Wednesday, February 27, 2013

TVG Site Near Ready for NJ

I appreciate the tipster who informed me today that account holders for New Jersey's advanced deposit wagering (ADW) system,, received a letter indicating that TVG will take over the site's operations, effective Friday.

Out of curiosity I went to TVG on a quick break from work and tried to sign up for an account, which forwarded me to a TVG-branded page for NJ-based account holders.  It looked far more TVG than the archaic  On a second try, however, the link was taken down, though I'm guessing it'll be up and running in two days, assuming the New Jersey Racing Commission approved the change at this afternoon's meeting.

On to more-pressing matters, Saturday is Simulcast Series Challenge #2 at Monmouth Park.  I'm hoping to attend for at least most of the earlier portion of the card, as I have a personal commitment in the evening.  I'll try to post some thoughts on that card by Friday night or Saturday morning.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

State Approval of 4NJBets Takeover by TVG Imminent

The Office of the Attorney General yesterday issued a public notice to announce a meeting of the New Jersey Racing Commission (NJRC) in Trenton on Wednesday, February 27, at 1 p.m. to discuss and likely award the turnover of business operations of the state's account wagering system ( to TVG Network.

The announcement and related agenda posted to NJRC's website signal that the Commission will vote on Wednesday's conference call whether first to approve turning over New Jersey's platform wagering services (i.e. phone, internet horse betting) to Oregon-based ODS Technologies, L.P. (doing business as TVG Network) and, immediately thereafter, issue ODS a vendor license. Since 2010, the state's "ADW" has been operated by Sportech, LLC, a U.K.-based wagering concern.

Interested parties should contact NJRC at 609-292-0613 with further questions, though it seems that if anyone from the public would like to speak, they would have to do so from the NJRC's Trenton office.

As this is a relatively quiet time for me in the handicapping contest schedule, I will keep track as much as possible of further developments, but have discussed this topic more than I cared to the last week or so.

In short, I am looking forward to the tournament access that a TVG could provide, but would rather have the opportunity to pick an ADW on the open market, namely or, which offer a lot more opportunities at qualifying for NHC XV in January 2014.

Friday, February 15, 2013

TVG Reportedly Taking Over

Harness Racing Update, published by racing extraordinaire Bill Finley and confirming recent speculation, reports that Television Games (TVG), operated by U.K. gambling concern Betfair, will officially take over online wagering in New Jersey as of March 1, pending regulatory approvals.

New Jersey horseplayers, by law, have been subjected to as their online wagering platform but will presumably migrate to TVG next month.

I am not a daily bettor but had dabbled with 4NJBets over a year ago just to kick the tires, and found the system antiquated in terms of signup (took nearly 2 weeks and involved mailing photocopies of several documents) and the lack of customer rewards and certain other services offered by other platforms such as TVG, and that offer additional appeal.

In addition, there was no access to NHC Tour events -- my selfish interest and the reason I endorse Friday's announcement.

Granted, TVG does not seem to offer nearly as much NHC contest access as or, but perhaps that will change.

Detractors to a 4NJBets takeover will point to monthly ($19.95) or per-use fees ($0.25 per wager, up to a $19.95 monthly cap) charged by TVG as a drawback to 4NJBets, which from what I recall does not charge these sorts of fees, but for me the trade-off is negligible, since I'm only an occasional bettor.

When I do make the random bet (i.e. Triple Crown races, Breeders Cup) outside of contests, at $3+ per gallon of gas I'm spending that much anyway to drive to Monmouth Park, so to me it's a wash.  Nothing is every free.

From a bigger-picture perspective, however, to me today's announcement goes far beyond horse racing.

Exchange Wagering 

Recall that Governor Christie in January 2011 signed a law clearing the way for so-called Exchange Wagering, a concept pioneered by Betfair.  TVG recently aired a show about this concept, which lacks appeal to me but seems closer to fruition with TVG's reported takeover of 4NJBets and that California (TVG's base) is moving in the same direction.  The synergies seem to make sense.

Sports Betting

I probably do not need to go into much detail about this angle for anyone who lives in New Jersey and has read numerous headlines about plans to legalize sports betting in the state, but Betfair's entry to online horse wagering (via 4NJBets) signals, in my opinion, that the state has already found its partner to roll out a sports-betting platform once the dust settles in its legal battle with pro sports leagues and the federal government.  U.K. wagering companies dominate the sports betting market and Betfair's entry to the New Jersey market puts the handwriting on the wall as to a potential future operator.

NJSEA's Exit - Perceived Political Benefits

First the turnover of 4NJBets management to Monmouth Park operator Darby Development, and now the introduction of TVG-Betfair as the operator of NJ's online horse wagering platform, satisfies another mandate of Governor Christie to extricate Trenton from the racing industry, as I see it.

Based on the discoveries I blogged in the wee hours of Thursday morning, NJSEA will strictly maintain oversight of the operations of Monmouth Park and 4NJBets, but Darby Development LLC (and now TVG) will be responsible for day-to-day operations of the state's thoroughbred racing program and online wagering platform, respectively.

Feel free to sarcastically comment below about NJSEA as a patronage pit, but on the surface the removal of Monmouth Park and 4NJBets employees, for instance, from NJSEA's rolls (albeit simply handed off to Darby and/or TVG-Betfair) is something that politicians can brag about to satisfy their constituents.

The question will become whether NJSEA or Darby or whomever worked out an agreement with Betfair that does not gouge longstanding 4NJBets customers and prospective TVG users in New Jersey.

Perhaps a lot to absorb, but selfishly speaking, I like the prospect of becoming a TVG customer, if for nothing else to participate in the random NHC-focused handicapping contest.  TwinSpires would be way better in that regard, but at first glance TVG looks like a big upgrade for contest-focused horseplayers in the Garden State.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

State Racing Commission Minutes, Assembly Bill Signal Positive Change for NJ-Based NHC Tour Players

Based on my review of public documents, two recent developments at the state level signal that New Jersey residents who belong to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Tour will soon gain greater access to online qualifying tournaments run by an outside account wagering (ADW) platform.

There's no need to go into a long recap of my disdain for, which may work well for the average horseplayer but, since its creation in 2004, lacks any value for an NHC Tour player like me.

In short, I (and all NJ residents) am prohibited by law from playing in contests run by out-of-state ADW operators like and that offer NHC berths.  I have long written for change.

NJ Horseplayer Reading
The Tea Leaves
The wheels appear to be in motion, however, for a seismic shift.

Starting from unsolicited and unfounded rumors from several friends in the blogosphere about U.K. Betfair-owned TVG taking the reins from, I did some digging and uncovered two pertinent documents.

The first is the minutes of the November 30, 2012 telephonic meeting (interesting choice of technology for a public meeting) of the New Jersey Racing Commission (NJRC).  Four references to TVG, which has its own ADW service and television network, pique my interest.

Try to Follow Along

Evidently, the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority's (NJSEA) turnover of the operations of Monmouth Park in 2012 to privately-held Darby Development LLC will now extend to the day-to-day management of 4NJBets and empower Darby to solicit bids from parties interested in operating NJ's ADW platform.

Two such parties named in the minutes were TVG and Sportech, the British gambling company that inherited the 4NJBets contract via its 2010 acquisition of Scientific Games.

Despite objections-turned-allegations by the attorney representing Sportech that Darby circumvented state laws governing public bids (starting at "Gil Brooks," pg. 10) , NJRC Executive Director Frank Zanzuckki confirmed the Commission's unanimous approval for the turnover of 4NJBets (and its employees) to Darby, with several seemingly easy-to-meet conditions.

Meanwhile, on February 4, 2013, New Jersey's Assembly voted unanimously on a measure (A-2914) to allow -- get this -- "state residents who are outside New Jersey to place wagers on horse races using the account wagering system."  

This approval came a week after Governor Christie signed a law letting bettors use their mobile devices to place wagers (but only at approved betting facilities).

On the surface, I failed to recognize the benefit of the mobile on-track betting law or A-2914 to either the horse's throughbred racing industry or horseplayers, but had an epiphany after reviewing them in the context of the NJRC meeting minutes: NJ residents may soon get to use an outside ADW, like a TVG.

This is merely speculative, but I am guessing that these measures, when taken together with the NJRC's decision, will clear the way for Darby to hire an outside operator like TVG or TwinSpires to either take over or entirely replace the 4NJBets architecture with its own proprietary wagering system.

In my view, this would mark significant progress for NHC Tour members living in New Jersey.  Current 4NJBets account holders may disagree, but that's not my concern.

Take an email this evening that I received from Michele Ravencraft, who oversees the NHC program for the NTRA, highlighting an event called the Keeneland Grade One Gamble

The Grade One Gamble, to be held during the spring meeting at Keeneland in April, is a big-money tournament limited to 55 entrants; 41 will pay $3,000 to enter, while the other 14 entrants will be reserved for TVG account holders through internal qualifying on TVG (see Rules).  The top five finishers at the Grade One Gamble will win spots to the 2014 NHC.

Normally, I would automatically trash such an email, since 4NJBets never offers that kind of NHC-based tournament access of other ADWs.  In light of recent developments in Trenton, however, I will save that one for future reference in the event that Darby picks TVG to offer wagering services.

I'll also keep my eye open for any new developments with NJRC or the NJ Legislature.

In the meantime, feel free to share any discoveries or observations in the comment field below.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Duty Calls, Contests Abound

The simple response would have been to ignore an unsolicited email from some faceless blogger and disgruntled weekend handicapping contest player.

However, Tampa Bay Downs steward John Morrissey was courteous enough to respond to my inquiry about a stewards' inquiry in Race 3 last Saturday, which proved an inflection point in my fortunes in the first of three Simulcast Series Challenge contests at Monmouth Park.

Recall that I was baffled by the disqualification of my selection, 18-to-1 Duty Blues, from a second-place finish for what appeared to be a phantom claim of foul by Scott Spieth, the rider of the fourth-place finisher, Shellback.  On its surface, the race replay seems to show the eventual winner, 5-to-2 Thank U Philippe, nudging Duty Blues into Shellback and causing negligible interference.

On track, I and another contest player who had Duty Blues figured the inquiry might have moved our horse UP (to a first-place finish), rather than DOWN (to fourth place), on account of Thank U Philippe causing the contact.

What was not clear to me in watching the replay several times, nor in the Equibase full chart, was that Antonio Gallardo, rider for Duty Blues, made contact with his whip on the head of Thank U Philippe, causing that horse to move in and setting off a chain reaction that the stewards felt cost Shellback third place, since Spieth pulled up Shellback to avoid clipping Duty Blues' heels.  Hence, the D'Q.  

A fellow writer and avid horseplayer whom I respect miraculously noticed this after his review of the replay, noting that Thank U Philippe's head reared back in the stretch, signaling that Gallardo was a bit sloppy with the whip and perhaps the steward were trying to "teach the jockey a lesson" for sloppy riding.  That notion seemed entirely valid and better than anything I had heard to that point in time.

Mr. Morrissey, in an email this week, validated my colleague's observation that Gallardo accidentally stuck Thank U Philippe's head with his whip, though in light of the finish I'm not sure I agree with that rationale of the D'Q and final placing of horses, based on how steward decision.  On the other hand, he admitted that the contact between Thank U Philippe and Duty Blues had no bearing on Shellback. Hmm...

Confused Yet?

In my opinion, and without belaboring the point, Philippe and Duty Blues were clearly the strongest two finishers that race and Shellback clearly tired.  I get the notion that Shellback might have been cost a third-place finish (more purse money than fourth place where he finished, of course), but if anything I would charge that, based on the stewards' explanation, the final order should have been Thank U Philippe (6), Shellback (4) and Duty Blues (5).

Maybe that's not in the rule book.

Then again, I'm an equity research editor, not a race steward.

Granted, I still would have been out of the money on my $5 win-place wager on Duty Blues in that scenario, but I could have at least understood the rationale for such a decision.

Really, the one who lucked out in all of this was Meowser (#3), who skimmed the rail under Ronnie Allen Jr. and edged Shellback at the wire for third, but was ultimately awarded second place on Duty Blue's D'Q.

Were I Gerald Bennett, Shellback's trainer and one of the tops at Tampa, I would be fuming, considering my horse, absent any interference, was clearly going to beat Ian Wilkes-trained Meowser to the wire.

The difference in second- and third-place purse money was nearly $3,000, far more substantial than my piddly $5 place bet.

Anyway, kudos to Mr. Morrissey.  Whether I agree or not with the decision, it's nice to put the issue to bed.

I'll just chalk this up as one of those glaring transparency problems that is a widespread issue in horse racing.  A simple notation about whip contact in the race notes would have been more articulate than the generic "interference," which from video evidence was not so clear.

Contests Galore This Weekend

Reiterating my view of irrational exuberance (thanks for coining the term, Alan Greenspan) on the handicapping contest circuit (i.e. oversupply), players have a bevy of options today and tomorrow.

Saratoga, Monmouth meets...
where are you?!
As an NHC Tour member, I should focus on, which is offering as many as 5 seats to the 2014 National Handicapping Championship, or, which will award 1 seat per 40 entrants in its Sunday afternoon contest.  Horse Tourneys is otherwise running so-called "feeder tournaments" today, where I could spend $52 to win a $240 site credit.

I have landed instead on a $10,000 handicapping contest on Derby Wars, since I picked up a credit for that by finishing in the top 3 (out of 19) of a qualifying tournament after work on Friday afternoon.

The few who read this blog regularly may recall my inner turmoil over this issue.

I maintain that offers the best online handicapping contest interface on the market, but prefer to play NHC events and wish that Derby Wars would re-up its NHC affiliation and start hosting NHC events like it did at the site's outset in 2011.

Either way, as a limited-bankroll weekend player, it is hard for me to justify the respective $165 and $240 expenditure for this weekend's two NHC-focused contests.  The prospect of 11 months more on the contest calendar made clear to me that, for the $19 invested in Friday's Derby Wars play-in, I would rather roll the dice on a 6% chance of winning $300-$5,000 in cash prizes in Saturday's Derby Wars game.

Not me, but pretty close
In the event I get lucky and strike pay dirt on Derby Wars, I can set that bankroll aside for either NHC-focused events or a mix of NHC-Derby Wars cash-based contests down the road.

On the other hand, if my handicapping stinks and I go 0-for-12 in Saturday's Derby Wars contest, for 19 bucks I at least get to mend on the couch after moving last night's snow from my driveway and ahead of falling hard on my keister on the slopes of Jack Frost during my daughter's Girl Scout outing tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tampa Stewards, Revolutionary Dash Contest Glory

A 72-hour cooling off period is not nearly enough to ease the anguish over a difficult result in Saturday's first of three Simulcast Series Challenge handicapping contests at Monmouth Park.

Revolutionary wins by a neck
in the Grade III Withers
Two outcomes reversed what was a relatively positive day for NJ Horseplayer, where I was among 230 players gunning for a Top 20 finish that would have put me into the SSC Invitational on April 20 (where the top 2 of 60 qualifiers will win a berth to the 2014 National Handicapping Championship):
  • an EXTREMELY questionable disqualification of one of my horses
  • Revolutionary's gutsy win in the Grade III Withers Stakes
Ahead of the contest where players could bet on any of the races carded at Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park, I had handicapped the full Aqueduct card and the first 9 at Tampa, honing in on a few good opportunities early in the contest card.

Tug of War (4-1) was a flop in the opener at Aqueduct, but I hit on back-to-back prices in my next two:
  • $5 win-place on 8-to-1 Coffee Clique in the opener from Gulfstream
  • $10 win on 7-to-1 Blackeye Wynn in Race 2 from Tampa
Coffee Clique was a last-minute pick (hence my tepid $5 WP wager).

The race caught my eye because another horse entered, 3-to-1 morning line favorite Jadira, was one of my top a race on Tampa's card.  Jadira scratched from Tampa and ran here, and was bet down to 2-to-1.  At that short a price, I saw the value in Coffee Clique, ridden by Joe Rocco and trained by Brian Lynch, first time on grass and it paid off -- $18 to win and $7.80 to place, running my starting $100 bankroll to $144.50.

Blackeye Wynn, meanwhile, was one of my top picks, and in hindsight I could have been more aggressive with my wager, but the race went off right after Gulfstream 1 had ended, and so my reaction was slow.

The final odds might have been better had the field not scratched down to 8 from 10, but my horse made a lot of sense, considering the primary threat, even-money Late Developer, had never gone 7 furlongs and I thought might get snookered (and subsequently discouraged; it was an $8,000 claimer, after all) by cheap-speed long-shot I'am a Player.  The race went as planned, with Blackeye Wynn rushed to the lead by Huber Villa-Gomez winning by an uncontested length and paying $16.60 to win.

So, after 3 wagers, I more than doubled my bankroll to $217.50 -- near the artificial goal of $250 that I figured would be needed to make the Top 20 and SSC Invitational, but with lots of racing to go.  

Enter the Tampa Bay Downs Stewards...

Finding myself in a relative comfort zone, I revisited some capital preservation strategies discussed here almost exactly a year ago.  Rather than a full-bore show-bet mentality, however, I co-mingled lower-basis minimum ($10) wagers over a dozen more plays, but stuck to my prior-night's handicapping and notations on my past performances.

To: Tampa Stewards
From: NJ Horseplayer
The first was $5 win-place on long-shot Duty Blues (15-to-1 morning line) in Race 3 from Tampa, I considered a route horse at heart who was way over his head in prior overnight dirt stakes at Calder and 5-furlong grass sprints at Tampa.  I thought the horse would be overlooked (he was, going off at 18-to-1) stretching out to a mile, 40 yards on dirt, even in a middling 7-horse field at the $30,000 allowance condition.

Duty Blues outran all but 1 horse in the stretch to finish second (to 5-to-2 favorite Thank U Philippe), so if nothing else I was going to cash a $5 place wager on an 18-to-1 overlay, right?


In what I would consider one of the worst judgments I have seen, the stewards disqualified Duty Blues for supposedly interfering with a clearly fading fourth-place (also 18-to-1) Shellback in the stretch.

I have watched the replay at least a dozen times (here's the link) and remain baffled.  As I see it, Jose Lezcano came in with Thank U Philippe on MY horse, who maintained a straight line and was bumped inward by the winner near the finish.  To boot, you can see jockey Antonio Gallardo did all he could to keep Duty Blues straight, and when he did move inward, it was AFTER Shellback clearly began to fade (clear at the side angle).  Heck, in the head-on replay you can even see the tiring Shellback wanting to drift out with his head veering right.  Give Shellback jockey Scott Spieth an Academy Award, too, for pulling up his fading horse right before the wire.

Once Tampa publishes the Steward's Report I will post it here, but considering the ruling took more than 10 minutes to announce (and very confusingly, at that), I found the decision extremely fishy, as did fellow contest player Paul Zerbst, who had Duty Blues as well.  Heck, we both thought, if anything, the winner could have been disqualified and our horse moved up to first (not dropped to fourth)!

Perhaps we're biased, but I have seen far worse interference and no resultant D'Q.  I tweeted @TampaBayDownsFL on Saturday night about this, to no avail.  

Turning to Capital Preservation

The Duty Blues dissertation and D'Q aside, my focus remained firmly on the races ahead.

Originally, I planned to sit out from lackluster Aqueduct races 2-8, but with a $207.50 bankroll figured I would dabble in some show-wagering strategies.

Race 4 provided such an opportunity -- a 5-horse field with a prohibitive favorite in 1-to-4 Princess of Sylmar in the $100,000 Busher Stakes.

As bridge-jumpers were in on Princess in the show pool, I figured it was worth risking $10 in the event Princess stumbled or got a really bad trip and finished out of the top 3, but that did not happen.  My horse, second choice Kelli Got Frosty, finished second, for a virtual wash on my $10 show bet.  (The same scenario played out in Gulfstream Race 5, won by the impressive Verrazano at 1-to-9.)

I came up empty on $10W bets at Tampa, where both runners ran game seconds -- 4-to-1 Judge Well in Race 5 and 8-to-1 Kitten's Dumplings in Race 7. Sure, I could have gone conservative there by mingling in place or show bets, but at the same time I was within striking distance of cash prizes to the Top 10 contest finishers to entirely scrap win-only wagers.

My tenth contest wager, and the only one I'm really kicking myself about, was a somewhat impulsive $10 show wager on Isn't He Perfect in the Toboggan Stakes from Aqueduct  He ran disinterestedly under an impassive Irad Ortiz and finished 5th of 6; this was another race with sizable show money bet on the favorite, Johannesburg Smile, but my strategy backfired.  Still, my bankroll was $169.

Revolutionary Ride

The handwriting on the wall was becoming clearer to me after contest bet #11 -- a $5 win-show wager on 16-to-1 Escapefromreality, a Read the Footnotes 3-year-old who made a lot of sense to me as a possible upset play to 3-to-4 Revolutionary in the Grade III Withers Stakes from Aqueduct.  I went show instead of place again because the bridge-jumpers were out en masse for Revolutionary.  I figured that, in the odd chance that Revolutionary misfired, the show payout would have been grand.

On my PPs the night before, I made a note: "give long look @ 3."  

For background, Escapefromreality broke his maiden first out at Aqueduct in November and got beat by a neck in late-December in a $54,000 New York-bred allowance by Go Get The Basil, a next-out winner January 31 when stretching out first time around two turns (1 mile).  I speculated that Escapefromreality could do the same.

Too bad my race was a mile and a sixteenth (instead of just a mile).

Jose Ortiz gave Escapefromreality as good a trip as any, getting out of the gate without trouble and saving ground through the backstretch.  On the other hand, Revolutionary seemed to be having a hard time, trailing the field into the homestretch and stuck behind others along the rail.

Into the stretch, Ortiz moved Escapefromreality outside of two horses and appeared set for an upset...until Javier Castalleno, proving his expertise, patiently waited for an opening and exploded past Escapefromreality to win by a neck.

Talk About Deflated 

Instead of a $270-plus bankroll and pretty much a guaranteed spot in the SSC Invitational, I sat there stunned by Escapefromreality's defeat and frankly failed to respond, whittling down my $166.50 bankroll to a final $77.50 with some tepid plays and a skittish -- and failed -- $50 win wager in the finale that capped my afternoon.  Had I been confident in a particular horse in the finale (Tampa Race 12) I would have gone all in, but by that point I settled on a horse I found logical around 4-to-1 and bet enough to gave myself an outside shot at the Top 10 and almost certainly a necessary Top 20 finish, without zeroing out.

Monmouth Park has yet to validate the final standing for SSC#1, but I marked the winner down at slightly above a $1,000 bankroll, and 20th-place (good enough for the SSC Invitational) at $230.50.

It was not holding, coach
Building upon my $217.50 high watermark with strictly show wagers would not only have been boring, but perhaps fruitless on a day where big favorites largely prevailed.  Perhaps a conservative strategy would have done the trick, but I have no regrets on a day where my handicapping was strong (i.e. hitting 2 plausible long-shots back to back and cashing 4 show bets) and I had 4-5 near misses on others.

Not to turn Jim Harbaugh on everyone, whining about the officiating, but after three days of reflection, the Tampa Bay Downs third was an obvious momentum changer that proved difficult to ignore.

I can accept being beaten by what looks to be a Kentucky Derby contender, not by a subjective and questionable decision by three people behind the scenes.

Next up: SSC#2, Saturday, March 2.  I hope to be there...and see you there!