Monday, January 31, 2011

T-41st in TVG Tampa contest; valuable lessons…and fun on cold winter days

Although this close to a much more favorable outcome in the fun 2-weekend TVG Tampa Bay contest ($2,500 first-place money went to “John E” from Massachusetts; $750, $500 and $250 went, respectively, to 2nd-thru-4thTVG puts up REAL money winnings for its free-entry contests), I came away with valuable lessons and renewed confidence in my 10-cent theory that it is a mandate to identify vulnerable favorites and attack those races. Perhaps not scientific to veteran players, but key to newer players like me.

To recap, I finished tied for 41st-place (no figures have been published, but there are usually about 4,000 participants in these freebie events run by TVG, so I finished the top percentile or two) at a $1,464 bankroll (367% return on investment, or ROI). I went 2-for-10 in my 10 mythical $20W/$20P plays, hitting on 39-1 Great Patriot in Race 2 on Saturday and 13-1 Sword Play in Sunday’s opener. Otherwise, I had two close calls with Show finishers at 21-1 and 25-1, and two game 4th-place finishers at 6-1 and 33-1.

Where I “lost” a shot at a higher standing, in retrospect, was in pre-picking an 8-1 M/L horse (5th or 6th choice in a 12-horse field) in a maiden special weight on Saturday that was pounded down to 2-1 and that I would have never touched had I been in front of the TV participating “live” (rather, I was coaching youth basketball games at the time).  The horse didn’t run a lick, and it cost me.

Perhaps first and foremost is to be patient.  Granted, I was away and did not have the capacity to even participate on the Jan. 22-23 cards, but it was clear that with the first-place person at the end of weekend 1 at only a $900 or so bankroll that there were plenty of opportunities to pass the leader this weekend.  In any contest with 40 races to choose from and limiting players to 10 wagers, you have to pick your spots.  

Meanwhile, this weekend, I was able to identify 8 of 10 races where the favorites proved very vulnerable – a winning proposition for a player like me who is looking for 5-1 or higher.  Plus, in these free contests where anyone can theoretically win picking their favorite number or silks color and still win, you have to hit at least 3 long shots to have a shot, as the winner’s $2,124 mythical bankroll (on 5 winners out of 10, or a $400+ mythical payout per race) would prove (the fourth-place finisher, or the final money-winning spot in this contest, accrued $1,836).

On Saturday, I should have kept to 5 (rather than 6) races and bypassed the 10th race, where, yes, the favorite was beaten, but I was only lukewarm on a 17-1 shot that ultimately finished mid-pack. I could have saved that selection for Sunday, where I identified all races where the favorites (or a short price) would get beaten, and thought seriously about taking Angel’s Concerto in a 6-horse Race 2, but laid off as the odds at the gate were 9-2 and I wanted to preserve a pick for deeper races and bigger long shots later in the card; Angel’s Concerto went up to 7-1 and paid $16 to win.  This still would not have put me in the Top 4, but all the more closer and another winner.

Finally, it cost me in end, but is not a lesson so much as it is a lament…I was between 25-to-1 H M S Anniversary and 16-1 El Poppie for my final pick in Sunday’s 8th and went with the former, mostly on the trainer (Jane Cibelli) and jockey (Wilmer Galviz), who rode the horse to perfection but didn’t have enough in the stretch and faded to 3rd to El Poppie by 4 lengths.  El Poppie paid $474 in the TVG contest (and would have put my bankroll at $1,938), which brings up the final lesson…

Never discount Calder shippers.  Another one got me in the end.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Another O-fer on, but in the running in the TVG contest

Feel That Fire and Category Seven were at least game in two of my four Public Handicapper picks yesterday, but I found much more success in the TVG Tampa Bay Betting Bonanza and still have two more bullets left for later in Sunday's card. First, congrats to "Birdboys52", an NHC Tour member who accrued a mythical $117.40 (7 wins in 31 races) to win the Winter of Discontent contest; I ended at ($13.60) on 5 wins in 24 contest races, going 0 for my final 16 - that's just bad handicapping.

In the TVG contest, Great Patriot came through convincingly (1.5 lengths and going away) in a 6.5-furlong $8k claiming event in Race 2 on Saturday at 39.6-to-1 and returned $1,040 on a notional $20W/$20P wager, while in today's opener, I scored with 13-to-1 choice Sword Play, who had a relatively easy win in a mile-40 event on the dirt and benefited from a rider upgrade to Ronnie Allen Jr.; the $426 notional payout puts me at $1,466 with two mythical wagers remaining, which I suspect puts me in the Top 50, though TVG has yet to update the standings through three races. I anticipate saving them in either Races 7, 8 or 9, which are among the deepest fields on the rest of this afternoon's Tampa card.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bomber City in PH contest; An El Prado kinda day in Tampa contest

Very quickly...Details R Sketchy JUST missed by a head in my Santa Anita (Race 6) contest pick yesterday at 6.2-to-1, edged out by big favorite Sassou in a race where the pace went as expected but my horse ran out of room at the end in a hard-driving finish. I'm telling Brice Blanc on the turf at Santa Anita.

Saturday's card is very busy, and unfortunately (from a contest perspective), I'm coaching in two basketball games this afternoon, so I'll be brief after looking at the contest card last night and doping out the TVG Tampa contest today.

As far as the final weekend of the "Winter of Discontent" contest on the Public Handicapper, the 8th-thru-10th races at Gulfstream are excellent betting races. In Race 8, the $200k Filly and Mare sprint, I'm siding with the relatively inexperienced Feel That Fire, #11, with Elvis Trujillo. This will be only the fourth race of this one's career, but the allowance score on Jan. 7 fits well here, IMO, and 10-1 is an appealing price highlighted by the return of Grade 2 winner Amen Hallelujah. I'm staying outside in Race 9 with 20-1 bomber Category Seven in the $300k Filly and Mare Turf. It's a sizable jump against some Grade 3 winners and the impressive Dynaslew, but Category Seven looks to me like a credible turf performer (12 wins in 23 starts lifetime) and I'm willing to throw out the last effort taken off the turf, where it looked like the horse had somewhat of a troubled trip. Finally, Black Hills (12-1 M/L) is my choice in the $500k Classic (Race 10). I know this horse has done its damage mostly in New Mexico, but the early contentious pace with First Dude, Tackleberry and Birdrun sets up well for closers like Black Hills and Dry Martini, in my opinion.

Meanwhile, in the TVG contest, I'm flying a bit blind in that I'll be away while the races run, but in advance I'll be entering 4 picks on Day 3 of the 4-day Tampa Bay Betting Bonanza. I'll make the requisite $20W/$20P wagers in spots where I think some hefty longshots can compete. Contrary to a few TVG announcers' comments this week about a few of its own hosts nailing a bunch of winners on last week's card, the TVG contests, from my limited experience, ALWAYS come down to nailing prohibitive longshots at one point or another, since usually there are 3,500-4,000 contestants in these freebies. And with a 46-1 winner on yesterday's card, the possibility is there at Tampa Downs.

I'm going with two lightly-raced El Prado offspring - Emerald Crescent (#5) in Race 4, a $32k claiming race at a mile on the turf, and Maggy Mac (#9) in Race 6, a $20k maiden special weight, also a mile on the turf. Emerald Crescent has never run on the turf and hasn't been in a race since a 6f affair at Churchill Downs in November 2009, but I like DeShaun Parker - top rider at Mountaineer - and that this horse's maiden score came on the synthetic track at Keeneland in October 2009 with a 76 Beyer. There are obvious better horses in the field, but I suspect I can get more than the 12-1 M/L on Emerald Crescent. The Maggy Mac pick in Race 6 is strictly on the Brian Lynch trainer angle (i.e. 30% 1x Lasix) and that Daniel Centeno gets the mount at an attractive 8-1 M/L. The horse's first try at Woodbine was terrible, but in a $63k maiden special weight that, to me, suggests the rider, surface and track change versus a deep field is very playable. I'm otherwise going with two Leigh Delacour-trained horses in Races 8 (Favored Lady, 6-1 M/L) and 9 (Tripped, 20-1 M/L). Scratches of two top horses in the 9th (My Irish Girl and Jehan), the $50k Manatee Stakes, make this a wide-open affair, and I look at the July 20, 2010 race for Tripped at Colonial Downs with some favor, as this horse won at 14.8-to-1 with Luis Garcia, today's rider.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Details R Sketchy in SA6

Seeking wins in back-to-back days in the Del Mar "for fun" contest, I've landed on 5-year-old gelding Details R Sketchy at a 4-1 M/L in today's 6th race at Santa Anita, a $50k claimer going 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill turf course. Relatively new to the national tracks, I find these races among the most compelling (right up there with 5f and 7f sprints), in that the horses sprint downhill for the first quarter or so before crossing the dirt track to the homestretch.

Anyone who has tuned in to Santa Anita knows the times have been lightning, and I suspect the betting public will beat 5-2 M/L favorite Sassou down to less than 2-1, as seems to be the norm for Cali players. If the race goes 21-and-change in the first quarter-mile as I anticipate (Sassou and Hidden Blessing should sprint to the lead, and Mr. Tokyo could be forwardly placed), then I think I'll have a shot with Details R Sketchy as a sometimes-huge stretch runner

In addition, I am a huge fan of jockey Brice Blanc (+47% ROI in 46 starts on the meet) on turf, plus a Ron Ellis-trained turf horse who is the 3rd choice in the field of 7 (Dixie Commander scratched) adds appeal; so $100W (notional wager, of course) on #7.

Time to handicap Saturday's deep-fielded 8th, 9th and 10th at Gulfstream for the contest, plus Saturday's card for the free TVG Tampa Bay Downs contest running tomorrow and Sunday.

Track this weekend's NHC XII

Good luck to the handicappers competing in the $1.1 million National Championship today and tomorrow at Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas! Visit this DRF link to track the leaderboard. Meanwhile, fellow blogger Terry Flanagan at forwarded an interesting Q&A with Tom Noone, a contestant and winner of the NHC Tour in 2010.

After work, tonight I plan on posting some picks for this weekend's final "Winter of Discontent" contest at the Public Handicapper and hope to delve a bit into the second weekend card for TVG's Tampa challenge. My call yesterday on Banana Cream Pie in the 8th at Santa Anita proved a winner (paid $7.20) but I was off a spot in the DRF race of the day--my longshot Picko's Pride proved valid as the horse finished 2nd in the Oaklawn 8th to big favorite Yankee Passion.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Practice plays for Thursday

Snowbound, and with a few spare minutes after a busy and productive workday, I took a look at two races this afternoon, one for the Del Mar "for fun" winter contest (Race 8) and the other the DRF "Race of the Day" (Race 8 at Oaklawn).

In the 8th at Oaklawn, I like #1, Picko's Pride, at 8-1 in this 6f dirt sprint, figuring the inside draw, early speed and experience edge will play well in this seemingly middling field of 7 (five of which are coming off maiden scores and, in some cases, long layoffs), and would match him with #7, Thezimman, in an exacta box.

Turning to the 8th at Santa Anita, I picked #9 Banana Cream Pie at a 7-2 M/L. A handful of horses in this 9-horse field are making big class drops, but I view none of them as huge threats. The handicappers' selections on the track's website look extremely favorably on #1A International (5-2 M/L), but with a lot of apparent early speed, and the Rosario-O'Neill combo on BCP outside, I put a notional $100W for the free contest. And, fortunately for me (~$900 in the hole), it's only pretend money, but I'll battle back, knowing that I've been nosed at the wire on two double-digit plays over the first few weeks of the contest.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Perhaps my observations are totally askew, but the thoroughbred racing industry does a really bad job, collectively, of promoting what, in my opinion, could be a franchise that is equivalent to the World Series of Poker and that could capture the imagination of the fringe horseplayer or pique the interest of a new, younger audience. In other words, cultivating bettor interest and expanding the the benefit of the industry.

Aside from a yawner in the Daily Racing Form (DRF) last Thursday, the fragmented industry seems to do little to generate fanfare for its Super Bowl, if you will -- the DRF/National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) National Handicapping Championship, or NHC XII, for those in the know.

Face it. The horse racing industry as a whole could use new blood. I am only a horseplayer hobbyist attempting in my spare time (i.e. between the priorities of family, work, etc.) to win a coveted seat for NHC XIII (January 2012), but I've been to the track enough over 30 years to see the waning interest in the sport; I'd otherwise be blind or oblivious.

The NHC, where 300 of the world's top handicappers gather for a 2-day tournament in Las Vegas for more than $1 million in prize money, is the vehicle that could lead the domestic industry out of the 20th Century and shake the doldrums. Unlike the media support vis-a-vis ESPN for the WSP, NHC XII seems to be going off to noise of crickets. However, the human interest stories and drama that will unfold for the $500,000 top prize is sure to match that of poker and could translate just as well as a packaged television product.

Recognizing there is little major media interest in handicapping tournaments - and largely for the thoroughbred racing industry itself - I propose only a few simple solutions to breathe some life into promoting NHC and to shed more light on what is one of the few thriving niches of horse wagering (handicapping contests):
  • The Daily Racing Form should feature a week-long section or a pullout devoted to NHC-oriented stories, whether they be contestant profiles, contest  strategies, previews of the NHC final contest cards, etc., along the lines of its specials for the Triple Crown races and Breeders Cup
  • Mandate all tracks that send local contest winners to the NHC dedicate their home pages to promoting the annual championship in the weeks leading up to the event.  My quick sample of the four tracks' websites in my general area - Monmouth Park, Aqueduct, PARX and Penn National - yielded no mention of this weekend's NHC. I'll pick on Monmouth since it my beloved "home" track, but how hard in the dead of winter would it be to profile the contestants who won contests throughout the year on its website, to induce some local flavor into the NHC? 
  • Get the NHC on TV. How hard could it be for the NHC organizers to align with TVG or HRTV, at the least, to come in and put together an hour-long package for broadcast at some point after the championship? Ever seen Swamp People? Hell, there's everything imaginable on television at this point...why not a prestigious handicapping tournament? I'm sure the likes of Steve Byk will talk up the NHC on "At the Races" (Sirius Channel 126) or you may hear something on Dave Johnson and Bill Finley's weekend broadcast, but is anyone else really chatting up this event?
Let me know what you think about the publicity (or lack thereof) for this week's NHC. What would you do to add some juice to the event? Outside of the blogosphere, there seems to be little buzz about what will only become a more compelling event in the years ahead, particularly as the NHC purse doubles in 2012 to $2 million. That's nothing to ignore. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Quiet Weekend Ahead; 2-Week TVG Contest Worth A Shot

January stinks! The Northeast continues to get battered with cold and precipitation into the heart of winter, and unless you're interested in 5-horse races at Aqueduct, times can be tough finding interesting races to play, and this weekend's Public Handicapper races are a testament to that, but I took a flyer on Flat Out in the La. Handicap and Red Hot Buddha in the Leggio, both at Fair Grounds. Otherwise, I bypassed selections in the other two contest races (one, a 7-horse stakes at Santa Anita), for lack of interest.

On a more interesting note, if you're homebound for the weekend check out TVG's "Tampa Bay Betting Bonanza." I give TVG a ton of credit for coming up with interesting free contests, especially for those of us in places like New Jersey where we're prohibited from wagering through TVG but can still participate in these kinds of contests, which, granted, are akin to hitting the Power Ball lottery. From my experience, you get somewhere about 4,000 contestants for these events, and you have to hit prohibitive long shots to have any chance at the $1,500 top prize. Still, it's a way to stay fresh with your handicapping.

Long story short...this is a two-week contest through next Sunday, where contestants place 10 mythical $20 win/$20 place selections at races from Tampa Bay Downs. If nothing else, the race calls provide fodder for a drinking game or two (i.e. take a drink each time track announcer Richard Grunder yells out "Daniel Centeno" or "an easy ride under Ronnie Allen, Jr."). As I'll be offline this weekend, I'm going to keep my powder dry for next weekend's card and look for some bombers Jan. 29-30.

Finally, kudos to Michael Murphy of Oceanport for scoring $11k in winning last Saturday's SSC#1 at Monmouth Park. It was a very gutsy and profitable call to put the entire bankroll in the last contest race on a first-time starter. Interestingly, four of the top 15 finishers were from outside the Tri-State area.

Monday, January 17, 2011

San Marcos Stakes

Participating in the Del Mar free online contest, I am going with Riviera Cocktail in an 11-horse field with no major early runners outside of Marlang and, perhaps, Bourbon Bay. Granted, Riviera Cocktail is going to be around 40-1, but outside of heavy favorite (and Breeders Cup Turf runner-up) Champ Pegasus, a plausible case can be made for most of the runners in the field in this mile-and-a-quarter Grade 2 turf race, and I'm looking at the Jan. 7 warm-up allowance race as a plus for this horse's form. Let's see what becomes of my mythical $100W bet.


Final Result: Bourbon Bay (5-2), Champ Pegasus (8-5) and Sebastian Flight (4-1) -- my choice finished 6th, about a half-dozen lengths back after starting too slowly. The usual chalky finish at Santa Anita...

At least my Jets won

Outside of an 8-1 score on The Lady Waffles in an 8.5f turf race at Tampa, I came up empty in Saturday's first of three winter Simulcast Series Challenges (SSC) at Monmouth Park, cashing out $1 from my original $100 bankroll. One possible "game changer" I missed - and where I probably got greedy in making a win, rather than a place, wager - was missing with 27-1 shot My Pal Chrisy in the Gasparilla at Tampa, who finished a well-beaten second to huge favorite Devilish Lady. However, my philosophy - whether right or wrong - is that you have to pick longshot winners, not place or show runners - to have a shot in live-money contests, and based on the $360 final bankroll for the contest's 15th-place finisher (the Top 15 advance to April's 45-player invitational for 2 NHC seats next January in Vegas), that logic stands.

Otherwise, I have no major regrets in a tournament won by a contestant sitting behind me who scored by a nose in the Gulfstream (and contest) finale with a $120W/$100P wager on first-timer Slews Answer, which netted this contestant the roughly $1,700 bankroll necessary to claim first-place in Saturday's event of 186 participants and the $9,300 prize money. Not a bad day, walking away with $11,000. 

Meanwhile, on a whim I participated in Sunday's online contest and finished 84th of the 300 contestants, with a $44.40 bankroll on 2-out-of-10 winners and a place finisher. Other than being subjected to watching half the races on HRTV, which does a horrendous job of getting around to its various tracks on times and pales in comparison to TVG in terms of adding value to the horseplayer at home, it was a good experience for me. The killer ended up being another Calder horse that I ignored (see my post on Calder last week); Gator Tracks won the 5th at Gulfstream and netted $41.80 to a handful of contestants. Again, it is important to nail a big longshot in these online contests where everyone makes a notional $2W/$2P bet, but I just couldn't find it. There was a big one in Marquet Madness in the 7th at Gulfstream, but I was pretty bearish on this horse, which excelled on the turf at Monmouth in fall 2010; I should have paid more attention, I suppose, to this filly being 2-for-2 at the distance, but was not a fan of her front-running style, which held up very well in this particular contest race and is evidently a trend at GP of late.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Participating in the Monmouth Park Simulcast Series Challenge

The top 15 finishers in today's first of three winter simulcast contests at Monmouth Park qualify for the SSC Invitation on April 9 and two seats in NHC XIII in January 2012. These are the kinds of contests that get the juices flowing. The contest format is at least 10 W/P/S wagers of at least $10, on the full card from Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park. Gulfstream's card, in my opinion, is best from top to bottom. Aqueduct's is good also, but not as good as GP.

The GP feature is the Grade 3 Sugar Swirl, which is also one of the four races on this weekend's Public Handicapper card, which is why I'm sharing my first of two selections (my contest history suggests a pattern of changing selections once the "real" contests - SSC #1, in this case - go live, as I prefer to play the tote). My early glance at past performances drew me to the No. 2, Landing My Way. I'm more than likely to put my money where my mouth went a few days back on the Calder angle. Landing My Way is 15-1 M/L, but the race three back (Oct. 24), and the seemingly easy efforts in two subsequent OC 50k/25k wins, suggest this horse will benefit from the inside draw and can track the leaders and finish well. Needing a few longer shots to have any shot at winning a live-money contest, I lean toward this one over Jessica Is Back and Ms. Vanenzza for a 2-3-7 finish.

The Tampa Card is wide open, or really filled with less-than-stellar horses; but, for my other Public Handicapper selection (the $75k Pasco) I went with Depeche Chat at 6-1 from the nine hole with Rosie Homeister, simply off the maiden special weight score at 7 furlongs in late November at Churchill and that I liked this horse's tracking ability. The 81 Beyer might not translate to Tampa, and it's this colt's first time versus winners (like others in the 10-horse field), but I liked the last race pattern for Depeche Chat, who dropped from 4th to 7th and lost ground in the middle of the race, but REALLY got going heading into the home stretch and won at 10-1. My sense is that Bert B Don will be bet down from 7-2 M/L with Daniel Centeno aboard and with a race under its belt at Tampa (plus the 2 horse, Read the Contract at 5-1 M/L, posted a field-best 98 Beyer in a 6f win at Aqueduct on Nov. 26), so I'm looking for a slight price on Depeche Chat over Bert B Don and Manicero in a race where I willingly threw out half the field. If Depeche goes off less than 4-1, I might change my selection live.

Otherwise, stay tuned tonight or tomorrow as I take stock in my outcome in today's Monmouth SSC.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Monmouth Park's announces 2011 contest schedule, new "Player of the Year" award

Monmouth has rolled out its 2011 contest schedule for seats to the 2012 NHC tournament in Vegas and the Horseplayer World Series (HWS), and announced a new initiative where contest players will earn points for each contest in which they compete in during 2011, regardless of whether it is a NHC or HPWS qualifier. The email from marketing managers Sophia Mangalee and Pete Verdee does not specify which dates are NHC or HWS, but here are the firm dates for the Simulcast Series Challenge (SSC), where the top 15 finishers from each of the three competes April 9 for two seats for the NHC: 
  • Saturday, January 15 * Simulcast Series Challenge #1
  • Saturday, February 26 * Simulcast Series Challenge #2
  • Saturday, March 19 * Simulcast Series Challenge #3
  • Saturday, April 9 * Simulcast Series Invitational (must have qualified at one of the above contests)
The other dates, subject to change are: 
  • Saturday, May 21 - $200 Handicapping Contest
  • Saturday, May 28 * Survival at the Shore begins
  • Sunday, June 19 - $50 Handicapping Contest
  • Saturday, July 2 - $200 Handicapping Contest
  • Saturday, August 27 - $300 Handicapping Contest
  • Saturday, September 17 - $200 Handicapping Contest
The schedule does not look drastically different from the 2010 slate in terms of total contests (6), but, selfishly speaking, I find it a bit unfortunate that two of the contests fall on holiday weekends (June 19 is Father's Day, and July 2 is Independence Day Weekend) where I likely cannot participate. Then again, Monmouth regularly drew 220-280 participants for the spring and summer contests, so people seem to participate regardless of dates.

Otherwise, the Sept. 17 "final" contest date would suggest that perhaps a shorter meet is in the offing than the 2010 meeting that ended in late November. I am a huge proponent of ending the meet no later than Columbus Day, since the late-autumn dates were sparsely attended. I am hopeful this year's meeting will bring back a 4-day race week (bringing back Thursday or Monday) and end earlier. Contest-wise, I would just as soon see Monmouth run an autumn version of the SSC, maybe with some tie-in to college football or NFL, for more NHC seats. 

Regarding the "Player of the Year" award, there is a reference to a year-end party to anyone reaching a certain amount of points, but no details about potential prizes and such. I can only speculate that Monmouth is trying to cultivate more of a recurring base of contestants and to reward the regular players, which cannot hurt.  

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Something in the water at Calder?

The recent success of Calder shippers continues to go beyond ridiculous, as another two runners won at long odds in Saturday's 4-race card on Public Handicapper. If I recall correctly, at least one Calder-based horse won a Breeders Cup race, and I remember being beaten in a late-2010 NHC Tour online contest by 21-1 shot Gourmet Dinner in the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot.

The first of two Calder shippers yesterday, 33-1 Dream of Atlantis, regained mid-2010 form to upset in Race 5 at Gulfstream. The pace scenario played out entirely as I had anticipated (21.4 opening quarter, sub-45 half), though my choice, maiden breaker Royal Straight, simply did not have enough in his first time versus winners, but finished a respectable 4th by less than two lengths.  In Race 7, my top choice, Grande Shores (who finished second to the aforementioned Gourmet Dinner in a restricted stakes at Calder in August, scratched, defaulting to my "backup" selection, Cane Garden Bay, who finished a tight 3rd to Determinato, another Calder shipper who regained earlier form to win at double-digit odds.

Otherwise capping an 0-for-4 day, Eibar Coa failed to get my choice in Race 8, Jimmy Simms, out fast enough at the start and, after settling in, got boxed behind others in the homestretch and finished 6th by less than 2 lengths in a blanket finish, while my Race 10 selection, 11-1 Mustang Sally, got a great trip from Joe Bravo but simply did not have enough in finishing a faltering 4th to favorite Cozy Lion.

One closing thought: Olympic Election (Brazilian) is worth a watch. This is a horse I mentioned briefly yesterday in the 8th at Gulfstream ($80k optional claimer, mile on the turf) as a bomber play at 20-1 M/L. I think you have to respect a horse that shipped to Meydan and went against the likes of Midshipman, a creditable Breeders Cup participant in 2009. Anyway, Olympic Election got a great stalking trip and stayed in the top 2-3 runners before tiring in the stretch to finish mid-pack. This is one I'll keep my eye on moving forward and am willing to give a pass for finishing out of the money yesterday, since it was OE's first race since February 2010 and first ever in the United States.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Excellent Gulfstream card for

I find the Public contest an excellent venue to experiment with handicapping angles ahead of my live tournaments, but otherwise do not put a lot of value in the outcomes, considering the selections need to be locked in an hour ahead of the first post time. Notwithstanding this limitation, the contest is free (excluding the Vic's Pizza dinner I owe my colleague at redrockorbust for losing badly in our head-to-head battle during's contest from Kentucky Derby weekend through Breeders Cup). offers four races per week for handicapping. The idea is to simply pick winners. Contestants can play as many races as they choose and enter three horses per race in order of preference, so if your first pick scratches out, selection two becomes your contest entry. As a relative newcomer to handicapping contests, I prefer to pick all four, even though in most cases I would never follow some of the contest tracks, like a Remington or Presque Isle. The contest is strictly notional dollars, with contest players winning the notional win payout, but losing $2 for picking the wrong horse. Wins and losses accrue throughout the season.

This week's card features Races 5, 7, 8 and 10 from Gulfstream Park, or New York-New Jersey South, considering the plethora of Northeastern jockeys. My top choices, three hours before first post:

  • Race 5: #1, Royal Straight, 8-1; #9, Avenging Spirit, 8-1; #8 Fiscal Stimulus, 10-1
  • Race 7: #8, Cane Garden Bay, 8-1; #4, War for Gus, 12-1; #7Dual Exhaust, 5-1
  • Race 8: #6, Jimmy Simms, 8-1; #10, Asphalt, 10-1; #3, Olympic Election, 20-1
  • Race 10: #11, Mustang Island, 12-1; #10, Zingaree, 12-1; #9, Shimmering Forest, 4-1

I like Royal Straight in Race 5's 6-furlong sprint over the dirt if for no other reason than #2, Bank Heist, a nearly $1 million horse, will be bet down from the 3-1 M/L with the Pletcher-Velazquez connection and only has a maiden victory to his credit. In my view, Royal Straight can save ground and take advantage of the early speed. Granted, this is his first time versus winners, but this looks like a relatively weak field to me.

My initial selection #3, Grande Shores, scratched from Race 7, so I went with Cane Garden Bay, especially with Leparoux at 8-1 M/L and dropping from a Grade 2 race in late November. There's a lot of early speed here, so I'm leaning toward closers, and give the edge to Cane Garden Bay over War for Gus, who looks like an intriguing turf-to-dirt play with Desormeaux at 12-1.

Race 8 looked wide open to me. I'm guessing that Sleepless Knight will take some money and go below 4-1 on the rail and be able to save lots of ground, but I'm intrigued by the Woodbine shipper Jimmy Simms and like trainer Roger Attfield. I'm anticipating Jimmy Simms (3rd off a layoff and a versatile sort who has won over synthetics and turf) can stake to the front and hold on in a race full of late runners. I also will be keeping an eye on Asphalt at 10-1 in his 4-year-old debut, and am intrigued by 20-1 shot Olympic Election, a Brazilian horse out of the three hole who hasn't raced since February, though that was at Meydan against Midshipmen and presumably other wildly good horses. I am a fan of Brazilian horses on U.S. turf, and first time Lasix adds to the appeal.

Race 10 is a 7 1/2-furlong turf contest and Joe Bravo usually kills me (i.e. wins when I don't bet him and loses when I do), but I'm going with him on Chris Clement-trained Mustang Island at 12-1. I like the two-turn maiden-breaking performance of November 2009 at Aqueduct, and despite breaks in this horse's race pattern and a 3-month layoff, I think the added distance and stalking style will prove beneficial. I am banking on Mustang Island following Shimmering Forest and Zigaree out of the gate and then catching them in the stretch, but we'll see.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Observations from season-opener NHC Tour contest

Kudos to the Top 5 finishers in Sunday's NHC Tour Online Kickoff Challenge, all of whom cracked the $70 mark in notional winnings and won berths to the 2012 Vegas championship; pretty impressive in hindsight, considering the relatively chalky outcomes that would have yielded a notional $116.40 (a meager $11.60 per race of combined win and place money) to anyone who by some miracle could have correctly picked the winner of all 10 races. For this particular contest, players were picking from predominantly bottom-rung claimers at Aqueduct, Fair Grounds and Santa Anita.

For background, for those even newer than me to the NHC online tournament format (this is only my second year as a Tour member), the contest is based on 10 notional $2 win/place bets on a single horse each race in a predetermined card, unlike live-money tournaments in which I've competed where horseplayers can pick from a few different tracks (as set by the contest organizers) and wager on more than 10 races. The contest winner, in short, is tasked with accruing the largest notional bankroll among all contest players.

One cannot tell which winners the Top 5 finishers selected in Sunday's contest, but in all likelihood, I'd venture a guess that many presumably hit on some big second-place runners in the contest races. To be sure, the biggest singular payout of the card was a $22 place maiden claimer at Aqueduct (NHC caps the payouts at $42 for winners and $22 for place horses, meaning a contestant cannot bag a 99-1 shot and walk away with top prize...$64 is the maximum anyone can "win" per contest race - still an exorbitant sum in this contest format). Pegasus Papou went off at 65-1 and finished second by a nose to the chalk, Fuhrlang (I had 16-1 Rightuplynn'salley, who was a well-beaten 4th out of 10 after a poor break from the gate under C.C. Lopez).

Pegasus Papou and the 9 other horses that finished second in Sunday's contest races yielded an impressive $101.30 combined, or only $15.10 less than the winners' payouts just for being the runners up!

From this, one can say it is no mystery that winning contests is not necessarily about picking short-price winners, but deciphering who can beat the favorite, preferable at long odds. Looking back to Sunday, and in keeping with my New Year's resolution to revisit tournament outcomes and share insights, there were few races where I kept to my initial selection. Both proved pretty fruitful -- Weather Warrior finished a game second at 23-1 and paid $15.40 to place in a maiden claimer at Fair Grounds to a 6/5 winner, and Why Then ran on for $10 place money at 15-1 in a 6f maiden claimer at Aqueduct to a 2-1 favorite. Not bad.

Now, I'm not about to endorse going overboard and picking anything at double-digit odds, but I wasn't too far from hitting on three other horses that finished a game 3rd at 11-1, 15-1 and 31-1. So, even though I did not hit on these selections, I came away feeling much better when my initial selections for those races (I prefer to "dope out", as my Father would say, the contest race past performances the night before) went off at far less intriguing odds and failed to hit the board. I will always go off initial selections when prices turn unappealing (i.e. 10-1 M/L down to 5-2) relative to the rest of the bottom-of-the-barrel fields.

The lesson learned from Sunday, I suppose, is that it is perfectly rational in an online contest format to recognize that you're better off moving off that horse that you liked at 5-1 M/L but was beaten down to even-money favorite (i.e. anything at Santa Anita with four legs and Rafael Bejarano or Joel Rosario aboard) a minute prior to the site locking in your selection and finding that longer play who can reap a nicer payout. In all likelihood, losing out on a notional $6.40 of contest winnings (i.e. $4.20 for win, $2.20 for place) will not be your downfall.

Now if we can only get the NHC Tour online tournament organizers to adopt the contest format (where you can alter your selection up to post time, rather than 1 minute prior to the posted race time)...but that's a topic for another day.

Feel free to share your thoughts, and by either Friday night or Saturday morning I hope to chime in with selections (and my rationale) for the four Gulfstream races that are part of Public Handicapper's free "Winter of Our Discontent Challenge", where at present I am 5-for-16 with a notional $2.20 profit and just inside the Top 500. I'll also share some thoughts about Del Mar's online contest, which is a great forum for keeping up with one's handicapping during this quiet winter season.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


After modest success in my first full year of participating in thoroughbred handicapping contests, and failing to take inventory of 2010's peaks and valleys in a bid to win 1 of 300 coveted seats to the NHC Championship in Las Vegas this January, it seemed an appropriate time to chronicle my journey to win a berth in the 2012 tournament next January at Red Rock Casino, expanded to 500 seats and a $2 million purse.

As a casual horseplayer based a few miles from resplendent Monmouth Park, by no means would I profess to be a "serious" handicapper on the order of professionals that travel from track to track participating for one of a handful of spots in the NHC Championship.  However, since late-2010, I have competed in 5-6 live-money contests at Monmouth, finishing in the Top 10 on two occasions (a winter simulcast contest and the Memorial Day Horse Player World Series Tournament), and placed 16th out of 800+ contestants in the NHC Tour Kentucky Derby contest, so I'm not a total hack...just not good enough to quit my day job, so to speak.

The content will blend my passion for handicapping and competition and shed positive light on the reportedly downtrodden Sport of Kings (certainly Governor Christie is no advocate), while also serving as a cost-free reflective and therapeutic venue...Festivus-style Airing of Grievances sans Frank Costanza, if you will.  Otherwise, I hope this will prove a worthwhile venue for other horseplayers and hobbyists to engage in discussion about handicapping, share knowledge about lesser-known free online contests (i.e., a deep roster of contests on Del Mar's website, including a feature race of the day and free past performances), and poke some fun at my handicapping tendencies, philosophies and foibles, as well as contest outcomes.

I hope you will enjoy, and I'll next chime in with a recap and some observations from my season-opening 263rd-place (out of 1,526 contestants) finish in the NHC Tour Online Kickoff Challenge on Sunday, January 2...and to share a slightly different perspective than my venerable colleague at Red Rock or Bust about the value of online contests.