The average American probably sat down to a day of NFL football on the couch or at a sports bar, but being a New York Jets fan and all, I figured I could DVR the game and cut down on 3 hours of potential ugliness.
It proved to be a winning move on my part.
Having accruing a decent amount of credit by winning pre-qualifier tournaments on HorseTourneys.com, I dipped my toe into the deeper waters of an NHC qualifier and cashed in for a $240 full-freight entry to a 12-race tourney featuring Belmont Park, Arlington Park, Churchill Downs and Santa Anita. Top two finishers would earn berths to the 2014 National Handicapping Championship (NHC) in Las Vegas.
The first contest race, in hindsight, proved an early turning point for me, as in Race 7 from Belmont, 12.7-to-1 Winds of Bosphorous was nipped at the wire a half length by 13.9-to-1 Unbridled Logic. The $12.60 of place winnings was minor solace, considering I could have started the tournament with a nice ~$40 bankroll cushion. Still, I was off to a decent start -- better than most of the 73 other players in the tournament.
Two contest races later, I needed no handicapping to land on Miss Behavior in Race 8 from Belmont, after having seen, in person, this impressive two-year-old filly rout the field in the Sorority Stakes at Monmouth on September 1. Miss Behavior was as visually impressive on Sunday, making easy work of the Grade 2 Matron Stakes at 3-to-1, putting me in 13th place through 3 races with a $24.10 bankroll.
Next race, even-money favorite King David beat my choice, 5.7-to-1 Street Serenade, in Race 9 from Churchill, but $5.20 of place winnings moved me to 10th in the standings through four races. Not bad.
Marina Del Huh?!
This race was ripe for a long-shot, but even I, the connoisseur of long-shots, could not have backed the eventual winner -- 52-to-1 Marina Del Heat, a three-year-old California bred who lost her first four races by 22, 15, 19 and 7.5 lengths, respectively, and the next race stumbled and lost her jockey, Chantal Sutherland-Kruse.
If nothing else, the other nags would get discouraged and quit at the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance, I thought.
Instead, and at this point knowing I was entirely cooked, my horse darted to a 5-and-a-half length lead through the first half mile in 46 seconds before petering out very badly into the turn, only to watch Marina Del Heat blow by everyone for a commanding two-length score.
Chantal, and two other HorseTourneys.com contestants (the latter to the tune of "cap" contest winnings of $42 to win and $22 to place), proved far braver than me when making Sunday's Race 4 selection.
When a Long-Shot Makes No Sense...
The loss not only made my decent contest start memory and set me roughly $35 behind the leader, but sent me a bit into earlier-than-anticipated "reach mode" and made me question aloud how anyone could have logically landed on Marina Del Heat.
I suppose the law of averages says that, much like the few benefactors at the track who wagered real money on Marina Del Heat, at least one or two people in Sunday's handicapping contest would pick the horse, but a look at the horse's running line does not point to a single logical handicapping angle, in my view.
Maybe trainer Barry Abrams' 46% "in-the-money" finishes in a 13-race sample inspired, or the two contest players liked Chantal's 3-for-15 win rate on the early Santa Anita meet, or the drop down in class from more expansive nags, but otherwise the horse was totally a reach.
A shot in the dark.
- In four starts, never within five lengths of a leader
- Faded all four times by as much as 11 lengths
- Never took money in five starts; 25.5-to-1 was her lowest odds ever
- Low-percentage maiden claiming trainer (8% win rate in 254 starts)
...and Makes Total Sense
I avoided really swinging for the fences the next 4-5 races, but came up empty on some moderately- to higher-priced but what I considered logical long-shots:
- 9.5-to-1 Lethal in Race 9 at Arlington
- 14-to-1 Cacau in Race 5 at Santa Anita
- 16.6-to-1 Deferred Asset in Race 11 at Belmont, fourth beaten by little more than a length
- 16-to-1 Warren's Sugarbuzz in Race 7 at Santa Anita
Let's Get Crackin!
- #1, Solumn Oath (46-to-1) ran twice in two years and was running his first race in North America off a 16-month layoff and trying dirt for the first time; hide the children
- #2, Ranulf (26-to-1), a Bob Baffert trainee, figured to benefit from a good jockey (Julien Leparoux) but was trying dirt for the first time as well and seemed an early factor who lacked any stamina, even at a sprint distance
- #3, Cast a Doubt (44-to-1) was playable solely because of trainer John Sadler and some so-so dirt efforts at Santa Anita, but in early 2012, and had done nothing of note on dirt since
- #6, Let's Get Crackin (44-to-1).