The top two finishers, regardless of whether they are members of the NHC Tour, will win berths to the 2015 National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas, so my goal over the final seven racing days at Del Mar is to find some way into the Top 2.
The standings have me at a $5,135 bankroll (all players started at break-even and were granted a notional $100 bankroll for each predetermined race). The leader is at $5,930, and second is $5,716.
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Otherwise, I come away with absolutely nothing, which would be crushing.
In any event, I wanted to analyze the outcomes of the contest races thus far as a potential guide to how to play the remaining seven races, beginning with Wednesday's Generous Portion Stakes -- Race 8, going off at 8:35 p.m. ET. I will not publish a pick, since I have done poorly the 2-3 times I justified my pick on particular days. Bad karma.
There are some pretty interesting data points through 29 contest days.
Long-Shots A Must
I can safely credit my 8th-place ranking at present to identifying and hitting the three longest shots in the contest: 24-to-1, 29-to-1 and 40-1 (the latter capped at 35-to-1 by contest rules).
Identifying playable long-shots is the premise of my blog in the first place, and the only second-guessing comes in having played $50 win-place wagers instead of $100 win wagers.
Assuming I had played $100 straight win wagers per day, and subtracting three $50 place wagers where I cashed, I would now have a $5,900 bankroll, which is good for second place and one of the two NHC spots in Vegas.
However, with plenty of contest action remaining, a lot can clearly change.
Still, crunching the numbers at least gives me the impetus to ponder an alternate final-week strategy, if necessary.
Better "In" Than "Out" Of The Money, But Too Early For Capital Preservation
Hitting the board in 7 of 28 contest plays equates to being "in the money" 25% of the time, which based on handicappers' assessments of trainers and jockeys is a nice number.
Of those, I have 4 winners and 3 runners-up, so if I can find another horse or two over the last seven contest days, I should improve my chances of catching the leaders or least securing Top 30.
Friend and contest colleague Stephen Fitzpatrick shared a thought with me this past weekend that "show" wagers can be a useful tool for capital preservation.
I have blogged on that concept in the past (see above link) and would typically give it much greater weight, but from my analysis, the show payouts at Del Mar are extremely paltry. Ann of the Dance, my 29-to-1 winner this past Friday night, for instance, paid a measly $6 or so to show -- not much reward for identifying the longest shot on the board as the winner.
Perhaps it makes sense to use show wagers on more of the "sure thing" horses in the final contest day or two, but I am not sold that an incremental $20-$25 of winnings at this point is worth the effort. At the same time, in the chalky Pacific Classic on Sunday, only 2-3 of the Top 30 players either sat on the sidelines or placed winning contest wagers, suggesting most are still playing "full bore."
Were I way ahead of the field, then maybe show bets would make sense, but I have to make up ground.
Slim Pickings On Contest Long-Shots
The favorite has won 8 of the 29 Del Mar contest races thus far, with only two above 3-to-2 odds.
The second and third betting choices boast another 8 wins, meaning the chalkiest horses have won 55% of the contest races, most of which have had at least 8 runners and 12-13 in a few instances.
On the days where I failed to find the correct long-shot, only three went off at double-digit odds: 22-to-1, and 11-to-1 (twice). So, in sum, I scored on double-digit odds horses in 6 of 9 such instances.
Assuming Del Mar offers deep fields over the final week, I am speculating that it will take at least another logical long-shot for me to land in the Top 2 regardless, since players lower in the standings will no doubt go the same route.
Outside of finishing one spot away from an NHC berth, the worst-case scenario for me with seven contest races to go is seven losses at $100 apiece decreasing my bankroll to $4,435 (good for 14th-place and some Tour points, based on today's leaderboard values) and falling outside the Top 30.
It is entirely possible for players further down the standings to hit 3-4 $100 win bombs this week and throw a monkey wrench into my equation, but over the first six weeks of this contest, a bomb has hit about once per week on average.
The law of averages suggests a slim chance of multiple 35-1 cap winners and, say, 100 players moving up the standings by hitting three such bombers.
That being said, I will likely continue to play long-shots, although I may lean toward $100 straight win plays instead of the $50-$50 win-place split I have employed thus far.
Historical data from this summer's Del Mar contest would validate that approach, considering as we speak I would be in second, rather than eighth, had I gone "all in" at $100 to win each race.
In any event, Sunday's analysis alone (where all but 2-3 of the Top 30 did not wager) would suggest that making no more wagers and sitting on $5,135 is not a winning formula. Getting in through "the back door" is unlikely, as I see it.
Clearly the players above me in the standings are great handicappers, probably slanting toward the same long-shot logic that so many contest players employ in most handicapping contests.
In my opinion, it all comes down to being able to pick 1-2 winners at good prices to make a dent.
The ride has been fun thus far, but approaching the finish line I need to rely on smart handicapping to find a few horses to ride to Las Vegas next January.
Maybe in the last day or two I could consider conservatism, but it's too early to go that route.
I'd be curious to know, how would you play it?