Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Next Time, I'm Buying the Monmouth Park Groupon...

...and skipping the handicapping contest.

It's just a much better deal!

See, it cost me $200 to enter Sunday's NHC qualifier at Monmouth Park ($100 bankroll, $100 toward the pot), plus $4 for parking and $3 to get through the turnstile -- a $207 "all-in" investment (excluding my cost to subscribe online to Daily Racing Form and print two sets of past performances from home; but, hey, I could have picked those up for "free" at the contest registration desk).

Weighed down by nickels, dimes
Meanwhile, track patrons who paid $20 for a popular (i.e., bought by over 1,000 people) "Groupon" not only got two clubhouse admissions (a $10 value) and clubhouse box seats ($6 value), but also valet parking ($10 value), two track programs ($7 value), a $2 betting voucher and a $5 coupon for the Monmouth Park Gift shop -- all told, a $40 value!

And being that Sunday is "Family Fun Day" at Monmouth, those who brought their kids also probably got some free face paint, bouncy houses and pony rides (my kids, 10 and 11, opted out). 

Now, Sunday was not the first time I have gone without a win in a handicapping contest, but even a few days later two seemingly minor things leave me bitter about the experience.  Granted, I was a late registrant (I waited until 1:30 p.m., since I did not single out any plays until race 4 from Woodbine -- 1:54 p.m. ET post time), but:

  • Monmouth Park had run out of simple paper charts that I depend upon to organize my contest wagers
  • No food and beverage voucher.

Get Over It, You Say

Listen, hear me out.  

I am steadfast that when players are making a concerted effort to visit a track and fork over contest entry fees probably above the budgets of many track visitors that day (and probably also wager on the side into the betting pools), a nickel and dime mentality is not a wise business model.

Belmont Park and Aqueduct, from what I gather, each provide a nice lunch and beverage spread for its two-day, $400 buy-in handicapping contests.  

Suffolk Downs, which I am planning to visit again this summer, set up an air-conditioned room solely for its tournament players and put out a nice lunch, beverage and dessert spread last year...for a $60 buy-in tournament!  

And did I mention that Suffolk offers one more NHC seat (3) than Monmouth (2) did this past Sunday?!

Yes, Suffolk Downs. 

60 bucks.

A contest turnout of around 300 registrants at Monmouth may prove otherwise, but in my opinion, certain things should be provided to keep the customer coming, like a simple sheet of paper (not one of the 5-6 people at these tables even so much as made an effort to say "let me see if I can get you one") or a measly $10 voucher (given at the winter contest series) to get a few sodas on a 95-degree day. 

"At your service, sir!"
In short, the Groupon-driven customer, who may never visit Monmouth Park again or comes once a season for s**** and giggles, gets a handful of perks and may not even pump a single dollar into the wagering pool.

The full DRF chart, to be sure, would suggest that the average bettor among the 7,277 in attendance wagered, on average, a little more than $66 into the $483,146 on-track pool. 

I can only speculate that at $0.0001 per sheet of printing paper, plus the prospect of 300 contest players eating into the track's concession profits, would be a huge hit to the track's sustainability at this point, since what other reason would there be to upset a customer who is investing $1,000+ a season to play in Monmouth's on-track handicapping contests?

$4 for my spot
All the more reason to head to Boston instead of Monmouth on Saturday, August 3.  Yes, I'll drive the 10 hours round trip to play at Suffolk on August 3, instead of the $100 Horseplayer World Series contest at Monmouth Park that same day.

Adding Insult to Injury

Speaking of the aforementioned fourth race from Woodbine, the outcome was a harbinger of my day.  I told my equally heat-stricken sidekick Red Rock or Bust that this $50,000 maiden special weight was ripe for a first-time starter to win.  

Citing a decent work tab, I sided ($10 to win) with first-timer Rexton, who went off around 11-to-1.  

Rexton stumbled at the start and recovered to finish sixth of 13, but was no threat to fellow first-timers Regal Warning (34-to-1) and Csonka (35-to-1).  Ouch!

Next up, a $10 win wager on Staff Sargeant in the fourth from Monmouth, a $20,000 claimer at a mile on turf.  Playing a 5% jockey on a horse nearly double its 6-to-1 morning line is probably not the recipe for NHC contest glory, but I did so at my own risk.  

The full chart gave a more-generous classification of Staff Sargeant's finish ("...raced off the pace inside, advanced on the far turn, came wide and rallied mildly between foes"), but in my view Shannon Uske cost me a nice win mutuel with a weak stretch run after positioning the fresh horse perfectly to that point.  I took solace, at least, in Red Rock winning that one with 17-1 Michael P

After an admitted reach in the 5th from Monmouth, I loved two horses in the 6th from Woodbine -- 10-to-1 No Explaining (#9) and 5-to-1 Solid Appeal (#10).  In a last-second call, my $10 win wager went the wrong way -- Solid Appeal won by two lengths to pay $13.10.  My horse finished third.

Down to a $20 bankroll, and noting the obvious bias to front-running speed on the dirt at Monmouth, I found value in 9-to-1 Indian Spell in the 8th from Monmouth.

As luck would have it, Indian Spell, facing winners for the first time off a maiden-breaking score in Oceanport on June 9, zipped to the lead, only to be the sole dirt runner on the day to get nabbed in the stretch -- 3-to-2 Lucky Liberty got my horse by a head at the wire to halve my bankroll...ultimately squandered on a 31-to-1 bomb I liked in the Queen's Plate at Woodbine but finished fifth.

Bad Karma, But Always A Few Positives

Neither of my two gripes with Monmouth Park on Sunday had anything to do with my contest misfortune, so I'll just chalk up Sunday's outcome more to bad alignment of the planets.  

My logic and handicapping were not as atrocious as in some other contests, and despite an extremely hot afternoon, I had the benefit of hanging in the picnic area with a respected handicapper (Red Rock, who got off to a $300+ bankroll but could not hit late) and being graced with a great visit from NJ Horseplayer reader John Millili, who braved the heat and my profuse sweat to stop by and say hello.  

Yes, horseplayers, this IS
the place for you!
It's nice to meet fellow NHC contest horseplayers in person and garner positive feedback about my written ramblings on handicapping contest play.  Had I not had to bring my kids with me, I'd have spent more time socializing with other players, and probably in an air-conditioned environment. 

As Monmouth Park has yet to post final contest standings from Sunday, I can only hope that John (and/or wife Barbara) ended up atop the leaderboard when all is said and done and booked a spot in NHC XV.

That, or before the long drive from, yes, Furlong, PA, he at least bought the Groupon.


  1. Couldn't agree with you more. Always felt they should set aside one of their rooms strictly for tournament players. There is a lack of that tournament atmosphere because people are spread out all over the place. Maybe utilize the two theaters for the tournaments...and if a player would prefer to be alone that's his option.

  2. Thanks, Bill (and, no, "Bill H" isn't me posting notes to myself).

    The thing I like most about the Monmouth winter series is that a lot of the players congregate in the clubhouse restaurant. It's just a better set-up overall than signing up and players spreading out all over the place. Yes, players should sit where they want, but still, the takeaway for me is that a place like Suffolk seems to care about caring about the customer. Even if it's not The Ritz, so to speak, it's the effort that counts. Aside from Suffolk's being an NHC-focused contest, it still gets the edge for me on Aug. 3. I really had a nice time there last year.

    I'll still play in most contests at Monmouth, don't get me wrong; I like the action and want to qualify for NHC once and for all, and it's 15 minutes from home. I just get the sense the contest customer is an afterthought. I know there's hardcore bettors that take precedence, but still...

  3. Thanks for the we didn't place. You really have us thinking about Suffolk now!

    1. It was nice meeting you, John. Thanks again for going out of your way to visit me and the kids in the picnic area. Suffolk's a haul, but it was fun last year, and it's a pick-and-pray format, so if that's not your thing, I wouldn't make the trip.

  4. Monmouth is cheap cheap cheap these days...I mean come on they should have given something to the contest players upon sign-up, even just a token of appreciation like a free admission pass for a future visit.
    The nickle/diming is annoying but I can get past it as long as they keep the contest structure intact, i.e. no take on the entry fee and just regular wagering take on the bankroll...even with the nickle/diming it's still good value vis a vis online contests.
    My quibbles are two, (1) they should have had names on the leader board rather than just numbers. Espec. these days as more players know each other or at least know of each other, it makes it more interesting. (2) they should post unofficial results online the night of, like NYRA does. Come on it's 2013, it's archaic to not post any results for four freaking days.

    1. Good call, Terry, on the no-take-out; that's a good angle, as is your point about the leaderboard. Anonymous (below) would tell you that no other players had complaints about the leaderboard, and that we should be lucky that MP even graces us with any televisions to watch the simulcast.

  5. Monmouth Park doesn't care about contest players or everyday players. But, you sat in the picnic area, you can bring in all the food and drinks you want, and don't have to spend any money at the concession stands. I sat in the 2nd floor teletheater on Sunday which was filled with tournament players, none of which were complaining about not gettng their $10 food voucher.

    1. As always, anonymous, I look forward to your smug comments, and happy to know that you're satisfied with the lack of care about the customer.

    2. Nj horseplayer you have the wrong anonymous! We would never post something like that about you. We enjoy your blog. That comment was very lame about the picnic area. Your a decent guy who enjoys the sport. We may disagree about some things you say but would not knitpick about small things. And would never try to be smug. Good luck and have fun!

    3. Apologies, Anonymous "2"; there's a guy who comes here from time to time specifically to ruffle my feathers, like when I talked about how crappy 4NJBets was (pre-TVG). Most of it's nonsensical.

      I appreciate that you enjoy the blog!

    4. No problem!
      I only posted about non tour members. Not to be disrespectful in any way.i just thought when you first said they shouldn't be allowedto play you wasn't looking at the whole picture if 10 to 15 percent are not members you have an advantage. If you win the tournament you take their money and go to vegas something they can't do. I understand about tour points. But what I'm saying is you have an advantage to not just a disadvantage as andy serling would say that being said keep up the good work blogging and best of luck in the tournaments!

  6. It's not about being satisfied with the lack of care about the customer, it's about knowing the people in charge at Monmouth Park don't care about the live customer, and until the people in charge change, that will never change. I understand they have new "owners" but still the same people running the every day operation that don't care. We differ on a lot of things around racing which I guess makes my views nonsensical.

  7. Some people care about the food voucher some don't.
    I'm just happy they have lots of tournaments at monmouth that's what is important to me. Doesn't make me right or wrong. Nj horseplayer writes a cool blog. To his credit he has kept it going for a while now. He has to make comments on different things or there would be no blog. I failed to tell him that before. But I think different views are good for his blog as long as there not about attacking small things.

  8. In a way, I find we're all on the same page. We care greatly about Monmouth Park succeeding so that we have a place to go when we want either daily or to play in handicapping competitions.

    The new management has not really provided a fresh change, unless you count miniature golf and some minor adjustments track-wide (i.e. some new bars, big-screens on the infield). I guess I got too defensive about Anonymous' first observation about the food credit (i.e. no one in the tele-theater complained), but by not giving those (and being short of tracking sheets for contest players...a really minor thing), we're on the same page about management's lack of attention to detail and providing some token of appreciation to the customer. Anonymous seems resigned to this fact and accepts it, whereas I am hopeful that maybe someone who works at Monmouth Park is reading this blog and says, "you know what, we need to do a better job at some incentives for the regular or contest players." Flanagan (@RedRockOrBust) was accurate in suggesting that it'd cost Monmouth nothing to throw contest players a bone like an entry or parking pass for a future date...just something minor to show gratitude. My initial post was an admittedly sarcastic view of how MP put more effort into selling Groupons to people who'll probably use them but not frequent the track (like in the off-season, when simulcast tournaments are the only show in town).

    1. I don't know about the grandstand side but at the clubhouse side they were letting the tournament players in at for free