Results are pending Monmouth Park's audit, but yesterday I finished 8th out of a record-high 323 contestants in SSC#3, where the top 20 finishers round out a 60-entry field, with the top two players on April 20 advancing to the 2014 National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas next January.
Considering there are few local on-track NHC qualifying events, picking up a pair of spots in the SSC Invitational seems a coveted accomplishment in my third full season of competition, and getting to play two cards gives me a 1-in-30 shot at Vegas -- not bad, considering that over the course of the SSC qualifiers, there were some 900 entrants playing to make the final 60.
Tossing Discipline Out The Window
I spent a good amount of time on Friday handicapping two of Saturday's contest tracks -- Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park; I left Tampa aside, considering the lack of quality (one one allowance race). I targeted 7 "must-play" races of 23 total, five that I classified as "maybes", and tossed the other dozen or so aside (Gulfstream's was a deep card, with 13 races on Florida Derby Day).
However, three of my seven "best bets" scratched, prompting me to break from my strategy of limiting my number of intended plays to 10-12 bets and delving more deeply into my "maybe" races. I ended up making 18 overall (of 34 carded races), not sold on anything in particular and dabbling a lot on horses I thought at least had a shot at offering value.
Unfortunately I rushed into Monmouth Park to bet Race 1 at Gulfstream, where a dud named Happy Fella dropped my $100 starting bankroll by $10. Another "must-bet", Race 1 at Aqueduct, proved a harbinger of my late-contest play, where I switched off a horse I liked a lot, Ambassador Bridge, but not at less than 2-to-1 (off a 9-to-2 morning line) and lost $10 more on a flat Troubleinrivercity.
Deviating from my initial pick proved valuable in my third contest race, where I thought Summer Breezing was too huge an underlay off a 6-to-1 morning line in Race 3 from Gulfstream. Monument Hill looked like a much better value at 9-to-2, considering his turf record (5 wins and only 3 off-the-board finishes in 19 turf starts) and decent performance in mid-February off a 7-month layoff. A courageous stretch ride by Paco Lopez proved the difference in Monument Hill winning and padding my bankroll to $125.
My next 6 plays proved fruitless, including a confident $20 win/$10 show wager on 26-to-1 Alcolite in Race 5 from Aqueduct (finished a game fourth); I stuck to my guns, singling out Alcolite as a horse with a puncher's chance in what I considered a lackluster field of state-bred optional claimers.
Nothing Better Than A Beer
With my bankroll down to $45 a little more than halfway into the contest card, Will Run for Beer seemed like a logical contender in Race 7 from Tampa, the aforementioned allowance race at a mile and a sixteenth on turf.
Perhaps flawed, but I tend to throw class out the window at Tampa most of the time, and I was not turned off by the class jump for Will Run for Beer from the claiming ranks; the horse was fresh off an early-February turf win at Tampa and seemed logical, and jockey David Amiss is lightly-raced but sports a respectable record for 2013.
Amiss guided Will Run for Beer to a nose victory, breathing life into my contest hopes with a $103 score and upping my bankroll to $138 -- not great, but positive territory after 10 wagers.
With no great confidence in anything on the rest of the contest card, however, I dipped down into some "maybe" race plays and went 0-for-5 to drop my bankroll to $78.
My fortunes changed in a major way in Race 10 from Aqueduct.
No Offense, Pierre Tomas...
I think every horseplayer has jockeys that make their skin crawl.
|This Pierre knows how to|
take it to the house
There a part of me that thinks jockeys like this get extra pleasure in the winner's circle when my money's not on them, knowing that my hard-earned money went out the window with them so often.
Admit it, you've been there too.
Then there's Pierre Tomas, not to be confused with the New Orleans Saints running back, who in some years proved valuable to my fantasy football teams.
Tomas, to me, is an automatic toss in any race. I have never really seen this jockey squeeze anything extraordinary out of a horse that, granted, probably has little chance of winning a race, but I've seen the likes of Eibar Coa, Maylan Studart and Vinnie Bednar score improbable victories on long-shots.
Pierre Tomas... not so much, as borne out by Equibase data -- 4 wins in 170 starts.
...Christian Hidalgo Rocks
|Precisely why Beyer|
Speed Figures mean little
most of the time
As seen in the first of two pages of past performances for the race (you can thank me for saving you the anguish of seeing the other entries), I made a notation to myself when handicapping on Friday that the 3 was "maybe worth a look if desperate" -- not the most bullish of indicators, but there were several reasons to consider Trixie Star at a 30-to-1 morning line, in my view:
- Trained by James Ryerson, who scores 12% overall and on dirt, in sprints and with maiden claimers
- Race under her belt, albeit a distant seventh of 11 at the $16k claiming level, signaled some positives:
- "Rank early, greenly" signaled that maybe she simply needed a race just to get acclimated to getting into the starting gate and learning how to race
- March 15 race line suggests she got left at the gate, but actually passed two horses in the stretch and gained 3.5 lengths on the ultimate winner, Rockin Mandy
- March 15 second-place finisher T C Lane was third choice at 5-to-1 in Saturday's morning line but scratched as an "also eligible" after running a close fourth in a race at Aqueduct on Friday
- Three of five relatively speedy works of five: March 4, February 2 and January 29
- and, last but not least...rider switch from Pierre Tomas to...anyone else...