"A-HA" sort of moments, if you will.
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Such was the case today in a late-afternoon "bankroll builder" tournament that I won on HorseTourneys.com.
I have to credit two outside sources for contributing to my success -- handicapper and blogger Lenny Moon's "Contrarian Handicapping Contest Strategy" in February's HANA Monthly (pages 4-5), and Tuesday night's episode of Esquire Network's Horseplayers.
First, the setup.
On the heels of an 0-for-3 start of a 10-race contest card, in the fourth contest race I vaulted to third place in the 30-player field, scoring with 10-to-1 Profound in Race 7 from Gulfstream Park, giving me $30.20 of notional winnings (on mythical $2 win-place wagers).
Three races later, I hit back-to-back winners (3-2 Chairman Garey in Race 8 from Gulfstream and 6-to-1 Pyrite Green in the finale from Tampa Bay Downs) to seize the contest lead.
With two races to go, Lenny Moon's advice first came to mind.
Granted, Lenny's HANA piece was from the perspective of a handicapping contest player trying to skyrocket up the leaderboard, but by straying from his fundamental analysis and taking stabs at long-shots late in two particular contests, Lenny missed out on a National Handicapping Championship berth and $1,500 fourth-place payday.
Atop the leaderboard with two races to go, I was the one with a target on my back, but Lenny's writings about his experiences proved valuable nonetheless.
Lenny posited that his reaction in the aforementioned contests was not abnormal for handicapping contest players, but maintaining a slow-and-steady posture of simply picking winners instead of reaching for prices would have been the sounder strategy.
I failed to hit the winner in the penultimate contest race, but identified three horses, at best, that had a shot to win Race 9 from Gulfstream and were bet appropriately, all going off in the neighborhood of 5-to-2 in a nine-horse field.
In past situations, I would have taken a "defensive" posture, picking a long-shot as "protection" against someone trying to score a big number, but took Lenny's advice to heart.
Speak Logistics, my selection in Race 9, lost, but to one of the other two horses that made sense, therefore prompting little change in the contest standings ahead of the finale.
Still holding a tenuous $3 bankroll leader over second-place contestant and NHC XI Champion Brian Troop going into Gulfstream Race 10, "The Team Rotondo Rule" immediately came to mind.
Anyone who watched Episode 3 of Esquire's Horseplayers on Tuesday night saw Peter Rotondo Jr. make a critical mistake in the 2013 Belmont Park Handicapping Challenge, and should certainly empathize with Rotondo's situation. All of us have been there as horseplayers at one point or another.
Keen on a turf horse ultimately sent off at 16-to-1, Rotondo Jr. broke the "code" of his playing partners Peter Sr. and Lee Davis and switched to a different horse at the last minute, in the process missing out on a $34 winner that could have put his team in better position to win the contest.
The takeaway from watching that piece, for me as a predominantly weekend horseplayer, was not so much about one's misfortune, but about simply sticking with one's convictions.
I loved Malibu Blues, 12-to-1 on the morning line but bet down to 7-to-2 in an 11-horse $25,000 maiden claiming turf field.
The nine players behind me in the contest standings were within $24 of my mythical $58.60 bankroll, so the outcome was wide open. The players in 4th-6th were my biggest concern, frankly, because I figured neither would go with my horse because he might not pay enough to move these players into the Top 3.
Players below them had to go with more-prohibitive long-shots, I thought, since all but two horses were reaches and I estimated had no shot to win Race 10.
My inner "bingo player" (to coin a term used by Peter Rotondo Sr.) attempted to talk me off my top selection in search of better value elsewhere, and to play "defense" against trailers in the contest field hoping to hit a long-shot, but the Team Rotondo experience at Belmont set me straight and proved valuable.
Rather than switching off Malibu Blues, I kept to my horse despite the huge underlay, and Malibu Blues strode to victory to cap off a well-earned handicapping contest victory for NJ Horseplayer.
In hindsight, even if I had switched as done so often in my contest history, I would have held third place (good for the same $225 site credit prize I won) by the skin of my teeth ($0.60), but it felt better to end the day strong by hitting 3 winners in the last 4 races, increasing my self-esteem and confidence as both a handicapper and contest player.
I have Lenny Moon and Team Rotondo to thank to some extent.
In my quest to qualify for and someday win the National Handicapping Championship, Wednesday's outcome validates my bid to absorb as much insight as I can about handicapping and contest strategy, and to share experiences via this blog that add incremental value to your own handicapping contest play.