Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Contest Paradise

I would never advocate buying five entries into any handicapping contest, but the price was too attractive for me to pass up five entries in small-stakes online contests run by HorseTourneys.com on Tuesday.

The National Handicapping Championship (NHC) hub, according to tourney director McKay Smith, recently implemented major systems upgrades to expand the site's capacities, and used a series of five free contests as a test run.  The winner of each would receive $50 in HorseTourneys.com site credit. 

All five contests (3 "pick-and-pray" format, 2 conventional) were open to HorseTourneys account holders and centered on races 2-7 from Turf Paradise. Ironically, all but one of the six races were on dirt, but one has to admit that "Turf Paradise" has a sexier ring than "Dirt Paradise" and most likely did for the track's founders.

"Horse Racing and Spinal Tap"
Ribbing aside, I noticed these tourneys over the weekend and hurriedly signed up, figuring that even in the middle of a workday I could handicap in advance and roll the dice, especially with no knowledge at all about Turf Paradise, outside of my friend Terry having visited the Phoenix, AZ track and providing me a visual akin to Atlantic City Race Course.

With five opportunities, and literally torn between five horses in Race 2, I played the contest like a Pick 5, going five deep with each of my cards featuring a different selection.  Thereafter, I generally went with my top selection for Races 3-7, since most of the contests were "pick-and-pray" (i.e. submit selections for all races before the first contest race goes off), though I fruitlessly dabbled with one ticket in real time.  

My strategy worked decently, as 3-to-1 morning line favorite Jacksonville went off at nearly 5-to-1 and produced a surprising $17.20 of win-place money to tie me atop one of the contests.  Unfortunately, my top selection, Mixed Intent, yielded grudgingly in deep stretch at nearly 10-to-1, a huge overlay from a 9-to-2 morning line; but at least I picked up $10.60 of place money on that ticket, so I was at least alive on two of my five contests. 

After finishing off the board in Race 3 (this one came back to bite me, as right before selections locked in I switched off the horse that ultimately finished second), my handicapping prowess shone through.  I hit on 3-to-2 (but second choice in the wagering) Surfliner in an easy Race 4 score to pad my bankroll by $8 and nearly got 9-to-1 Hometown Heart home in Race 5, but settled for $8.40 of place money. 

With two races to go, I was squarely in the Top 20 (of 150-200 contestants) on two of my five tickets, before vaulting into third place on my pick-and-pray ticket after Bear's Tigerette romped to an easy score in Race 6 to increase my bankroll by $9.20.  Granted, these were "move the chains-type" scores, contrary to my penchant for long-shots, but Surfliner and Tigerette were underlays; can't control the odds... 

In the final race, a $3,000 beaten claimer at 6 furlongs, I was tethered to 12-to-1 (morning line) Loco Marianna.  Based on the way she broke from the gate, however, I sense there was a typo in the program and the horse's name was actual Poco, and I knew my chances to score a $50 site credit were done.  My alternate selection (online contest players typically pick a "backup" horse in the event their main selection scratches) ran on for second, but the place money would not have been enough to vault me to victory.

The end result was pretty decent, considering that four of my five cards basically featured the same selections.  Out of as many as 200 contestants per contest, I finished as high as fourth-place and in the top 35 in three of the other four contests.  On the one ticket where I was able to still make changes in real time, I switched off my Race 4 and 6 winners and fished for big prices that never developed; so maybe it is best, after all, to stick with my original selections, regardless of the live odds.  

Now, would I or anyone in their right mind bet an 8-to-5 shot like a Surfliner early- or mid-card in, say, the upcoming Simulcast Series Challenge at Monmouth Park on February 2?  Probably not, as 7-to-2 is usually my "playable odds" threshold in live-money contests such as SSC.  

On the other hand, Tuesday's performance left me a little more confident in my handicapping ability in early 2014, and validated my view that winning (or at least placing near the top in) handicapping contests is much more than picking winners.  I picked 3-of-6 winners on Tuesday's contest card and logged a pretty lucrative place payout in another race, yet did no better than fourth place.  

Contests are about picking spots to make a plunge.  Moving toward SSC#1, I need to work on avoiding the urge to swing for the fences (as I did on my real-time card noted above) and key one or two viable, undervalued selections that could send me to NHC paradise in 2014.  

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