In about an hour, however, I'll be plunking down my first wager in Simulcast Series Challenge #3 at Monmouth Park, which feeds into an 80-player invitational tournament in late April, where the top two finishers win berths to the National Handicapping Championship.
For lack of serious prep time, I enter today's event having prepared at 1 of the 3 contest tracks.
Perhaps it's not the best decision, but I focused on Tampa Bay Downs and will wing it a bit with the races carded for Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park.
Figuring I needed to hone in on a track I like to play and that I find other SSC contestants tend to ignore, I studied all 11 races from Oldsmar, FL this morning and hope to score in one of two early races. In terms of the other two tracks, I will tap the wisdom of experts Andy Serling (Aqueduct) and Kevin Cox (Gulfstream) to augment my own handicapping at the track.
One really intriguing horse, in my view, is 12-to-1 German Chocolate in Tampa's opener.
Category, I am speculating, will go off below his 7-to-5 morning line with Ronnie Allen aboard, but the horse looks very vulnerable to me from an outside draw and even dropping down for a $25,000 tag (from $50,000 last race).
Going against a Tom Proctor-trained chalk horse may prove mindless, but this is the second straight class drop for Category, an angle I'm willing to bet against, and I simply am not in love with any of the other ones entered in Race 1.
In German Chocolate, I am speculating highly on a horse jumping up in class from $12,500 claimers, but there are several signs, in my view, that give this horse at least a shot.
I studied the replay of his debut on February 22 and came away somewhat impressed in several angles not necessarily evident in the trip notes -- decent gate speed, willingness to compete between runners toward the lead, and a decent re-rally in response to the whip after blowing the turn into the stretch.
Today's rail draw and some hustling from jockey Ricardo Feliciano could help a horse that I speculate can improve against implicitly tougher company.
German Chocolate is trained by R. Gary Patrick, who has three other entries at Tampa, including one that caught my eye in the finale -- Cowgirls in Heaven.
Cowgirls is 15-to-1 on the morning line, but the 9-horse finale on turf (1 mile) is bereft of anything that appears stellar. The favorite (5-to-2 Step Aside Boys) is a Graham Motion horse who was DQ'd from a win last out after drifting out in the stretch. I'm figuring she'll get early pace pressure from two of the horses to Cowgirls' outside, setting Cowgirls up for a late run, which she showed on debut in her lone turf try at Indiana Downs late last summer.
Patrick's stats indicate he does well sprint-to-route, and I like Victor Lebron getting the call this time and am not discouraged by the short turnaround for Cowgirls off a race last Saturday.
Anyway, two long-shots that make some sense stand between me and a decent showing in SSC#3.
Best of look to my colleagues at Monmouth Park today!