Sunday, July 31, 2016

Perfect Conditions For An Exaggerator

Mother Nature was unkind to a business surely in need of some luck, but from a handicapping perspective the sloppy track offers an interesting puzzle for bettors of the 2016 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

In a quality 6-horse field that trumps the overall competitiveness of 2015's coronation of American Pharoah, one could make a case for all of Sunday's competitors for top prize in a race that caps back-to-back days of 3-year-old showcases; yesterday, maiden Laoban won the Jim Dandy at 27-to-1 over the likes of Belmont winner Creator and top-shelf horses Destin, Mohaymen and Governor Malibu, and so the division appears wide open.

Unfortunately I'll be watching from home -- not because of wimpiness over getting wet but because my son's got the nastiest of stomach viruses now on day 3 -- but Exaggerator is my selection, and I think I can get 3-to-1.

Exaggerator ranged from a generous 7-to-2 and 4-to-1 on the Public Handicapper odds board over a 6-hour sample through publishing time, which to me represents a steal for a Grade 1 winner who is 3 of 4 in the off going and should appreciate today's moist conditions.  

I envision a repeat scenario of the 2016 Preakness Stakes.

This time, favorite Nyquist draws further inside (he's in Post 1 for the Haskell), again prompting jockey Mario Gutierrez to gun for the lead and push anticipated pacesetters American Freedom and Awesome Slew into wide trips into the backstretch, which in my view compromises the chances of all three and sets the stage for Exaggerator to tuck in along the rail, save ground, and gobble up ground in the stretch for a $600,000 winner's share.

Here's my quick synopsis on all six competitors (morning line odds in parenthesis).

  1. Nyquist (6-5): Freshened after a very game and presumably taxing Preakness, where he finished third off a two-week turnaround from winning the Kentucky Derby.  The questions become whether he takes to the off going as in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, where he won in a wire-to-wire fashion on a damp track, or if Mario figures he's just got the best horse and is willing to cede the early lead to another pacesetter and stalk the leaders. 
  2. Sunny Ridge (20-1): Owned by Monmouth Park executive Dennis Drazin and a horse that I loved at the National Handicapping Championship in late January but who has not raced since a lackluster fourth in the Gotham Stakes in early March at Aqueduct.  I would have given this horse serious consideration if he had a race to prep for the Haskell, but even the long-shot player in me sees Sunny Ridge as merely an outlier, even considering an extremely game second-place finish to Exaggerator in a wet Delta Jackpot in late-2015.
  3. Awesome Slew (15-1): A horse with top local connections but who was merely so-so in two Grade 3 races and should be the longest shot on the board but will be an underlay (currently 11-to-1 on Public Handicapper) because of the bettors' respect for jockey Paco Lopez.  I project that Paco will roll the dice and gun for the lead, considering that this horse's two wins were sprints, but figure he'll maybe last for three-quarters before fading to last.
  4. Gun Runner (4-1): The "in" selection for about half of the public handicappers that I follow, but I see risk in the current 2-to-1 odds on Public Handicapper and would use this horse under Exaggerator and American Freedom in trifectas and superfectas.  Also, his third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby is a bit overplayed, in my view, and I just think he'll get squeezed by the competitors to either side, then be left with much ground to make up late. 
  5. American Freedom (3-1): Haskell killer Bob Baffert trains an upstart here who I think has a legitimate chance to win at an overlay.  American Freedom is a late bloomer who did not make his debut until April, but has two lower-level stakes wins already, including a really gutsy win in the Sir Barton Stakes (see below) that signals his courage could be an asset in the Haskell. 
  6. Exaggerator (5-2): Expect this one to come rolling late and win at a decent price.  On a dry track, I might have had a different opinion, but for my money the wet going is a huge plus.

The way I'd play it is Exaggerator over American Freedom and Nyquist in the exacta and trifecta, then include Gun Runner and Sunny Ridge in the third and fourth slots. Best of luck!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

2 Free NHC Seats, Tour Points Up For Grabs In Del Mar Online

"Cool As Ever" is appropriate branding for a free NHC-focused handicapping contest offered by Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and that gets underway with Friday's start of the prestigious summer meet.

NJ Horseplayer all about feeding
the Pokemon GO frenzy; $100 to
win on Pikachu & Ash
In 2014, I qualified for the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) through this contest by virtue of a second-place finish over 4,000-plus contestants, so I can attest to its value, especially for lower-budget players or those curious about playing the handicapping contest circuit but hesitant to take the cash bankroll plunge.

It's a free spin (Del Mar even provides past performances for each day's race), so there's no better time to sign up than now.

Registration closes on Friday.

Make no bones about it, this is a difficult contest to win, but at no out-of-pocket cost, it's one certainly worth playing, especially for NHC Tour members since Tour points are awarded to the Top 10% of finishers.  (On the latter, I picked up Tour points in 2015 via the (separate) November contest, so signing up here can only help those trying to qualify for the NHC by accruing Tour points.)

The premise is simple -- build the highest bankroll by Labor Day -- as are the rules:
  • Make at least 20 mythical win, place and/or show wagers of $100 (the daily bankroll). 
    • Del Mar selects one race per day, generally that afternoon's feature.
  • Enter selections before the post time listed on that day's contest race. 
  • The goal over the course of the 39-day meet is to make as high a profit as possible.
    • A successful $100 straight "win" play on opening day on a 10-to-1 shot would, for example, put you atop the leaderboard at $1,000 ($22 win mutual x $50 minus $100 bet).
    • A losing $100 wager puts you at -$100; 5 days of losing $100 bets = minus $500.
  • The win "cap" is 30-to-1 (i.e. $3,000 of notional winnings).
  • Starts Friday, July 15 and ends on Monday, Sept. 5.
  • Top 2 finishers get 2017 NHC seats plus a $1,000 travel and hotel stipend.
  • Top 50 finishers receive prizes (TBD),
  • NHC Tour points to the Top 10% finishers.

Keys To Success

Hitting some long-shots is a necessity.  In the year I finished second, my $7,575.00 bankroll was about $800 below the winner but $1,125 ahead of the third-place player.  Other season-ending leaders had $6,500 (2015) and $5,068 (2013) for the summer contest, and $7,870 in the 2015 fall contest -- extremely solid returns on investment. 

If you have the time to make your pick closest to post time, seek value.  In the 2014 contest, I hit "cap" horses (39-to-1 and 29-to-1), but these were generally totally dismissed by the betting public (contest odds and mythical payouts shift as they would with real-money wagers).  In one such win, Meinertzhageni was an 8-to-1 morning liner who drifted up to 29-to-1 at post time.

Remember that California bettors hammer the favorites.  If you do not watch the California circuit that much, be aware that your 5-to-2 morning line favorite from trainers Bob Baffert or Phil D'Amato will be bet down to 3-to-5 by post time.  See "seek value" just above.  Either play another horse where there's more value or just skip the race if you cannot make the case for a rival.  Recall that you need to "bet" just 20 races to qualify, so a one-day pass at least sustains your bankroll. 

Avoid "chasing."  Say you end this coming weekend 0-for-3 and tied for last at minus $300.  Your inclination might be to ditch rational handicapping and take fliers on bombs in hopes of hitting one at the 30-to-1 cap.  Remember that, with a $100 daily bankroll, you can make up a lot of ground on the field with back-to-back 5-to-1 and 8-to-1 winners that make sense to play.  Stay patient.

Stick to "win" bets.  The spreadsheet on my September 2014 season recap taught me that I left money on the table in splitting my $100 bankroll into $50 win and place rather than going full bore with $100 to win on each day's selection.  Now, if you're way ahead of the pack in late August and are looking to sustain bankroll, I would endorse the more-conservative strategy or sticking to the sidelines.  Otherwise, $100 win is the way to go to move more quickly up the leaderboard. 

Use the contest for practice.  The chances of a Top 2 finish are slim, so take advantage of the free past performances, access to free race video and replays (via to increase your contest handicapping and playing skills. 

Have fun, and see you at the finish line!