I've already got dates on my calendar to hit the Spa -- less than a four-hour drive from the NJ Horseplayer headquarters -- and haven't been to Del Mar yet, though it's a bucket-list item and a place near and dear to my heart.
That's because I qualified for my first National Horseplayers (nee Handicapping) Championship -- "the NHC" -- via this contest four seasons ago.
The 2018 edition kicks off this Wednesday, July 18. Register here.
The premise is simple -- parlay a $100 mythical per day into the one of the two biggest bankrolls by contest's end on Sept. 3 and win a berth to NHC#19 in Las Vegas in February 2019.
Tour membership is not required for the top prizes, so if you've considered trying a handicapping tournament and are not an NHC Tour member, Del Mar provides a great opportunity; if nothing else than to sharpen your skills or to kick the tires.
Sounds easy, right?
It's anything but, considering you'll go against a few thousand folks, from the novice who'll play names, favorite numbers, etc., to the extremely skilled...to the players who'll only play horses at gigantic odds in hopes of winning with a few.
As the second-place finisher in 2014, and as discussed in the post-contest recap linked here, the key of course is to identify winners, but also "value." A few words to the wise:
- Avoid playing horses at odds of less than 5-to-2. The reward for putting $100 (again, mythical dollars) on a runner who's 8-to-5 isn't worth the risk. You can't win this kind of contest playing favorites. You'd have to hit 40-50% of your wagers to have a chance in such a format. If you're in love with a short-priced favorite, just sit out the race that day; you only need to make 20 "wagers" over the contest to qualify for prizes.
- Find the overlays. In my 2014 contest, Meinertzhageni was 8-to-1 on the morning line and completely ignored by the bettors, but a logical horse who'd press the pace and showed speed in the past. The horse went off at 29-to-1 and won easily, vaulting me to the top of the leaderboard.
- If you have time to wait until close to post time to make your daily play, absolutely monitor the live tote and take into consideration horses that the odds-maker thinks has a shot but is dead on the board.
- $100 Win Wagers ONLY. Again referring to my 2014 link spreadsheet, there's not a lot of value in playing place and show wagers in this format. There are simply too many players, and with no real money on the line, contestants will predominantly go "all in" with win plays. I recommend doing the same, and will take that approach myself this season.
- The only wagers allowed, by the way, are win, place and/or show, and to count as a "qualifying" play, you must use the full $100 daily bankroll.
- Sign up and enjoy! Again, zero cost to enter, and Del Mar provides free past performances for your use to make educated decisions on some great races where the turf meets the surf.