Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Jersey-Bred Spotlight: "A Legend On The Lawn"

Consistent with the grittier side of New Jersey lore penned into music by none other than Bruce Springsteen, the Garden State offers its own "boutique" thoroughbred race meeting...of sorts.

ACRC: Truly vintage, like the cover
of the Beastie Boys' record for
Paul's Boutique
Atlantic City Race Course, suitably housed on Black Horse Pike in Mays Landing but curiously spaced some 15 miles apart from the "glitz and glamour" of the Atlantic City casinos and boardwalk, opens its 6-day annual "All-Turf Festival" for 2014 this Thursday.  

First post each day is 3:30 p.m. ET, with racing culminating on April 30 with the $50,000 Tony Gatto Stakes.

By no means should visitors to "ACRC" expect a boutique anything on the order of, say, a Saratoga, Del Mar or Keeneland.  

The track is more Paul's Boutique.  


No, this little-known and rather unsightly thoroughbred racetrack has seen exceedingly better days since 1946, when the venue opened with much fanfare and initial stockholders included Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and a host of big-band leaders.  

Alfred Hitchcock even filmed a movie at Atlantic City Race Course in 1964 -- "Marnie" (see the 2:35 mark in this trailer...I couldn't locate the whole scene). 

Today, a company called Greenwood Racing owns the historic establishment, using it for off-track betting; my Dad's favorite place, in fact, for simulcast play.  

The 6-day meet is a state mandate, presumably to keep the OTB license...and so we have the 2014 All-Turf Festival. 

Almost Mythical

The old place still has plenty of magic, though.  

Fields are typically very full, as evidenced by 64 horses entered for Thursday's opener, or more than 10 prospective runners per race.  (There's a certain track a lot closer to my house that I'd LOVE to see be able to card 10-horse fields with regularity.)  

Parking and admission are free.

The paddock is still in pretty good shape and extremely accessible for fans.  

Seating is a little dusty, but generally provides a decent view of the races.  

There are plenty of betting terminals and tons of human tellers.

Pretzels and beer are inexpensive.  

Great family-festival atmosphere.

Not too bad!

The Legend On The Lawn

Ahead of Thursday's opening and the NJ Horseplayer caravan (my kids and parents) rolling into Mays Landing for Sunday's card, I caught up with resident ACRC handicapper William F. Hudgins, better know simply as "Hudg," for his thoughts on the annual turf showcase.  

I have only seen "Hudg" on prior visits, but plan on arriving early this year for his daily handicapping seminars starting at 2 p.m.  

I would encourage you to do the same and take heed of what "Hudg" has to offer on each day's racing card, since most of the horses at ACRC ship from PARX or use ACRC as a weigh station for the Monmouth Park meeting.

The dude knows what he is talking about!

Without further adieu, here is my email interview with "Hudg."  


NJ:  Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, "Hudg."  I noticed from your website that you're a man about the turf.  How did you first get involved as a handicapper, and in particular of turf thoroughbreds? 

Atlantic City Race Course handicapper
William "Hudg" Hudgins
Hudg: I started playing the thoroughbreds back in 1973 at Thistledown in Ohio (just outside of Cleveland). I was introduced to the sport by a friend and kinda' fell in love with the game almost at first sight, although I have to admit I wasn't a very good handicapper at all for the first few years - some highlights but a ton of losses.

NJ: Share, if you would, some angles that go into your handicapping. Are you more a pedigree specialist, or are you more of a pace or other form of handicapper?

Hudg: I'm a pure "class" handicapper - that entails analysis of current form, suitability to distance, pedigree and overall ability of the animals under scrutiny.  Each of us eventually evolves, over time, into a niche that suits our individual personality and class handicapping fits me to a tee.  I play longer races in lieu of the sprints - the longer the better, which allows class to rise to the forefront.

NJ: I notice you've been the racing analyst for the 6-day Atlantic City Race Course turf meeting for some time.  How did you get involved, and what does the job entail?

Hudg: I was fortunate enough to meet Director of Operations Mary Jo Couts at a Super Bowl party and we became good friends - although talking horses, a passion for both of us, was a bit of a nuisance to some at the gathering.  Mary Jo recommended me to track President Maureen Bugdon, and the two of those fine fillies gave me the opportunity to put a lot of years of handicapping experience to good use helping patrons better understand the game with daily seminars and my analysis of each forthcoming race.  I owe those two a tremendous debt for their faith in me. 

NJ: ACRC's a pretty peculiar place. Considering the brevity of the spring meeting and that horses ship in and out pretty quick, do you have any particular track bias or handicapping angles that you find play particularly well at ACRC? And do these tend to carry over annually, or do these biases and angles change from year to year?

Hudg: ACRC has one of the finest turf courses in North America - it plays fairly in terms of the best thoroughbred can win from any post and at any distance.  There is a very slight advantage to the innermost posts (typical over almost every grass course), especially in the sprints, but otherwise class - the ultimate factor over the lawn - usually tells the story.  ACRC has its "regulars" in terms of jockeys and trainers whofind the venue to their liking more than others (see the attached stats sheets) and these individuals can be relied upon to produce year-in, year-out provided, of course, that they're on an animal in good form,suited to the distance at hand and not too ambitiously placed in terms of class.

NJ: "Can we take anything from the recent form of horses, either based on race results or recent works? From my small sample of trips to ACRC, it seems to me the runners are often PARX shippers who run on dirt or maybe local trainers getting in a tune-up before shipping to Monmouth."

Hudg: Current form is always important and is one of several entwined factors that meld into the class assessment equation.  PARX shippers, as well as those coming up from Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs with recent racing activity/workouts even if only "fair," merit respect provided they are either bred to run well over the lawn and are slated to face moderate competition or have proven ability over the grass against decent competition.  And yes, many trainers utilize ACRC as a primer for Monmouth Park / Meadowlands future events - but those types will usually show sharp form over either or both of those courses and while respectable should be viewed with caution.

NJ: The betting card is not as thorough as at other major tracks, with exacta, trifecta and daily doubles the only exotics.  Does this change how you go about analyzing races for your audience, or your own wagering at ACRC?

Hudg: ACRC does offer the wagering pools you mentioned and also a couple of superfecta races as well. My aim from the time I open up the Daily Racing Form until I render my opinion is to find the logical contenders, then sort them into order of preference.  I play to pick winners, which by the way is exactly how I play throughout the long racing year.  Picking winners is the key to showing a long-term profit, be that over a short stint like this forthcoming 6-day stand or over a full calendar year.  He/she who can consistently uncover the winner will be around the black ink when the dust finally settles.

NJ: Any new features that ACRC visitors can expect this year? 

Hudg: From what I've been told management continues to make things as comfortable and amiable as possible for our guests, so I'm sure they're up to something, although specifics I know not.  My daily seminars - at which we school both the novice and seasoned players - still remain at a 2 p.m. start time (they last roughly about an hour) but I've been informed that I'll have a bigger area in the paddock to work in since we've been happily inundated with fans over each of the past sessions (the more the better - love teaching!).

NJ: I know it's still early, but I'm going on Sunday. Any good ideas on that card, or particular plays on other days that readers might want to keep an eye on as the meeting starts on Thursday?

Hudg: No, not really - you're correct, way too early to address Sunday's offerings from that crafty Sal Sinatra (a terrific racing secretary by the way and a great guy to boot).  I've fully handicapped Thursday'scard, will chisel that in stone pending scratches, then settle into a traditional routine where what transpires each day may or may not impact my nightly assessment of the next day's card.  It's a tactfully slowbut extremely effective method of operation that serves me well.

NJ: Thanks so much for sharing some time with us, Hudg!


The 4-1-1 on "Hudg"

  • Age 60, lives in Millville, NJ
  • In addition to ACRC seminars, has additional stints around the Breeders Cup
  • Seminar host at Valley Forge Turf Club in Oaks, PA
  • Favorite track: Woodbine's E.P. Taylor Turf
  • Favorite wager: $20 win/place
  • Regular betting locale: Favorites at Vineland (NJ) -- his "home away from home!"

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