero takeout (and cash prize element) proposition of SSC is certainly attractive, but in circling back to my earlier NHC Tour points discussion, one can sit home and accrue points through HorseTourneys.com or NHCQualify.com for less cash and still come away with an NHC seat without having to slog through potentially 5 tournaments to do so.

Really, I think earning the trip to Vegas is why anyone joins the NHC Tour.

At the least, I am hopeful that Monmouth will at least consider scaling back the number of SSC Invitational entrants to 80 (i.e., the Top 20 from each SSC qualifier).

Or, if dead set on 100 players for the Invitational, perhaps award the Top 20 from each pre-qualifier and offer 20 "wild cards" for non-qualifiers accruing the highest composite bankroll from SSC #1-#4.

Much as the NHC Tour credits the Bert Blylevens of its world, maybe Monmouth could incorporate an element that rewards consistency, especially if the track is not going to increase the number of NHC seats awarded through the SSC Invitational, where the winner has more or less gone the equivalent of 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali.  


Goldencents is all that came between me making a decent profit on my $150 two-day bankroll for the Breeders Cup and not cashing a single ticket.  Give credit where credit is due.  Goldencents ran his eyeballs out, beating my key for Friday, Golden Ticket, who otherwise was clear second-best at a nice price.  I did not notice the will-pays on Golden Ticket, but much lower-priced Goldencents with Chriselliam in the Race 8-9 double paid $158.40.  Tough beat.

Congrats and good luck to Jeff Gural and the Big M on their vision for the new Meadowlands grandstand, which official opens this Saturday night!  I'm not a harness fan, but it's nice to see the progress made in hopes of turning around the operation there with a new facility that makes a lot more business sense than the monolith that will be razed after the Super Bowl.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Medal Count Key to Breeders Cup Saturday Picks

It's late, and I've got to get up early for a Rutgers-Temple football tailgate, so here are my selections.

I am making a bold call with #11 Medal Count in the Juvenile (Race 8), arguing that the 20-to-1 morning line is too high and may actually creep higher.  I'm making Medal Count my top play of the day.

Otherwise, I have pretty strong conviction about #2 Romantica (GB) in the Filly and Mare Turf (Race 5), #11 Groupie Doll in the Filly and Mare Sprint (Race 6; just could not find another horse there that I think have a shot to knock off my 5-to-2 favorite), and #12 Mizdirection in the Turf Sprint; until she's beaten on Santa Anita's downhill turf course, I will continue to back her (she's 6-for-6 lifetime on the course).

The other Breeders Cup races did not jump out at me, though I think #7 Fort Larned, at an attractive 6-to-1 morning line, can repeat in the Classic.

Without further adieu, here's what I've already done (advance wagers) with an $89 bankroll.

  • Race 4: $1 Exacta Box -- 6, 7, 10 
  • Race 5: $1 Pick 3 -- 2, 4, 6 with 11 with 12, 14 
  • Race 5: $2 Double -- 2 with 11
  • Race 6: $1 Pick 3 -- 11 with 12, 14 with 3, 6, 11
  • Race 7: $1 Pick 3 -- 12 with 3, 6, 11 with 3, 7
  • Race 7: $2 Double -- 12, 14 with 11
  • Race 8: $1 Exacta Box -- 3, 6, 11
  • Race 8: $0.50 Trifecta Box -- 3, 6, 11
  • Race 8: $2 Double -- 11 with 3, 4, 7, 9
  • Race 8: $0.50 Pick 3 -- 11 with 3, 7 with 6, 7, 9
  • Race 9: $0.50 Pick 4 -- 3, 7 with 6, 7, 9 with 2, 5, 8 with 6, 7
  • Race 11: $0.50 Trifecta Box -- 2, 5, 7, 8
  • Race 12: $1 Exacta Box -- 3, 6, 7
Good luck on Breeders Cup Saturday!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Channeling My Inner Charlie Bucket

If the handicapper's formula to Breeders Cup riches was as simple as buying a Wonka Bar and unwrapping a coveted golden ticket to kick it in the Chocolate Factory with Willy, Veruca and Augustus, then all of us would be running (or send our broke Grandpa) to the corner story for a shot at glory.

For those of us who depend more on handicapping (with a bit of luck sprinkled in), however, we dedicate ourselves to solving one of the most difficult, intricate puzzles in all of horse racing.

The 2013 Breeders Cup, showcasing some of the top North American and Western European horses, presents another wonderful challenge, starting with five races on Friday's card from Santa Anita.

Generally, I'm not about blogging selections, but the Breeders Cup is one exception, where I've generally had pretty good success and will share my choices. 

You know, I'll bet these golden
tickets make the chocolate
taste terrible

Golden Ticket -- Friday's Key

As most horseplayers can attest, finding that "key" horse is critical to any successful Breeders bets.

In keeping with tradition, I have allotted a $50 bankroll for Friday and $100 for Saturday's Breeders Cup races (I will handicap Saturday's card tonight and post thoughts on Saturday morning).  

The Dirt Mile (Race 8, 6:05 p.m. ET) is the best race, in my opinion, with lots of options.

I chose this race because of its depth and value, and simply since I am not enamored with any of the other Breeders Cup races on Friday.

As I see it, the pace scenario sets up extremely well for Golden Ticket, whose past performances suggest the horse is tactical enough to sit off what I expect will be a frenetic pace and gets the benefit of a relatively easy run into the quick first turn, and I like Joel Rosario's two previous rides aboard this 4-year-old.

Golden Ticket's fourth-place finish in the Awesome Again Stakes in late September, too, gave this one a spin over Santa Anita's dirt track, which I view as a favorable lesson.  Works look good too. 

Race 8 is the centerpiece of my wagers, focusing mainly on the Pick 3 (a $20 ticket) and $10 of ancillary wagers keying Golden Ticket.  
  • Race 8: $1 Pick 3 -- 2, 11 with 2, 3, 6, 8, 13 with 3, 6 = $20
    • I will include Pants On Fire as a backup on my Pick 3 and might have made him my top selection, if not for post 11 and that Paco Lopez has scant experience over the Santa Anita surface (I'll identify the horses of the second and third legs below). 
  • Race 8: $2 Daily Double -- 2 with 3, 8 = $4
  • Race 8: $1 Daily Double -- 2, 4, 11 with 3 = $3
  • Race 8: $1 Exacta --  2 over 4, 8, 11 = $3

Breaking Down Races 6, 7, 9 and 10

The Marathon (Race 6), as I see it, is the equivalent of betting a bottom-rung claiming race, but with a $500,000 purse and some slightly recognizable names.

Validating my opinion that one's just as well throwing darts to find the winner, the favorite is listed at 7-to-2 and the other nine range from 5-to-1 to 10-to-1.  Knock yourself out figuring out who can win the race in under a half hour.  I'm passing on it.

Race 7 (Juvenile Turf) and Race 9 (Juvenile Fillies Turf) are extremely vexing two-year-old races with the added twist of prohibiting "medications or any other substances administered within 24 hours of post time, including authorized bleeder medications otherwise permitted by state regulation."  

I like the notion of prohibiting race-day medications in general, but as a handicapper have to determine whether taking a horse used to running on Lasix off the medication merits tossing them from the equation.

Race 7: $0.50 Pick 4 -- 3, 4, 5, 7 with 2 with 2, 3, 6, 8, 13 with 3 = $10

Outstrip (GB), #4, is my top choice in Race 7, though I will go four deep in this first leg of the Pick 4 and use #3 Got Shades (30-to-1), #5 Bobby's Kitten (5-to-2) and #7 Aotearoa (12-to-1) and hope to make it to the second leg.

Got Shades looks sneaky-good to me, having run a decent third in an overnight stakes sans Lasix for the first time and gets jockey Gary Stevens, who is 15-for-51 on the Santa Anita meet, so I'm obviously hoping for a bomber score in the first leg but will be happy if either of my four wins.

Contrary to my Race 8 tickets, I'll single Golden Ticket in Race 8 for the Pick 4, confident that my horse will win, and if not can live with burning just $10 on that ticket.

In Race 9, I've made 20-to-1 long-shot Colonel Joan my top selection but will use five horses:

  • #2, Al Thakhira (GB, 6-to-1)
    • First-time U.S., first time two turns but boasts a Grade 2 win at Newmarket last month
  • #3, Colonel Joan (20-to-1)
    • Yes, still a maiden (0-for-3 lifetime), but is accustomed to running without Lasix and really stepped forward in her last try, a strong third at a 1-mile overnight stakes. Joe Talamo rides this one again, and trainer Eoin Harty has been knocking at the door so far this meet. 
  • #6, Vorda (FR, 4-to-1)
    • An impressive French shipper who is 4-for-5, including Grade 1 and 2 wins in Great Britain and France and whose only loss came in a Grade 1 where it appears she was held up in traffic before finishing second by just a length.  Seems a legitimate threat. 
  • #8, Chriselliam (IRE, 6-to-1)
    • Suspicious with the 1:22 time posted at 7.25 furlongs for this one's second lifetime race, but another Grade 1 Euro winner who must be respected and gets a slight weight break 
  • #13, Sky Painter (15-to-1)
    • Outside post inflates the odds, in my opinion, but she finished very strong in the Grade 3 Miss Grillo at Belmont in October at the quirky mile-and-a-sixteenth configuration. Seems like a patient sort who might be capable of a big late charge to the finish. 
Outside the Pick 4, here are my wagers (totaling $10) specific to Race 9:
  • Race 9: $1 Exacta Box -- 3, 8 = $2
  • Race 9: $2 Exacta -- 3 over 2, 6, 13 = $6
  • Race 9: $2 Daily Double -- 3 with 3 = $2
Race 10, the Distaff, otherwise is too thin a field, with six horses, and offers little betting value on its own, though to close out my Pick 4 ticket I will single #3, Close Hatches (6-to-1), who is the only horse to have beaten 9-to-5 second choice and potential favorite Princess of Sylmar (#6).  The top three in this six-horse field will just be too short a price, and I needed to take a stand and show some conviction.

I used Sylmar on the final leg of my Pick 3 ticket starting in Race 8, but refrained from much else with the Distaff. 

Best of luck to everyone on Friday, and revisit me on Saturday for selections to the Classic and other key races on Saturday's card!

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Long Shot Even I Could Not Love

So, last Sunday, in the comfort of my cozy but modest Monmouth County, NJ abode I had the opportunity to really sit down without distraction and play in a handicapping contest worth something.

The average American probably sat down to a day of NFL football on the couch or at a sports bar, but being a New York Jets fan and all, I figured I could DVR the game and cut down on 3 hours of potential ugliness.

It proved to be a winning move on my part.

Having accruing a decent amount of credit by winning pre-qualifier tournaments on HorseTourneys.com, I dipped my toe into the deeper waters of an NHC qualifier and cashed in for a $240 full-freight entry to a 12-race tourney featuring Belmont Park, Arlington Park, Churchill Downs and Santa Anita.  Top two finishers would earn berths to the 2014 National Handicapping Championship (NHC) in Las Vegas.

The first contest race, in hindsight, proved an early turning point for me, as in Race 7 from Belmont, 12.7-to-1 Winds of Bosphorous was nipped at the wire a half length by 13.9-to-1 Unbridled Logic.  The $12.60 of place winnings was minor solace, considering I could have started the tournament with a nice ~$40 bankroll cushion.  Still, I was off to a decent start -- better than most of the 73 other players in the tournament.

Two contest races later, I needed no handicapping to land on Miss Behavior in Race 8 from Belmont, after having seen, in person, this impressive two-year-old filly rout the field in the Sorority Stakes at Monmouth on September 1.  Miss Behavior was as visually impressive on Sunday, making easy work of the Grade 2 Matron Stakes at 3-to-1, putting me in 13th place through 3 races with a $24.10 bankroll.

Next race, even-money favorite King David beat my choice, 5.7-to-1 Street Serenade, in Race 9 from Churchill, but $5.20 of place winnings moved me to 10th in the standings through four races.  Not bad.

Marina Del Huh?!

Race 4 from Santa Anita was next up -- a difficult 12-horse, $20,000 maiden claimer, including an 0-for-25 five-year-old who went off as second choice around 4-to-1.

This race was ripe for a long-shot, but even I, the connoisseur of long-shots, could not have backed the eventual winner -- 52-to-1 Marina Del Heat, a three-year-old California bred who lost her first four races by 22, 15, 19 and 7.5 lengths, respectively, and the next race stumbled and lost her jockey, Chantal Sutherland-Kruse.

I landed on 6.9-to-1 Classic Candy, who had shown some speed (more than the others) in the past but lacked late kick, so I figured the addition of blinkers (an angle I like in bottom-level races) could help a bit for a horse who seemed to lose focus late in a few other starts.

If nothing else, the other nags would get discouraged and quit at the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance, I thought.

Instead, and at this point knowing I was entirely cooked, my horse darted to a 5-and-a-half length lead through the first half mile in 46 seconds before petering out very badly into the turn, only to watch Marina Del Heat blow by everyone for a commanding two-length score.

Chantal, and two other HorseTourneys.com contestants (the latter to the tune of "cap" contest winnings of $42 to win and $22 to place), proved far braver than me when making Sunday's Race 4 selection.

When a Long-Shot Makes No Sense...

The loss not only made my decent contest start memory and set me roughly $35 behind the leader, but sent me a bit into earlier-than-anticipated "reach mode" and made me question aloud how anyone could have logically landed on Marina Del Heat.

I suppose the law of averages says that, much like the few benefactors at the track who wagered real money on Marina Del Heat, at least one or two people in Sunday's handicapping contest would pick the horse, but a look at the horse's running line does not point to a single logical handicapping angle, in my view.

Maybe trainer Barry Abrams' 46% "in-the-money" finishes in a 13-race sample inspired, or the two contest players liked Chantal's 3-for-15 win rate on the early Santa Anita meet, or the drop down in class from more expansive nags, but otherwise the horse was totally a reach.

A shot in the dark.

A miracle.

  • In four starts, never within five lengths of a leader
  • Faded all four times by as much as 11 lengths
  • Never took money in five starts; 25.5-to-1 was her lowest odds ever
  • Low-percentage maiden claiming trainer (8% win rate in 254 starts)

...and Makes Total Sense

Now, I was in far better shape than a lot of other players going into the second half of Sunday's handicapping contest, still in 14th-place after the Marina Del Heat shocker.

I avoided really swinging for the fences the next 4-5 races, but came up empty on some moderately- to higher-priced but what I considered logical long-shots:

Maybe it was too early to go that route, but three of those four race winners paid $6.80 or less to win; I rarely play horses that short on price in any handicapping contest.

Going into the penultimate contest race, the John Henry Turf Championship Stakes (Race 8) at Santa Anita, I was off the page one leaderboard in 25th, some $60 behind the leader and in need of some bigger prices to make a dent in the standings.

Teaks North made some sense, considering I thought 18-to-1 was a good proposition for a pretty sturdy and accomplished turf runner who could get the distance and benefited from a rail draw.  

As hoped, Teaks North tracked the lone rabbit, Slim Shady, but wilted late and was impressively beaten fifth of 12 by 2-to-1 Indy Point.

Let's Get Crackin!

Surprising, I was not technically eliminated from top-two contention going into the contest finale, Race 9 from Santa Anita, but I had to shoot for the stars.

Race 9, a 6.5-furlong, $40,000 optional claimer for horse who had never won two races, facilitated my needs, however.

Four of the 10 starters taking absolutely no action at the window:
  • #1, Solumn Oath (46-to-1) ran twice in two years and was running his first race in North America off a 16-month layoff and trying dirt for the first time; hide the children
  • #2, Ranulf (26-to-1), a Bob Baffert trainee, figured to benefit from a good jockey (Julien Leparoux) but was trying dirt for the first time as well and seemed an early factor who lacked any stamina, even at a sprint distance
  • #3, Cast a Doubt (44-to-1) was playable solely because of trainer John Sadler and some so-so dirt efforts at Santa Anita, but in early 2012, and had done nothing of note on dirt since
  • #6, Let's Get Crackin (44-to-1).
Now, maybe my decision-making would not have been the same had I been atop or near the top of Sunday's handicapping contest leaderboard, but the horse's running line included several positives that, as I saw it, made Let's Get Crackin an egregious overlay and a bad morning-line at 20-to-1 with an aggressive, experienced jockey (Agapito Delgadillo).

It may be hard to decipher from my chicken-scratched past performances, but the first thing that caught my eye was that Let's Get Crackin boasted a career-best 100 Beyer at Santa Anita in the Grade 2 San Vicente in 2012 -- a fourth-place finish to multiple graded stakes winner Drill

I generally eschew Beyer figures in the claiming ranks, but 100 stood out against the majority of horses in the field, who generally competed versus lesser company and did not appear as quick on dirt.  

The exceptions were 9-to-2 Gladding, whose better days were in late 2010-early 2011, and 1.8-to-1 favorite, Wild Dude, an up-and-coming three-year-old but, in my view, grossly over bet, particularly just off his maiden-breaking score.  

Another bullish indicators in Let's Get Crackin's favor, and perhaps also indecipherable above, was an impressive dirt history.  

Let's Get Crackin was clearly not a play on current form against even weaker company, but those five efforts were on what I posited were unfriendly surfaces (i.e. grass and synthetic). 

Excluding the five all-weather and two turf races from the horse's history, Let's Get Crackin actually boasted two wins, three seconds and two thirds in nine dirt starts, and I speculated that the 0-for-3 (with one third) at Santa Anita was against far tougher fields than Sunday's $40,000 optional claimer.

As scribbled above, "maybe the return to dirt helps."

A Dirty Score

The return to dirt absolutely helped, and Let's Get Crackin ran away from the field for a nearly 3-length win over Wild Dude to increase my bankroll to $93.30 with a $64 cap payout ($42 win, $22 place). 

Now, an intriguing part about handicapping contest play -- at least to nerds like me -- is speculating what other players on the leaderboard are thinking.

It's an inexact science, but mired in 26th place and needing a minor miracle, I tried to anticipate what players ranked 3-25 on the leaderboard might favor among the long-shots in the finale.  

Admittedly, I had to cross my fingers and hope those above me went away from my choice.

Those closer to top could settle on a "safer" or "more-logical" horse like a Gladding or the other 9-to-2 co-second choice Derringer.  A combined $15-$17 payout would surely be enough to catapult those closer to the top to a Las Vegas berth.

Others in my situation or even worse would surely shoot for the moon, but which one would players favor?

I figured Ranulf and Cast a Doubt alone on the trainer angle, and some players above me in the contest standings went that route.  Solemn Oath took some bites as well, though I found that horse far fetched.

In the end, four people above me in the standings took Let's Get Crackin.

So Sunday's result for NJ Horseplayer was a 6th-place finish, good for 1,000 NHC Tour points.

Silver Lining

As an NHC Tour player, my goal is clearly to qualify for the year-end, $1.5 million NHC in Las Vegas.

In four years as a Tour member, I have yet to win a qualifying tournament, and do not play consistently enough in order to normally consider earning a spot to Vegas through the Tour points standings.

However, with Sunday's HorseTourneys.com qualifier marking my third point-getting effort this season, I am 184th in the NHC Tour points standings, just 400 points out of 150th.  

The 2013 Tour rules stipulate that the Top 150 in Tour points at year-end win berths to Las Vegas.

There is still a lot of action left this contest season, including tomorrow's NHC Tour freebie, and although I do not anticipate breaking the bank in my bid to qualify for Vegas, I figure that two more decent point-earning finishes this season may be enough to get me in the back door (i.e. Top 150). 

Suddenly, Las Vegas no longer seems like such a long-shot. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Jersey-Bred Spotlight: Kenwood Racing, Taking Ownership

The eve of the under-publicized 11th Annual New Jersey Thoroughbred Festival at Monmouth Park seems the perfect launching point for a segment over which I have long procrastinated -- straying from my usual drumbeat about handicapping contest strategy and introducing readers to the potential finer points of New Jersey's thoroughbred racing program.

Yeah, go ahead and laugh.

Being the punchline is par for the course for any lifelong New Jerseyan.

This Saturday, however, "J-bred" runners will compete for purses worth more than $400,000 over a 10-race card.

Still, outside of "Jersey Joe" Bravo and the annual $1 million Haskell Invitational, New Jersey's thoroughbred racing program, in my view, has little to hang its hat on, and ideas to entice recurring, rather than one-off, customers seem few and far between.

Via the Jersey-Bred Spotlight, I hope to at least share my singular views of a program kicked too often to the curb by the Atlantic City lobby and certain legislators, but one that is greatly under-utilized and under-appreciated and where some great individuals work tirelessly to the good of New Jersey's program.

Little-Known Gem in Neptune

Around the same time that I really caught the bug for thoroughbred handicapping (the contest circuit, specifically) a few years back, I became curious about racing ownership and attended a free seminar on the topic at Monmouth Park.

Inside the Garden Room were maybe 15-20 other attendees to a presentation by Robb Levinsky, the founder, managing partner and racing partner for the Kenwood Racing partnership, based in Neptune, a stone's throw from Monmouth Park.

I had no clue what to expect, or whether the presentation would be so convincing as to write Robb a fat check on the spot to become the next Ken Ramsey or Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Ultimately I put the thought of ownership on hold on account of my life's situation (i.e., able to afford, but married and with two kids another year closer to college), but it remains in my memory bank and I remain in contact with Robb through Kenwood's email distribution list.

Responsible Ownership

The impression I came away with that afternoon, and since reinforced by one anecdote in particular, was that buying a share in Kenwood was not about getting rich, but rather satiating one's love for thoroughbred racing at minimal expense (versus other thoroughbred ownership models or syndicates) and experiencing the highs, lows and in-between of owing a racehorse.

The details of the partnership were straightforward in terms of costs for one share, the perks (potential purses, winners circle photos, club access, etc.) and pitfalls (buying a horse who never makes it to the track, career- or life-threatening injury) of ownership and the like, but what resonated most that summer afternoon was a theme of responsibility.

Kenwood basks not only in the glory of winning races (the barn is in-the-money in 51% of 2013 starts, including 13 wins, 21 seconds and 14 thirds) and touting champion horses, including Hermosillo, who will be retired after Saturday and boasts an illustrious racing career, as evidenced by nearly $700,000 of winnings over a seven-year career.

The stable treats its horses with great care, with health the A-1 priority.

The Case of Sword Trick

An email from May 29 is what piqued my interest in Kenwood's handling of its stock.

In a long and blunt exchange to Kenwood's co-owners and friends, Levinsky shared the hardships of thoroughbred ownership, announcing the retirement of Sword Trick, a promising Texas-bred who had a dominant 2-year-old season and won a stakes race in his 3-year-old debut before being shipped by his connections to Monmouth Park in June 2012.

Sword Trick at his peak
After a game second in the 2012 Oh Say Stakes at Delaware Park, Sword Trick shipped back to Monmouth Park for a $35,000 claiming race on August 16, 2012, where Kenwood ponied up $35,000 to acquire the horse, a gelding.

The seemingly innocuous "dueled between rivals and tired" footnote on Sword Trick after that race unfortunately foreshadowed tremendous misfortune for the Kenwood stable.

The horse came out of the August 16 race with an injury, and despite the best efforts of Levinsky's team, Kenwood retired Sword Trick.

"It was a costly loss for us, but that happens sometimes," Levinsky said in his May 29 email. "No sense...doing anything dangerous or unethical to try to get back a small fraction of the loss. (It) doesn't matter if it's claiming, or two year old(s) or private purchases, not all horses ultimately make it on the racetrack. That's how the game works."

An Ethics Lesson

Now, mind you, Sword Trick was NOT part of any co-ownership group at that point.

Kenwood footed the $35,000 claiming price and ate the entire expense, consistent with its business model of scouting and purchasing its horses, then packaging the horses for prospective ownership groups.

"Many syndicates do just that (putting an injured horse in a group), which is why the industry doesn't have a sterling reputation with potential owners," wrote Levinsky on May 29, "but we don't work that way."

Instead, what Kenwood did was to retire Sword Trick to the South Jersey Horse Rescue program, based in Weekstown and run by Ellen Strack.

Sword Trick with new owner Sandy
Sword Trick, considered to have a great personality, would never be a racehorse again but was deemed sound for riding and with a productive life ahead as a pleasure horse.

Kenwood made a generous financial donation to SJHR when Sword Trick arrived to defray the cost of caring for the retired racehorse, who has since been adopted and is "living happily", according to Strack, in Egg Harbor Township with his new owner.

"We really appreciate people like Robb, who place off-the-track thoroughbreds in our care BEFORE they have to go through the auction pipeline," said Strack via email on Thursday. "Sword Trick is an amazing horse -- he went from one extreme (a racing sport horse) to an easy-going Western trail horse."

"It just goes to show how awesome these horses are -- they can be retrained and given a whole new life," said Strack.

Support for Retired Horses

I had heard numerous ads on Sirius radio about thoroughbred retirement programs, but my first hands-on experience came this spring, when my kids and I visited the non-profit, Old Friends, just outside Lexington, KY as part of our trip to Keeneland.

Old Friends, much like SJHR, depends on the generosity of individuals who care enough about the well-being of phenomenal animals that give us great thrills as fans of thoroughbred racing.  Outfits such as these often are not as lucky to get a horse in as good a condition as Sword Trick.

"In the past, we have taken abused and neglected horses from kill broker pens and the SPCA," said Strack, "and they all have come back as happy, healthy pets."

To be sure, the tour guide at Old Friends during my visit this spring relayed a story about a multi-graded stakes winner that the farm took in after, by luck, a kind soul bought the horse off a kill truck for $25.  Those kinds of stories are gut-wrenching and, in my view, should make all horseplayers hold those in the thoroughbred racing industry to the highest standards of ownership.

Donations are just the start, and I would encourage readers to consider South Jersey Horse Rescue or a rescue outfit of their choice as part of their annual charitable giving.

Hermosillo's Last Dance

Continuing the retirement theme, Kenwood's illustrious 9-year-old Hermosillo, meanwhile, is a race away from his retirement after 11 wins, 16 seconds and seven thirds over 74 lifetime starts.

Hermosillo wins the 2011 Hesse
Hermosillo, a past New Jersey Horse of the Year, will break at 12-to-1 from Post 2 in the Charles Hesse III Stakes, Race 9, slated for 4:58 p.m. ET.  A win in this $60,000 race would push Hermosillo's lifetime earnings above $700,000 and produce his third Hesse Stakes victory (2009 and 2011 were the others).

"We are very proud of him no matter what he does here," said Levinsky by email on Thursday. "If we can find a way to win it, we'll be over the moon and back."

Unfortunately, this is the kind of story (like SJHR's efforts) that get scant publicity.

Rest assured, however, that Hermosillo, like every horse in the Kenwood stable, will find good, safe homes when their racing careers are done.

Final Notes on the J-Bred Festival

Kenwood sends out two other runners at Monmouth on Saturday -- Alarming Affair (Race 3) and Carl's Only Vice (Race 4).

Obviously, I wish the Kenwood runners and all other connections an extremely safe and productive afternoon in Oceanport.  It appears the weather will cooperate.  (Rutgers-Arkansas football wins out for me as a season-ticket holder, however, so I'll be watching the replay show).

Saturday's race card is relatively deep, with three stakes races and only 2 (of 10) races with less than eight horses entered, presenting good betting opportunities for horseplayers.

The one drawback, underpinning my criticism of New Jersey's thoroughbred program and opinion that the State's political leaders give short shrift to the industry, is the absence of 2-year-old races.

A program touting the Garden State's livestock should at the least provide the racing world a glimpse of some promising 2-year-old horses to look forward to next season.  Saturday's Monmouth card is for horses 3 and up, which could signal trouble for the state's breeding program.  Rival tracks in New York, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and California, on the other hand, have all carded a handful of 2-year-old races tomorrow.

One idea I have mentioned once or twice in passing here on NJHorseplayer.com has been to develop a competitive J-bred racing series during the spring that culminates into some kind of championship, or for 3-year-old horses, a play-in to spots in the Haskell Invitational.

The thought may be insulting to some, but the state's showcase race (the Haskell) should infuse some element to promote the J-bred racing program while at least the rest of the U.S. racing world is watching, rather than (as it stands now) a chance for some rich barn to ship in a stud to wallop 5-6 other so-so horses and ship out the next day with a $600,000 winner's purse.

Perhaps it's a pipe-dream, but NJ Horseplayer loves the long-shots!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

'13 Monmouth Contest Season: In Like A Lion, Out Like A Lamb

Rest assured, NJ Horseplayer minions, I am alive and well!

All's well in the Garden State
An email from Monmouth Park handicapping contest friend Paul Zerbst last Friday, questioning my safety in response to an abnormal blogging hiatus of 3+ weeks, reassured me that, yes, some people care and actually enjoy my ramblings.  

One does, at least...

The latter part of August and early September provided a chance to unwind from my editorial (small-cap equity research) profession and vacation with the wife and kids.  After a great guys weekend in Saratoga for the Alabama Stakes (who doesn't miss the Spa already, we hightailed it to Niagara Falls, the New York State Fair and Lake George, ahead of our anticipated return to chaos.

Now it's back to piles of work, school for the kids (my daughter began middle school, yet another new adventure) and reams of homework and forms to sign, Board of Education meetings and so forth.  Ugh!

On Sunday, however, I got back on the live-money handicapping contest horse in the 2013 finale for Monmouth Park -- the $200 Monmouth-Woodbine Challenge.  

Save for 1-2 races, mine was mostly a performance to forget, but based on the Top 10 standings posted, one tough loss probably did not matter much, as the winner (Eleanor Milewski) turned a starting $100 into a nearly $2,400 bankroll, while 10th-place finisher Anthony Kite ended at $807.  Tough company, and perhaps the most competitive and lucrative final bankroll standings that I can recall in four years.

Bring back red helmets!
I preface my commentary with an excuse -- it's Rutgers football season, and I'm the leader of a 19-person season-ticket group and tailgate coordinator, so Saturdays otherwise dedicated to handicapping now center on menu, liquor and enjoying a great day rooting on my beloved Scarlet Knights.  Gone are the easy-going mornings at the beach or on the back deck perusing past performances, so I spent little time assessing Sunday's 21-race card.

Not that it mattered.  I made bad early decisions from the get-go, as I liked Lorjam at 7-to-2 in Monmouth's opener and switched late to a more-speculative Larcenyinmyheart.  Lorjam won easily, paying $9.40.  

After dropping my next 7 plays (all $10 win wagers), I returned to break-even with Bert B Don at 8-to-1 in Monmouth 8, but with only a handful of races left in the contest and nowhere close to the Top 25, needed a high-priced winner to have a shot.  My chance to make really waves fell a neck short as 15-to-1 Pugsley, who was held up in traffic a bit into the final turn, could not catch 5-to-2 favorite Port Severn at the wire in Woodbine 9.

Instead of a possible $230-$240 bankroll with a Pugsley win, where I could have taken one late shot at a reasonable horse, I made three fruitless late stabs with my remaining $69 and depleted my bankroll to $4 (I kept a few bucks just in case everyone on the leaderboard went "all in" and lost...a step that proved helpful in winning 989 NHC Tour points in the SSC Invitational in April). 

Net-Net...A Decent Season

Sunday's performance put a cap on what was otherwise a relatively productive and fun season for me at Monmouth's NHC-based contests.  

It's nothing to write home about, but in contest play I came out $55 to the good after three Simulcast Series Challenge qualifiers, two entries in the SSC Invitational, and the July and September Monmouth-Woodbine contests, summing to $1,400 of entry fees.  

Of course winning an NHC berth was my goal, but I'll take a slightly profitable over a losing season.

Merits of Tracking Contest Fates

An innocent question while contesting on Sunday with friend and horseplayer extraordinaire Terry Flanagan (yes, Paul, he's still alive, even though he has not posted a blog entry since June) about my contest outcomes on HorseTourneys.com motivated me to keep better tabs of not just my seasonal ROI, but how I am doing in particular contest formats.  Hence, my calculation on Monmouth Park for 2013.

On HorseTourneys, for anyone who cares, I am 0-for-1 on NHC qualifiers (13th place out of 80 in mid-July) but 6-for-39 with four refunds in $26 pre-qualifiers (Top 10% finishes yield $240 of site credit), and 0-for-3 in other contests.  In short, I am outperforming what I have payed to play in those contests. 

Combined with this year's Monmouth tally, I learned more that I'm much more proficient in the context of thoroughbred handicapping contests than "one-off" days at the track, such as this year's Saratoga trip and a random visit here or there to Monmouth or through my defunct TVG account. 

There's still plenty of time on the NHC calendar through autumn to make some waves and either finally win an NHC qualifying contest outright (it'll have to be online, as I cannot play in any on-track tournaments left on the calendar this season) or to build upon my NHC Tour points standing (currently 327th; Top 150 achieve berths in the NHC next January). 

It's great to get back to posting, and thanks as always for reading!

Friday, August 16, 2013


Before bolting town tomorrow early morning for a weekend at Saratoga Race Course, I wanted to get a head start on handicapping that card plus Saturday's NHC Tour contest, sponsored by Sovereign Stable.

The top two finishers in the Sovereign contest will win spots in the 2014 National Handicapping Championship next January in Las Vegas.

Now, I fully appreciate Sovereign stepping forward to offer Tour players this opportunity, and like many Tour players will probably enter some picks before spending the day at the track or elsewhere.  On the other hand, a glance at the races made me question -- which person was tasked with picking the races to use for this contest, and does this person have a pulse on contest play?

See, of the wealth of races to choose from, the one that most caught my eye that made the cut for the Sovereign Stable Contest was The Alabama from Saratoga (Race 10).

I get that The Alabama is a Grade 1 race, but there are only 6 horses!

Readers can verify that I'm correct probably only once out of every 25-30 times, but I'll walk home the 260 miles from Saratoga (I've done the NYC Marathon three times, so I'm up for a challenge) if 3-to-5 Princess of Sylmar or 2-to-1 Fiftyshadesofhay does not win.

The other four horses (all between 10-to-1 and 20-to-1) are hardly playable in any circumstance, especially in a 10-race handicapping contest where probably 1,000-plus people will register to play.

So, while I'm already cringing at the prospect of handicapping races tomorrow at Saratoga where as many as 16 horses are entered, my reaction is the same about The Alabama in the Sovereign contest, albeit from a totally different perspective.

Why The Alabama?

From a contest player's perspective, the race is a waste.  I get that it's a significant race to the connections, but I just do not get why The Alabama was included in the Sovereign contest.

Dorothy handicaps The Alabama too
In formats like the live-money contests at Monmouth Park, a lot of players will pass on such a race for lack of value.  Is it worth wasting a win bet, for instance, on a 3-to-5 shot, or rolling the dice that some long-shot like Carnival Court (15-to-1 morning line) runs her face off or a tornado sweeps the other five runners off the Saratoga oval?

My money is on most players passing on the race as a single bet.  In all likelihood most will use one of the two favorites in their exotics and save their money for a deeper race where the odds are better spread, but in reality, no contest player would ever want to play a 6-horse race unless forced.

The Anatomy of Contest Race Selection

I reached out to two sources I respect greatly -- McKay Smith of HorseTourneys.com and Scott Carson of The Public Handicapper -- to see how they organize the cards for contests offered on their websites.

"We look for big stakes fields without giant favorites," said Carson via Twitter, "or at least giant faves we think are vulnerable."

This confirms the typically astute selection of four challenging races each week on Public Handicapper, as I see it.  Carson added, too, that Public Handicapper also avoids races like the Del Mar Oaks, where the field is big but the outcome is perceived as chalky.

Smith, meanwhile, emailed me a checklist of criteria used by HorseTourneys.com in carding a contest.  The quality of the race is the top consideration, but among the others:

  • Major tracks always get a preference
  • Races with 8+ horses
  • Good geographical mix (i.e. East, Midwest and West Coast)
  • Equitable mix of turf vs. dirt races
  • Schedule within a reasonable time period (i.e. 3-4 hours for a 10-12 race schedule)
  • Avoid state-bred races unless from a major circuit, and only when they are quality races

"Sometimes it's easy and sometimes it's difficult, especially when you bring the time/scheduling component into the mix," said Smith.  "Sometimes players ask me, why didn't you use that race or this one, and the most typical response is because doing so would have extended the tournament far too long than what would be comfortable for most players."

Sounds Logical

The overriding theme seems to be to know the audience.

In the case of the contest player, I would charge that most would rather have full fields and challenging conditions, and Messrs. Smith and Carson clearly have the knack for staging a contest.

"It just comes down to feel and experience," said Smith.  "It's certainly not rocket science by any means, but the more you do it, the more you can identify a schedule that is equitable and fair enough to use on a major day like an NHC qualifier."

Again, I appreciate the no-cost opportunity to play in the Sovereign contest, but on Arlington Millions Day and with deep cards at summer giants Saratoga and Del Mar in the offing, simply argue that The Alabama has no business in an NHC qualifying event.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Crime Pays

Nine hours of driving and several more handicapping yielded bupkis for NJ Horseplayer at the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) qualifier at Suffolk Downs on Saturday, August 3, save for a great pit stop at Ted's in Meriden, CT for a steamed cheeseburger and getting to hang out with some wonderful Tour brethren at yet another fun-filled contest.

Similar to the 2012 rendition, when 53-to-1 shot Caffe D' Oro scuttled my hopes of NHC glory in what was an otherwise productive contest, another egregious long shot from Monmouth Park (where I never seem to catch a price) catapulted a handful of people to the top of the standings.  

This year, however, I was nowhere close to the leaderboard, registering zero winners and just five place runners on the 15-race card.  Ouch!

Somehow, and I still cannot figure out how, bettors dismissed 10-to-1 morning line shot Crime Time in Race 7, sending the horse off at 41-to-1 in a 10-horse turf race at a mile.  Dixie Sun (17-to-1), my pick in a race devoid of a clear favorite, simply flew too late and lost fourth by a length.

The 41-to-1 odds on a horse that showed decent turf form were entirely criminal, but second-year NHC Tour player James Timinck was one of seven benefactors of Crime Time.  

The Raynham, MA dealer of high-end vintage sports collectibles finished third overall but tops among NHC Tour players, earning 1 of 3 berths to NHC XV awarded by Suffolk Downs!

I had the pleasure of being introduced to Mr. Timinck toward the end of the day by fellow Tour players Stephen Fitzpatrick and Marie Jost, and caught up with James via email to recount his experience at Suffolk Downs and pick his brain about qualifying for the NHC, handicapping and other tidbits.

NJ Horseplayer: Congrats on your third-place finish in the 2013 NHC qualifier at Suffolk Downs and earnings 1 of 3 spots to the $1.5 million NHC XV next January.  Will this be your first time competing in the national championship, and has last Saturday's victory sunken in yet?

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Marie Jost,
NHC XV qualifier James Timinck
and NJ Horseplayer at
Suffolk Downs
James Timinck:  This is my second year playing tournaments on a consistent basis.  I have not qualified...until now.  It has started to sink in, that in January I will be competing for the ultimate prize.  How many chances in life do you get a legitimate swing for the fences for approximately $1 million.  I am not a professional golfer, tennis or poker tournament player who gets a chance at a large prize each and every week, and fortunately I do not play the lottery, LOL.

NJ Horseplayer:  Did you imagine getting to the National Handicapping Championship so quickly?

James Timinck:  As far as qualifying so quickly, I believe in my handicapping ability.  I think that mentality, and you have to have that mindset, as the ups and downs in this game are quite sudden.  I did realize in those first couple of tournaments real fast that I would have to reassess my expectations as far as how difficult it really is and tweak the way I grind through a tournament.

NJ Horseplayer:  How long have you been handicapping thoroughbreds and playing in contests, and what's your typical preparation and strategy?

James Timinck:  I started betting races in the mid-to-late 90's, playing strictly greyhounds, as there was a greyhound track and also two other greyhound parks and simulcast facilities in my area here in the East Coast.  As greyhound tracks started to close, I started to focus more on playing horses, and by the mid 2000's I was taking notes and watching replays and playing the horses on a regular basis, and now with the handicapping tournament scene getting more popular, it seems natural to play in tournaments, as I love a good competition to test skills. 

NJ Horseplayer:  Considering Suffolk's format is "pick-and-pray," how much time did you put into studying the 15-race card, and how did you go about building your ticket?  Do you strictly go in with your best pick...favor long-shots...build your ticket around 1-2 key races, much as you would for a multi-race exotic ticket such as a Pick 4 or 6?

James Timinck:  As far as preparation, as soon as I get the designated races from that tournament up, I get started right away marking up the races, referring to past notes on certain horses, watching replays, and I have a good database of horses to watch out for when they get an entry into a race.  The "horse watch" on Equibase and DRF is great, because as soon as you have a note on a horse you can enter them in your horse watch and receive an email the very same day they get an entry into a race across the country at any track.  

When I am building my exotic tickets for Pick 4, 5 or 6, odds play zero factor as to whether I select any horse.  I do tier horses in each race A, B and C as to who I think has the best chance to cross the wire first, all the way to the least likely.  

When playing the "Pick & Pray," I apply a different strategy.  Since you cannot know when entering your picks what the odds are on a certain horse in the tournament, I immediately identify who I believe will be the odds-on favorite in each race and immediately put a line through that horse as if the horse was scratched in the race.  I really like using Beyer speed figures as a reference point to starting the handicapping process in each race.

NJ Horseplayer: I never seem to find a price horse at my nearby track, Monmouth Park, but in my second-straight season of playing in Suffolk's contest, another bomber played a big part.  Last year it was a horse called Caffe D' Oro, who scuttled my NHC qualifying hopes with a 53-to-1 victory (I think I was in the Top 5 to that point).  This year, though my picks stunk overall, Crime Time won at 41-to-1 in the 7th from Monmouth.  First, how did you get to that horse?  Second, how could the bettors let that horse (10-to-1 morning line) go off at such an enormous price?  

James Timinck:  What immediately caught my eye going through the race was Crime Time was not new to turf, having five consecutive turf starts in which his Beyer jumped from a Beyer average on dirt of approx.31.2 to a Beyer turf average of 61.4.  Looking at the other horses, and taking their best 3 Beyers in there last 4 races, #5 Crime Time was tied with #1 Staff Sergeant for the best Beyer average with 64.6, with #2 Discreet Duke coming in with 64.  Finally, I came to the conclusion that the  #1 and #2 would take a lot of money with (Paco) Lopez and (Angel) Serpa, while I get a horse that gets a jockey upgrade from (Carol) Cedeno to (Jose) Ferrer, who gets off the rail and, most importantly, may very well still have more room to improve on turf.

NJ Horseplayer:  You finished 3rd overall and tops among NHC Tour players at Suffolk.  What were your other big scores in the contest? 

James Timinck: My other horses I cashed with in tournament were:

  • Saratoga, Race 6:  #6 Gimme Credit ($9.20 win, $4.40 place)
  • Saratoga, Race10: #4 Cross Traffic ($9.10 win, $5.40 place)
  • Delmar, Race 2  #4 Smokin' Cat ($12.00 win, $5.40 place)
So, I ended up with 4 winners total and I had 4 second-place finishes (every dime counts). 

Sounder advice:
Buy a real bike rack. I was behind
some clown on the Mass Pike
who figured rope would work well.
Yes, that's his little girl's front
tire hanging over the roof (right).
NJ Horseplayer:  Based on your success on Saturday, what advice would you have for fellow Tour players in terms of pick-and-pray formats?  

That's an area where, personally, I haven't had a ton of success, though the format is clearly favored by players in online tournaments.

James Timinck:  My advice on Pick & Pray would be immediately to find who you think will be the odds-on favorite and pitch him, and after that do not calculate odds again.  Just pick a horse you have handicapped, isolate 2 or 3 horses from the field using your tools on how you select horses, and make that decision.

NJ Horseplayer: Now that the Tour is allowing players 2 spots in this year's NHC, what other tournaments are on your calendar this season?  Or, now that you're already qualified for Vegas, will you turn your attention elsewhere? 

James Timinck:  I will continue playing in tournaments all year long in a quest for a second entry.

NJ Horseplayer:  What are your pursuits outside the NHC Tour?  If I recall, you're also a collectibles dealer and otherwise into the casino world. 

James Timinck:  When I do play at the casino, I play poker and craps.  I always want to play games where I am either not playing against the casino or playing with the casino.  When playing dice, I play on the casino's side that the public will not make their points and lose.  Poker, for obvious reasons, using math probability and playing your opponent to be a winning poker player.  You have to dedicate yourself to the games to make a living from them.  My part-time sample size has yielded good results, so knock on wood.

I buy/sell/trade/collect high-end vintage sports collectibles.  The collectibles market has exploded in the last decade as people from all walks of life are diversifying their portfolios with collectibles as strong investments. As we all know, the boys from Manhattan have been a little loose with the numbers this decade.  So, rare high-end collectibles are a great investment for the future and people like quick-and-easy access to liquidity.

NJ Horseplayer:  Again, great job in the Suffolk contest.  It was great meeting you, and thanks for sharing your thoughts on Saturday's win and other points.  I hope to see you in Vegas!

James Timinck:  No problem, anytime.  I may be going to the Monmouth tournament in September. You?

NJ Horseplayer:  Absolutely!  See you there!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fresh Spin on Boston's Freedom Trail

Suffolk Downs, a gem in its own right, is off the beaten path and technically not part of Boston's famed Freedom Trail
Tourist: "Where's Paul Revere's
Tour Guide: "Right there...and about
5 miles east is where NJ Horseplayer
qualified for NHC XV"
The East Boston track, however, is the next stop on the NJ Horseplayer itinerary this weekend and providing a fresh spin on "freedom."

For this year's qualifier to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC), Suffolk has waived the $60 entry fee charged for last year's tournament.

Yes, that's not a misprint.  There is no cost to enter an on-track tournament offering 3 seats to NHC XV, according to Suffolk Downs' press release

Players can kick in $25 for the buffet lunch, Daily Racing Form and track program (not a bad deal, based on last year's experience), but that is not required. 

In other words, anyone can show up and play.  

I had planned on entering the tournament regardless ($60 entry or not), as there are few on-track NHC tournaments in my geographic, scheduling and budgetary wheelhouse.  The prospect of a five-hour drive to East Boston from Central NJ is not too daunting, and in yet another spin on freedom, the rest of my family will be away until Saturday night, freeing me for such a business trip.  

And no matter how well I perform at Suffolk, the original Ted's (Meriden, CT), makers of "World Famous Steamed Cheeseburgers Since 1959," is the perfect pit stop halfway home.  

Steamed cheeseburger: Ted's...
need I say more?
There appear to be no significant changes to this year's Suffolk NHC qualifier outside of the waived $60 entry fee.  NHC Tour and non-Tour players can participate, with the top 3 NHC Tour players earning spots in Las Vegas next January.  

Players will make mythical $2 win-place wagers on 15 pre-selected races from four tracks.  There appear to be no odds caps on win-place payouts.  Tour points will be given to NHC Tour players finishing in the Top 10% of the standings.  

The latter issue is one I addressed following the 2012 Suffolk Downs NHC qualifier, but I'm not going to quibble much about it again, as I understand what I'm getting into.  Similar to last season (when I finished in 7th among NHC Tour players but came away without Tour points), I have no qualms with the entire universe entering the tournament, but for NHC Tour points purposes would argue that it would not be difficult to have separate standings for all players (i.e. for cash prizes) and only NHC Tour players.

If the Tour is not going to mandate everyone to pay the $50 to join, those who decide to compete on Saturday merely for Top 10 prize money should be excluded from any Tour points calculation.  

That's for another day, I suppose.

And, Tour players, do not forget that the NHC Tour's free" online handicapping tournament is also this Saturday.  I'm not expecting much (in either case, for that matter), but it's hard to cast aside even the most remote of opportunities at a spot to NHC XV.