The wait for my flight to Las Vegas on January 22, 2015 for the $2 million NHC seems even further away.
Fortunately, in the interim, I have been occupied pretty extensively with work, a new endeavor coaching a church parish basketball team that formed this year, and the usual humdrum and autumn activities.
A trip to Keeneland and Lane's End Farm in mid-October as part of a Rutgers football weekend in Columbus, Ohio broke the monotony and was a ton of fun.
The contest circuit and ruminations (blogs) about how to qualify for the NHC have been absent, however.
I suppose this is a good thing.
I suppose that's natural, but a new feeling for me as the unofficial king of qualifying lament.
If not for an 0-for-11 start in the Del Mar November Challenge, I guess I might be more excited about that contest, or broken up about the close calls (all $100 win bets that finished a game second) like Rousing Sermon at 16-1 on Sunday, Power Ped at 8.5-to-1 on Thursday or Number Five at 13-1 on November 8.
Otherwise, I wagered (with real money and no success) the Breeders Cup and try to stay sharp in small-ante HorseTourneys.com tournaments, but to no avail.
Monmouth Park: Reasons To Get Excited
I anticipate that my real juices will be flowing again on Saturday, January 10, when Monmouth Park will host its first of four 2015 Simulcast Series Challenge (SSC) qualifiers, kicking off the new NHC qualifying season.
Credit to Brian Skirka and the rest of the Monmouth Park team for already setting the dates for what I consider to be one of the most fun and challenging tournaments on the circuit.
As always, players will have four opportunities to qualify for the SSC Invitational, scheduled for Saturday, April 25 and offering two qualifying spots to the 2016 National Handicapping Championship.
The format is similar to past years, where the Top 20 from each qualifier (the other three are slated for Saturday, February 21, Sunday, March 15 and Saturday, April 11) earn cash prizes and advance to the April 25 play-in to Las Vegas.
It's still very early, but I assume the buy-in will remain $200 for the SSC qualifiers.
In response to a survey that Monmouth Park took in the run-up to announcing the SSC dates, I proposed doubling the number of NHC prizes (to four) through the SSC Invitational and taking those two extra seats away from tournaments later in the season, but that concepts did not gain traction.
Still, for NHC Tour members who did not receive or take part in that survey, rest assured that Monmouth Park is really upping its tournament game, in my opinion, as the track is giving consideration to hosting TWO, instead of one (as in 2014), 10-seat super-qualifiers.
I suspect that concept will appeal to NHC Tour players with deeper pockets and who are at this game full-time, but for me (a horseplayer on a budget) the concern is that an additional super-qualifier makes the SSC format less appealing.
Assuming the 2015 super-qualifier fee remains $400 as was the case in 2014, I think the more budget-conscious player might consider passing on the SSC format and holding out for the tournaments offering five times the number of NHC seats.
The rationale is that one might have to pay $800 total to first qualify for the SSC Invitational ($200 per qualifier) and another $200 simply to play in the Invitational (a $1,000 total investment) giving away just two seats, rather than spend $400 a pop in a tournament without pre-qualifiers and with about the same number of competitors but giving away 10 spots to the NHC.
Basically, pay $400 and win 1 of 10 NHC berths in a single-day tournament, or pay upwards of $1,000 for 1 of 2 NHC berths and have to place in two tournaments in order to get there.
As a big fan of the SSC format, I am concerned that the super-qualifiers will cannibalize not only the SSC, but also subsequent Monmouth-Woodbine contests during the live racing season that also cost $200 but give out just 2 NHC seats as well.
Now, based on apparent record-high turnouts for SSC#2, SSC#3 and SSC#4 in 2014, perhaps my concern will prove unfounded in 2015. And, hey, the fewer people that turn out, probably all the better for my chances to advance to the SSC Invitational.
However, I contend that the turnouts for the Monmouth-Woodbine qualifiers portray less interest in those particular tournaments and NHC Tour players would rather see 1 or 2 of those NHC berths go toward the SSC Invitational.
Regardless of where you might stand on the topic (and feel free to continue the discussion below), as a New Jersey-based horseplayer, I am ecstatic that Monmouth Park is doing so much to enhance the on-track NHC tournament product and soliciting player feedback.
The 2015 contest offering is a marked upgrade over past years, where far fewer NHC berths were offered than the number considered for next season.
As the trees are bare and snow and sleet are upon many of us, I guess it is a sign that I should simply embrace the comfort of knowing that I have already accomplished my goal of simply qualifying for the NHC and bide my time until taking off for Las Vegas.
Heck, that's less than 60 days away!
In the meantime, I am thankful that the new NHC qualifying season is just around the corner and will at the same time serve as real-word preparation for the real thing -- the 2015 NHC.
Everyone have a safe and healthy Thanksgiving!