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.

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