Saturday, May 13, 2017

It's All In The Fine Print

Well, it's the second of the National Horseplayer (nee Handicapping) Championship Tour's five "free" online tournaments in 2017, and it seems the organizers put about as little time into race selection as I did -- with one exception -- in handicapping this dartboard-like NHC qualifier.

Perhaps the middle week of the Kentucky Derby-Preakness sandwich offers only so-so fields, and conditions in the Northeast are awful on Monmouth Park's opening day, but today's 12-race contest is chock full of junky maiden and claiming races, with a pair of short-fielded races from Santa Anita.

For your annual 50-buck NHC Tour membership fee, though, you get to toss darts and cross your fingers that you'll be one of five contestants to beat 2,000 or so others, or to at least come away with Tour points for finishing in the top 10% of the field.

Useful clues in the fine print
So, is it worth the time to handicap the card, you ask?

No, in my opinion, since it's sort of a "wild west" approach where you'll see people pick their favorite number across the board or land exclusively on everything 20-to-1 and above and hope to hit 2-3 bombers.

Yet, for those short on time like me, and in the context of a "pick-and-pray" format where players are locked into their picks once the first contest race goes off, there's some past-performance "fine print" that could land you a decent winner at a price.

Dreammeister at 20-to-1 in Race 11 from Churchill Downs is an example.

It's a low-level maiden claimer that's got 12 horses and an alternate carded, to be run at seven-eighths of a mile on the dirt.

The field's a hodgepodge of runners who've all had at least one start and as many as 12, with each looking for his first victory.

On paper, the 3-to-1 favorite's dropping significantly in class for his third lifetime start yet racing on the dirt for the first time, and so I decided to look elsewhere.

Next-Out Winners Are Quick Clues

I noticed in the italicized print of the racing form on each horse's past races that, in his last three races, Dreammeister ran against "next-out winners."

On March 12 at Oaklawn, Dreammeister finished an evenly run fifth of 10, seven lengths behind Bluegrass Gem, who won his next race (7 furlongs) at the much tougher $50,000 claiming level at Keeneland on April 14. Bluegrass Gem went off at 7.4-to-1 in a four-horse field, the longest shot on the board, but dominated, drawing away for an easy two-and-a-half length victory.

Eighteen days later on the same Arkansas track and from another wide post, Dreammeister improved to third (again at the 6-furlong distance) behind winner Stump and runner-up Tizuis or Tizuaint.

Stump shipped from Oaklawn to Louisiana Downs and finished second of 10 runners on May 8 in his next-out race against far tougher allowance company at six furlongs.

Tizuis or Tizuaint, meanwhile, graduated the maiden ranks, jumping up in class to "special weight" (protected) from March 30's maiden claimer at Oaklawn, beating almost a dozen others on April 19 at Indiana Downs.

In Dreammeister's last try on April 14, a second-straight third-place against maiden claimers at Oaklawn, runner-up Wolf Ticket his next time out dominated a six-horse field on May 5, albeit really weak $5,000 maiden claiming competition at Prairie Meadows in Iowa.

Still, he's yet another next-out winner that somewhat validates Dreammeister despite his 20-to-1 long-shot odds this afternoon at Churchill Downs.

Past Performance Does Not Guarantee Future Success -- the Old Wall Street Adage

The recent success of Dreammeister's past foes by no means ensures his own success today, but a few other bits of fine print support his case.

Trainer Jack Van Berg claimed Dreammeister at a rock-bottom $15,000 out of that April 14 race at Oaklawn and is 7-for-21 in 2017 with a high return-on-investment ($5.39) "off the claim."

The horse also has two decent "breeze" workouts since his last race, and based on his four lifetime races I anticipate he'll at least be forwardly placed this afternoon at a racing level where front-runners or those near the lead tend to have better success.

That being said, based on my awful Kentucky Oaks and Derby selections maybe you'll dismiss my evidence and pick another horse who'll finish out of the money.

I'm happy to take my notional winnings and run with Dreammeister, whose sire Bodemeister was an accomplished three-year-old, winning the Arkansas Derby and finishing second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2012 before going to stud.

Dreammeister isn't a stud of a runner, but there are signs that make him at least playable today.

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