Saturday, May 12, 2018

Sad Over Broken Public Handicapper-NHC Ties

As I write, enjoying my coffee after an excessively long workweek and about to get in some errands before this afternoon's live contest at Monmouth Park, it's with some sadness that I lack the motivation as I normally would to decipher this week's four races for the Public Handicapper Challenge.

I've played it for about the past decade, and will continue to, and even served as an editor for a short while. You can't imagine how honored I felt a few contests back when site founder Scott Carson invited me to be one of the six elite to provide my insights on big national races each week. I had a blast doing it, especially as a one-time sports writer who gave up that career track in order to actually have off on evenings, Saturdays and Sundays.

The friend who introduced me to the circuit around '07-'08, Terry Flanagan, often says it's the purest form of handicapping skill out there, and I tend to agree.

There's no hedging. You can't buy multiple entries for yourself, your spouse and three pet poodles in a bid to stack the deck. Picks must be locked in at least an hour before post time.

One-time fill-in editor's laments
diminished allure of 2018 contest
You must pick winners, and at times choose between that 3-to-5 shot you love -- and whether the $1.20 notional profit is enough reward for your risk in a six-month tournament -- or forgo that selection for a horse that's going to pay closer to $30 if you think the gigantic favorite can misfire.

And there's no turning back once your pick's locked in.

Yet there's a major difference this season.

The winner (and I forget, but it might have been two at one point) will not get a berth to the National Handicapping Horseplayers Championship (NHC).

Some critics love to bash the actual value of an NHC berth, arguing that the takeout is too high and NTRA is using it more to fund other ventures such as political lobbying and salaries.

Say what you want about the NHC structure, but the allure to me is having to win your way into the tournament in order to have a shot -- sorta like grinding it out over a 162-game MLB or 18-month NHL schedule (who else thinks hockey season is eternal?) to get a chance to win the title.

That being said, this year's prize for the best "public handicapper" is a berth to the 2019 Horseplayer World Series (HPWS), held at the Orleans in Las Vegas in late March and a tournament where anyone can walk in off the street and pay $1,500 to enter.

Is a free HPWS berth worth kicking to the curb?

Certainly not, especially when the Public Handicapper's entry fee is $0. Plus it's a good venue for those of us who don't want to plunk down parimutuels all the time to assess our skills or work on our handicapping game.

There's something on the line...even when there's physically nothing on the line.

It's also a potential way to attract new players, where the industry should turn its focus.

So, what has happened? A thicker alphabet soup.

Well, the Daily Racing Forum now seems to own Public Handicapper, and has cannibalized the tournament circuit even more with the rollout of something called "The World Championship of Handicapping."

WCH's premise of a zero-takeout $1 million contest is likely a better venue for those who've argued that NHC's roughly 30% fee is egregious and cheapens the allure of that tournament, but's a tournament anyone can enter.

WCH is a higher $5,000 price point than HPWS, but same deal for me in that you don't earn your way into the event.

Without belaboring the issue, the sad part is that DRF isn't even using Public Handicapper to give away a direct entry to its own event.

Unless I'm missing the connection, I'm not sure HPWS ties into WCH at all.

Then again the alphabet soup that the handicapping-tournament circuit has become since I got involved is enough to make one's head spin.

It's a big enough reason why as a part-time player with limited disposable hours I'll likely remain focused on the NHC.

I don't have the time to try and qualify for what's shaping up to be dozens of major national tournament. Therefore I primarily focus on one.

And, in a subtle way, DRF minimized the value of Public Handicapper participation by negating the one-time benefit of PH as a scoring event for the NHC Tour standings.

That being said, the two-three free hours I've got this morning will be better spent picking up flowers and necessary ingredients for tomorrow's Mother's Day dinner.

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