Monday, March 28, 2011

NJ racing hot in the blog community

Jersey's largest paper provides scant coverage of horse racing (if Ron Rippey's daily picks and Tom Luicci's Derby Watch every Monday constitute "coverage"), and it's been years since the Asbury Park Press has done legitimate full-time reporting on Monmouth Park, so it is refreshing to read a lot in the last week about the State's industry, whether for the good or bad.  The discussion is lively and thought-provoking.

First, a number of passionate bloggers have picked up the void left by the major media. The Knight Sky, absolutely one of the best at this craft, in my opinion, posted a timely piece on Kelly Breen, trainer of winner Pants On Fire in Saturday's Louisiana Derby, and along with Pacingguy and Alan from Left At The Gate, have fueled discussion on the fate of NJ's standard-bred racing and white knight Jeff Gural, who I find as blunt as they come (January 21 and March 25), even as I am not a follower of pacers and trotters.

Pony Bob, pictured here, still relevant as the deliveryman
for NJ Horseplayer's minuscule 4NJBets startup funds
Anyone with a questionable IQ like me understands that the Meadowlands will falter without significant outside help and/or a change in business model amid Governor Christie's boorish opposition to a casino at the Meadowlands.  Mr. Gural might have made waves knocking organized labor (tellers, in this case), but for anyone who uses the state-operated ADW (which still seems to use the Pony Express to transact business, based on my recent sign-up for an account) or questions why, during the thoroughbred off-season, there are still parking valets at Monmouth Park, waves are exactly what is needed.

Meanwhile, fellow NJ-based NHC Tour blogger Terry at Red Rock Or Bust touched upon the interesting quandary for Monmouth Park, some 40 days before the tentative Saturday, May 14 opening, what with the bidding for a 5-year operating lease and 50% take of OTB revenue still up for grabs.  As I have commented in the past, a 141-day meet is obscene and unrealistic in this environment.  The Monmouth meeting, at most, should run 70-90 days, with weekday racing (including Tuesdays, when Saratoga is dark) from July 4 weekend through Labor Day weekend, and weekend racing through Columbus Day.  I seriously hope the legislature and horsemen recognize the preposterousness of a 141-day meet and reach a common ground on a logical calendar.  The 2010 "Elite Meet" was clearly a step in the right direction, and could be easily improved upon and perhaps welcome input from the horseplayer community.  And it is scary to think that the only certainty the NJ racing fan has is 6-day turf meet at the decrepit Atlantic City Race Course.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Saturday recap, and outsiders in Santa Anita 7

After catching the Louisiana Derby today, I still think Uncle Mo, Soldat and The Factor are the most visually impressive three-year-olds.  Mucho Macho Man did not need to win the race, and Pants On Fire got a jockey winning at a higher percentage right now but barely beat a huge long-shot, so I am not sold on anyone from that race among the horses prepping for the Kentucky Derby.  Just my two cents, though I'm very happy for Kelly Breen in having a player on May 7.

Since there are no NHC feeder contests for me for at least the next month, I'm still focusing on Del Mar's "for free" handicapping contest.  Today's race has some compelling long-shots against 8-to-5 M/L favorite Rumor in Race 7, a 6-furlong $80k optional claimer on dirt.  Assuming a full 10-horse field reaches the gate, I placed my mythical $100 win wager on #2, Moonstruck Maya, at a hefty 15-to-1 M/L, arguing that she needed the March 4 tuneup from an 8-month layoff.

Joel Rosario gets the mount for trainer John Sadler, and the connections placed this horse aggressively in a $100k stakes (The Landaluse at Hollywood Park) after her debut win in a $41k maiden special weight, and the video shows that Maya ran an even 5th on the downhill turf at a slightly lesser condition.  With that effort under her belt, a switch to the lightning-fast dirt course, and with an inside post against a race with a ton of early speed, I think Maya can save ground and run a credible race.  Otherwise, Rachel Jones, the #10, caught my eye as well at 8-to-1, despite facing tougher here.  The past performances discredit Rachel Jones a bit in that, two back, in the $75k Sweet Life Stakes, the horse started badly when another contender threw its jockey and interfered with half the field.  It seemed to me that Mike Smith knew he had no chance heading into the stretch and simply eased the horse, so I think that one is an excusable effort.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Observations about job cuts at TVG

Clearly as a Jersey resident I have no wagering use for TVG (a non-NJ state), but really enjoy their race coverage, and the few who have read my online contest wraps will note my favoritism over HRTV, which I find erudite and does not necessarily cater to the virtual wagering audience.  I really respect Laffit Pincay, but think the network is too happy running promos for its other programs and focuses way too much on Santa Anita, and find some of the other cast a little "above" me, as opposed to the salt of the earth TVG hosts.

Anyway, what prompted me to write on TVG was a text from my friend Terry, who never misses his daily afternoon soaps and Judge Judy but rarely watches racing, asking what I thought about a story that crossed the wire about a handful of layoffs at the Betfair-owned network.  Assuming the story is accurate, I am disappointed with the departures of Chris Kotulak and Bob Baedeker ("Mr. B"), the latter of whom reminds me of my dad and I found to be one of the best handicappers on the network.  The Franks, meanwhile, were OK, though less-frequent hosts, and I always sensed had other careers in racing anyway (i.e. Mirahmadi is a track announcer on the California fairs circuit).

My two cents in short...the reported departures signal, perhaps, that TVG is looking to focus on its younger hosts, with "catchier" shows like Todd & Simon Tuesdays and The Friday Night Late Double, which infuse a little more personality and attempts, especially with the latter, to give more of "an in-crowd" feel to a night at the track.  The stodgier audience no doubt will be turned off by hints of entertainment-style racing television, but it is clear that the industry really needs to attract younger horseplayers to the game, and if that means Greg Wolf and Christina Oliveras talking about clubs and live music with handicapping or polling dimwits at the Hollywood what they played for a late daily double, then so be it.  In the meantime, as a fan of the network, I wish the departed hosts nothing but success in their endeavors.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's OK to flip-flop

The basis of my handicapping is finding value.  Unfortunately, at times, particularly in this past Saturday's Monmouth Park contest, I played a few far-fetched, extreme values, and often contemplate how to temper my affinity for anything non-chalk.

My recent performance in the "for fun" Santa Anita contest, run through Del Mar's website, has renewed my confidence in my value philosophy, after picking three winners in the last six days at a mythical ROI of roughly 500%, or $3,040 won on $100W "wagers."  (Contestants are given a mythical $100 daily bankroll and can spread the money in any fashion in one particular race per day, as selected by the website...and free Trackmaster PPs are provided - an added plus for practice handicapping.)

Granted, the three victories got me closer only to break-even (I'm in 374th-place out of 1,162 registered handicappers at minus $175) after being in the hole by close to a mythical, repeat mythical, $3k.  However, I am finding much better success in races where I have flip-flopped last minute on a pick.  In tonight's contest race (Race 6), for instance, a $54k maiden special weight at a mile on wet dirt, I was instantly drawn to Preshow, a second-time starter at 3-to-1, especially after my first choice, 6-to-1 Tribal Charm, had scratched.  A video replay of Preshow's first race suggested an eagerness to handle two turns after closing extremely well into a 5.5-furlong sprint on February 20.  But true to form at Santa Anita, the betting public beat down the favored Preshow to a far less attractive 6-to-5, so I knew I would be looking elsewhere.

Scanning the odds with 3-4 minutes to post, I was between the #5, Burton's Angel, and the #7, Team Builder, who were both around 10-to-1, enticing overlays off a 6-to-1 M/L.

The deciding factors in selecting Burton's Angel, for me, were that Corey Nakatani stuck with the horse for a 5th-straight effort (a bullish indicator, in my view, and validated in his post-race comments on HRTV), the horse's ability to track front-runners (as evidenced by her first and most recent races, though admittedly she never finished within a length of any winner), and the horse's apparent versatility, having finished 3rd in races at 6.5f on the synthetic at Hollywood Park and at a mile on the Santa Anita turf.  So at least this filly has been competitive.  I trusted my gut that this versatility would pay off better than it would for similarly-priced Team Builder, who boasts a solid trainer in Carla Gaines (4-of-11 wins) but already a third rider in four lifetime starts, a bearish indicator for me.  Plus, I was not enamored by the video replay of Team Builder's February 12 effort at a mile on the turf in a field that also featured Wednesday's 5-to-2 second choice Bila Shaka.

As hoped, Burton's Angel got a dream trip, sitting a close third to front-runner Running Isabella and runner-up Bila Shaka before ultimately passing the latter in the homestretch for a length-and-a-half win, plus an $18.20 win payout for anyone who, unlike me, had real coin on the race.

This is not to suggest any handicapping brilliance on my part, but rather serves as a reminder to myself, and perhaps advice to other weekend contest players, that often gut instinct and other hints of information within the PPs can prove far more valuable in a contest situation than getting too deep into the forms and overburdening ourself with information.  Tomorrow brings another contest day, and I am hoping by the end of this weekend to be on the plus side of the ledger, hopefully with some fruitful long-shots.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Congrats to Terry! My contest play (?)...not so productive

Surely he will post thoughts on Red Rock or Bust, but my friend Terry Flanagan had an outstanding performance in yesterday's 3rd Simulcast Series Challenge at Monmouth Park, finishing second out of 262 players by turning a $100 bankroll into $860 and taking down the $5k+ second prize contest money. Way to go Terry...and proof that one can turn around an 0-for-25 schneid!  Terry played the contest about as well as possible, building up to about $230 late in the contest through a combination of well-timed W/P wagers and even picking a 2-to-1 favorite, and ultimately nailing a $150W wager on 9-to-2 Rules of Honor in the Gulfstream nightcap. For him, now it is on to the 45-player April 9 contest for 2 coveted NHC seats!

For me, yesterday was not so productive, though, ahem, I did cash out a whopping 20 cents. On two separate occasions, I built my bankroll to about $130, first with a $10 bet on 7-to-1 winner Merlin Bay in Aqueduct 4, my sixth contest bet.  I felt highly confident about my homework to that point, finishing second on a $10W wager on Broken Sound at 13-to-1 in the Gulfstream opener.  The horse rebounded from its prior effort as I had expected, but COMPLETELY blew the turn into the homestretch, vanned about a dozen lengths wide and lost all that ground to 17-to-1 shot Tappinintovictory with an 0-for-21 jockey.  It was amazing how Broken Sound, after blowing the turn, STILL made up ground to finish second.  Ugh.  That was an extremely difficult start, considering that Broken Sound had enough to win and would have put my bankroll at $230 after one race.  Three $10W bets later, in Aqueduct 3, I had runner-up Stud Muffin at 8-to-1, meaning I was on or very close to live long-shots in 3 of my first 6 selections.

Two contest selections later, in Aqueduct 5, my $10W bet on 7-to-2 Ontothenextone was nosed at the wire  by 6-to-1 Tapped Out Bruno, lowering my bankroll to $107 before I proceeded to lose my next 8 wagers in ugly fashion, with half merely bad and the other half compromised by poor trips, but most notably Vanquisher in the Tampa Bay Stakes (Race 9), who clipped heals early and was never a factor.  I was extremely confident with a $20W wager on this 26-to-1 play, but the start compromised any chance of me running way up the leaderboard (a $540 payout sure would have been nice) and left me with a $17 bankroll - enough for just one shot (Monmouth Park's SSC series contests require W/P/S bets of at least $10) with about eight races remaining on the 33-race Aqueduct-Tampa-Gulfstream contest card.

Lose None, at 6.6-to-1, proved to be that successful last shot in Gulfstream 9, edging out short-price favorite Bella Moneta to turn my $17W bet into $129.20.  From there, however, the wheels fell off the bus, as I took some chances in the late races and went bust (sans 20 cents), and am beating myself up about a $40W bet on Beautician in The Inside Information at Gulfstream.  This is the second time I've backed this horse (2010 Kentucky Oaks Day as well) and, again, she did not run a lick, but even if she ran her best, I'm not sure she would have gotten to Hilda's Passion, who is top-notch.  It was just a bad play on my part.  Otherwise, in the kicking-myself category, I seriously considered Indian Empire in the finale at Tampa and greedily went instead to 41-to-1 Cluny in the $12.5k 6.5f maiden claimer, who the track appropriately noted as "through early" in the final charts; Indian Empire won by a neck at 19-to-1.

In the end, I'm ecstatic for my partner in crime, easing the pain of what proved a competitive, albeit unsuccessful, effort for me.  The art of handicapping can be very humbling, so it is nice when you can share in a friend's success at the track, especially to the tune of a $6k score.

Presumably like most NHC Tour players aiming for the $2 million championship in Las Vegas in January, I am beating myself about particular contest plays or strategy.  In hindsight, it was my obvious bad call on Beautician; I identified that horse as a play in my early preparation and she stunk.  Otherwise, maybe I spread myself too thin otherwise in betting 22 of the 32 possible contest races, but I was very game early in the card, and had I hit on Broken Sound, in particular, my outcome and strategy could have been different, so I have no significant regrets.  I did wake up once in the middle of the night around 3:30 a.m., bothered by my Beautician ignorance and not siding with Indian Empire, but otherwise I turned back over and completed what was an extremely solid, peaceful 10-hour sleep.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ready for Saturday's simulcast contest at Monmouth

The most difficult task in preparing for the Simulcast Series Challenge events at Monmouth Park is deciphering where I can find good prices (at least 4-to-1 or greater, in my opinion) in 10 races of the 33 races from Aqueduct, Gulfstream and Tampa Downs.  I have made some notes on all but the final five races on the Gulfstream card at this point but have yet to find anything that stands out at this point, but here are some of my early considerations:
  • Aqueduct: Wadi Suki @ 6-1 in Race 1, Crepe Au Sucre in Race 5 @ 5-1 and Wild About Sonny @ 12-1 in Race 9
  • Tampa: L.D.'s Galaxy @ 10-1 in Race 5, Natalicat @ 4-1 in Race 7 and Vanquisher @ 12-1 in Race 9; I am almost sure to play L.D., considering the early speed in this $16k claimer going 1-mile on the turf, but the few who visit here can attest that I often change at the window
  • Gulfstream: Broken Sound @ 8-1 in Race 1 and Refugio @ 8-1 in Race 2; otherwise, races 3-6 appear wide open, though I see some nice price plays
Patience is a virtue in any live-money contest where it is up to the handicapper to budget the bankroll. In these events, players start with $100 and are limited to win, place, show or any combination thereof and must wagers on at least 10 races (i.e., think 10 win bets of $10 each, though players can make their first wager the full $100 on a single horse) in order to qualify for prize money and a shot at the NHC; the Top 10 finishers win prize money, while the Top 15 advance to the April 9 play-in for 2 NHC seats. 

Saturday, I expect to have a good idea about how good my homework was, considering I anticipate being active in three races early in the card (before 1:30 p.m.) before keeping my powder dry until the Tampa mid-card.  I need to remember this Saturday as the contest progresses, rather than taking flyers in races where I have less conviction about a particular horse, which cost me in SSC#1 when some of my "accurate" picks later in the card proved their merit and won. 

If anyone participating at Monmouth on Saturday wants to stop by and say "hello," you'll find me in the restaurant near the window facing the track, seated across from Terry from RedRockOrBust, who no doubt will be looking at my selections desperate for a winner and wishes he had my good looks. I hope to blog during Saturday's event, and wish everyone involved the best of luck with their handicapping. 

And I'm hoping that my form from the Santa Anita "for fun" contest will extend to Saturday, after picking 16-1 and 10-1 winners in two of the last three days (Preamble in Sunday's contest race and Major Art in Friday's 1-mile event on the Del Mar turf), which got me closer to break-even after a horrific February. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Not a big fan of "trip handicapping"

The Monday "Night School" sessions on Horse Player Now have generally proven valuable to me, but last night's "trip handicapping" chat raised more questions than answers, in my opinion.  Long story short, I got the sense that trip handicapping requires a ton of time watching race replays and taking notes, not sweet music to the time-constrained, weekend horseplayers like myself with tons of other obligations.  NYRA's Andy Serling gave some interesting insights during the chat, but I came away with an understanding that handicappers will never benefit from the truest sense of a horse's trip solely from the notes in the past performances.

The panel seemed to encourage horseplayers to put our faith in the track handicapper's commentary or reading their program notes to gain insights on particular horses' past trips. But with so much information to absorb, how many of us really can spend the time listening for such nuances?  I'm not sure anything from last night's class will change how I go about my handicapping, but we'll see. In the meantime, I plan on continuing to keep notes on horses that I've observed have gotten a bad trip; for this, I use DRF's Horse Watches, which have proven valuable in keeping tabs on when interesting "bad trip" horses are next entered and perhaps ready to score.


Meanwhile, DRF reports that we might learn by Friday the 2011 schedule for Monmouth Park, which is good news in light of the unsettled state of affairs in Oceanport, NJ (and Trenton, what with the wrangling over the number of race days under law).  The stakes schedule is a shade under $5 million in purses.  The only certainty (unreported in this particular story) is that there will be a 6-day meet, as usual, at Atlantic City Race Course in late-April/early-May.  Otherwise, we await an announcement on the dates for Monmouth.  Personally, I am hoping for something along the lines of a Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule from Memorial Day until July 4 weekend, and then maybe a Friday-thru-Tuesday schedule until Labor Day, which will capitalize on the six "dark" days at Saratoga, when many horseplayers look to fill the void. The powers that be could, perhaps, restrict those Tuesday cards (six, in all) to showcase New Jersey-bred horses. Then, a Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule post Labor Day and through Columbus Day might have some merit, especially considering the potential of an NFL lockout and sports fans seeking another venue.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Data points from Sunday's NHC Qualifier

As noted yesterday, I was able to hit one of the two big long-shots on the 10-race contest card at, but unfortunately could not score in the other nine races. Perhaps it is my penchant for seeking value far too often in races, but a look back today over lunch of the final odds of the winning horses in Sunday's contest would suggest that my thought process is entirely rational, and that it is entirely possible to score at contest handicapping with one or two big prices.

The four races at Gulfstream proved chalky, ranging from 1.9-to-1 to 4.1-to-1.  The average of odds on the three winners at Oaklawn was 9-to-1, albeit inflated by 18-to-1 Mi Tatiana in Race 8, while Tampa's was a chart-topping 10-to-1 average, with winners at 6.9, 8.4 and 14.7 to the dollar.  For the full 10-race contest card, the average winner was just below 7-to-1, or about a $16 mythical win payout on a $2 win wager, and anywhere from $4-$8 in notional place money.  (For new readers, NHCQ contestants get win AND place money on a notional $2 W/P bet).

If nothing else, I would argue that in a contest format it is almost wasteful to wager (whether in a real-money contest - like this Saturday's upcoming SSC#3 at Monmouth Park...see you there) on anything below 3-to-1, as evidenced in yesterday's contest. Three horses won at ~2-to-1, netting $30.40.  The place horses, meanwhile, yielded a combined $28.40 to anyone who hit THOSE three runners-up (10-to-1 in Oaklawn's 6th, 5.7-to-1 in Gulfstream's 8th and 16.6-to-1 in Gulstream's 11th).

The "note to self" here is that, especially in the online contests, short-price favorites are almost always a throwaway, unless maybe the contest player is locked into a top spot, such as yesterday's 9th-place finisher Russell Priola of South Wales, NY (the only one in the top 10 to select the favorite), and looking for a "surer" bet (or, in a live-money contest, to conservatively pad the bankroll).  Otherwise, I have a hard time agreeing with the logic that it is possible to win a contest - whether with mythical or live money - playing favorites.


I hope to see some of you online for tonight's "Night School" seminar on "Trip Handicapping"; Andy Serling is evidently tonight's featured guest.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Race-by-race recap of NHC Qualifier; 97th out of 300

Since there is some time between each race of today's 10-race contest, I wanted to chronicle final selections and outcomes as the contest progresses.

Race 1 - Tampa 5: All the Bases (6-to-1), 6th.  I liked 3rd off a layoff and 2-for-6 on Tampa's turf, but did not get as fast a start as I had hoped and made up no ground in finishing 6th out of 10.  The winner, Would If I Could, almost set a track record in finishing in 55.4 in this 5f sprint, which I would have not expected out of $16k claimers, but ended up around 7-to-1, already putting me $20+ in the hole. I'm not satisfied losing the first race, but am happy that my other consideration, Bipolar Express, finished 3rd (out of contest money).

Race 2 - Tampa 6: Great Patriot (9-to-1), 6th.  Never got close enough to the front to be a factor. The horse ran mid-pack and seemed to make up ground coming around the turn in this 7f dirt sprint, but Jorge Vargas ran toward the rail and right into traffic and was never a factor.  My other idea, Powerstown, seemed to be free on the lead but was run down in the stretch by an 8-to-1 shot, Chillin Dylan.  Now I'm oh-for-2 and hoping none of the other contest players hit the first two big winners.  The next race is a 12-horse starter allowance on the Gulfstream turf at at 8.5f - a must hit for me.  At least my good friend Terry at RedRockOrBust hit Dylan.

Race 3 - Gulfstream 6: Almuraad (8-to-1), mid-pack.  Too bad the contest isn't about finding clunkers.  I was correct in switching off my original choice, Curious Tiger, who did not factor, but cannot complain, since one of my other ideas, Perfect Casting, finished a distant second - not enough to make a huge difference in the contest. Bad Debt (~4-to-1) was much the best and not on my initial radar.  More bad handicapping, but only $26.40 out of 21st-place (need top 30 to advance to finals), so not insurmountable.

Race 4 - Tampa 8: Bellamy Star (14-to-1), 1st.  YES! A solid score on a last-minute change, owing to the late scratch of my original choice Earthly Reserves.  I thought about Four Eleven, #8, who was at 12-to-1 but fell to 7-to-1 on the scratch of the #3, but landed on Bellamy Star for three reasons: 1) albeit a small sample, jockey-trainer combo (Luis Garcia, Greg Griffith) winning 2-of-5 at a high ROI at Tampa this meet; 2) post #2 outside of a first-time starter; and 3) a stalker to Bellamy Star's right, and that Daniel Centeno thought decently enough to mount Bellamy's first start on Feb. 12 - a 6f dirt sprint.  Sure enough, Bellamy pinched the inside horse to the rail, established the lead in 25/50 and change and had plenty in the tank to outrun the second-place finisher.  I'll take the mythical $43.80 and tied for 17th, but much work to do.

Race 5 - Gulfstream 8: Written In Stone (6-to-1), 4th.  No major damage, as 2-to-1 favorite Stratford Hill won, followed by a 6-to-1 shot, leaving me tied for 18th.  This was an extremely tough race, but my original idea, Raging Wit, did not factor at all, and I can't imagine the outcome here will be a contest game-changer with 5 races to go. I had Written In Stone mainly based on the rail draw, anticipated early pace and the horse's ability to stay close, but this was another rail runner (like my horse in Race 2) that ran out of room heading in the stretch.  Next up: two from Oaklawn (races 6 and 7) -- a track I barely follow.

Race 6 - Oaklawn 6: Pacificator (6-to-1), ~8th.  This was a horrible pick in a horrible race.  I knew from the get-go, once my nag got off to a slow start, that I was cooked.  The #9, Custer County proved much the best at 6-to-1, and a bunch of contest players obviously gave this one consideration.  I admittedly was spooked and did not think the class drop from slot-fueled richer races at Delta Downs would translate, but it obviously did.  Now on the outside, tied for 31st with 5 other contestants.  By the way, Gerard in 1st place at a mythical $104.80 with 3 wins and 2 seconds.

Race 7 - Oaklawn 7: Storm Crossed (12-to-1 or higher), still trying to find the finish line, it appears.  This was as bad as my 6th race choice at Oaklawn, as I gambled on a $20k maiden claimer against a maiden field that had run against much tougher and saw the horse melt down heading for home.  Looking forward to the 10th at Gulfstream, as I like Forest Legend, the #9. Standings update: tied for 45th.

Race 8 - Gulfstream 10: Forest Legend (~9-to-1), 6th-7th.  J.J. Castellano could not get this horse out toward the front fast enough into the first turn of the Grade 3 "Here Comes The Bride" and ran a wide trip and never factored.  The race set up perfectly for rail horse Dynamic Holiday.  I cannot complain, since I was bullish on Forest Legend based on back class, but to no avail.  Need two winners in the final 2 races.

Race 9 - Oaklawn 8: Fine Lookin Lady (~5-to-1), mid-pack.  This track was the death-knell for me, as I had no pulse for the races here, and an 18-to-1 shot catapulted a bunch of players ahead of me in the contest standings.  Now, HRTV is showing its usual litany of house ads and promos, so I have no idea whether I can change my 10th-race selection at Gulfstream.  I cannot stand HRTV.  They are not for live bettors; all about the hosts hearing themselves talk and make selections. Ugh.

Race 10 - Gulfstream 11: Celtic Pride (~22-to-1), a first-timer trained by Chad Brown.  Needing at least a 10-to-1 winner to have a sniff of the Top 30, I sided with Celtic Pride in a field where I was not crazy about any horse in particular.  My original choice, Runyon Humor, was an undeserving underlay after opening at 12-to-1 and finished 7th.  (MONDAY CORRECTION: I mixed up horses and saw that Celtic Pride ran a distant 9th, not 4th; it was Volcano Run that ran a game 4th).

Result: 97th-place out of 300 contestants.  I have cracked the Top 100 more often than not (3 of the last four or five entries, if I recall) in these NHC Qualifiers, but cannot get into the coveted Top 30 needed to advance to the finals.  Congrats to Gary Petersen of Washington state, who banked a mythical $142 of winnings to take the top spot.  THAT is an impressive tally.

Next Up: Simulcast Series Challenge #3 at Monmouth Park, Saturday, March 19

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gearing up for contest!

I have yet to sink my teeth into the past performances for Sunday's contest, but am hopeful for the kinds of prices that Tampa produced on Saturday's card.  Anyone catch the Tampa Derby?  Wow...a 43-1 shot over an 86-1 shot!  I know that Brethren posted on the far outside into a tight turn, but Ramon Dominguez clearly put the horse to work way too early against a not-so-great field.  Otherwise, we saw some other upsets in the notable stakes races, and that Premier Pegasus distinguished himself as a Derby competitor.

Knowing that my picks often change from moment-to-moment based on contest flow, I will likely refrain from posting all 10 of my selections on Sunday, though if you're counting on my selections, you're in trouble. Best of luck to anyone competing in the NHC Qualifier tomorrow!

PS.  When will the betting public give Tackleberry some credit once and for all?  I had some personal commitments heading into the Public Handicapper selections this week and missed the cutoff for the Gulfstream races but had him circled as my pick; 9-to-2 was way too attractive to pass up.  Otherwise, in the only race where I made the submission deadline, I had the top three horses in the Santa Anita feature, but in the wrong order (Bench Points, Jaycito and Premier Pegasus were my picks 1-2-3).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Flying Whizzer

I would never profess to winning as much as Charlie Sheen these days, but one very lucrative play last summer was my exacta call in the Continental Mile.  The Flying Whizzer ran versus Pluck, Rustler Hustler, Powhatan County and others in a very respectable two-year-old turf field and is entered today in the 7th from Santa Anita, a 6.5-furlong sprint on the downhill turf course.

Over lunch this afternoon I glanced quickly at the past performances and consider The Flying Whizzer a value at 8-to-1 (knowing SA, however, three horses will scratch and he'll go off as the 4-5 favorite).  It'll be interesting to see what happens in Whizzer's first start as a 3YO , but this is a horse whose old connections went with some aggressive entries last season, yielding three straight place finishes before a tired 7th in the Grade 3 Pilgrim at Belmont.  A ship out West, change in connections and steady workout pattern augur well, in my view.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Third "Night School" another worthwhile effort

In the spirit of fan education, I would encourage horseplayers new and old to check out a replay of Monday night's seminar on "pace handicapping," which offered some valuable insight from guest Randy Moss. Here are the study materials from that seminar.

Meanwhile, with the kids headed out for Sunday, I took the plunge and entered Sunday's online contest.  For anyone who has done the NHC Tour freebies (i.e., like this past Sunday's), the mechanics of the tournaments are way better, in that players have up until post time to change picks.  NHC Tour, on the other hand, makes you lock into your selection one minute before scheduled post time, which means you might have to finalize a pick 15 minutes before post, where a lot of things (i.e. late scratch) could happen.  I wish NHC Tour would incorporate NHCQ's system.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Column in the Oceanport "Patch"

I was approached a few weeks ago about contributing a column to the nascent "Patch" online publications, focusing on Monmouth Park, and here's some food for thought outside of pure handicapping.  I'd be curious to know your opinion, especially considering that we still do not have a calendar set for the 2011 meeting, which has to be utterly frustrating to MP's staff and the horse industry players involved.  In short, I think that Gov. Christie is oblivious to how the tracks can truly recover and would rather cater to his AC backers.

Meanwhile, don't forget that tonight is Session 3 of Night School, where Randy Moss will be the featured speaker on "Pace Handicapping." You can access the seminar, free, from Monmouth Park's website.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mother *&%#!!!...(Nature, of course)

Clearly, handicapping the card two nights in advance, participating blindly (i.e. while travelling out of state) and not knowing that the conditions of half of a 10-race contest card would change predetermined my doom in a 1,208th-place finish out of 1,816 contestants in Sunday's NHC Tour Online Challenge.  Mother Nature moved 4 of the 5 turf races I spent the most time handicapping off the turf, but no biggie.

There were some positives, like my call in Saturday's blog on Ms. Short Pockets, who finished second at 9-to-1 against an impressive Much Rejoicing in a mile slop race at one turn taken off the two-turn Gulfstream turf, but I scratched into my only winner (Stormy Publisher) and ended the contest with a first, two seconds and two thirds, so clearly not enough to make any impact (mythical winnings are only granted on the $2W/P wagers).  Otherwise, I came away with no horses to add to my watch list, considering Sam Houston is atrocious (miraculously, all entrants finished under their own power) and the other races (Oaklawn and Fair Grounds) were not very notable.

Next up for me is likely the NHC contest on Sunday, though I may stay in reserve for the SSC#3 at Monmouth Park on Saturday, March 19.

Regarding Saturday's Santa Anita Handicap, I watched the replay tonight about a dozen times and still cannot decipher who is to blame for the interference in the stretch, but it looked to me that, regardless, Twirling Candy was NOT good enough to win the Big Cap regardless.  I can see Jay Hovdey's point on about Chantal Sutherland going hard with the left-handed whip turning for home and perhaps the right-ward drift, but the replays I saw showed too much head-on and not enough of a side shot, which to me looked like Setsuko first brushed Twirling Candy, who then bumped the rear of Game on Dude.  Is that Chantal's fault?  Is Hovdey saying she have changed to a right-handed whip going 40 mph near the lead instead?  In sum, I get the feeling that there would not be this much controversy had it been Joel Rosario, Rafael Bejarano or Patrick Valenzuela on Game on Dude.  Instead, a "lower-percentage" though highly respectable jockey (one of the top at Woodbine) won a race and pissed off a lot of writers and bettors who were falling all over themselves over Twirling Candy and failed to find value elsewhere in the race.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

NHC Tour freebie Sunday

Since I'm heading out of state this afternoon, I had to get an early jump on attempting to handicap the 10-race card for the NHC Tour Challenge for Sunday, featuring a hodgepodge of races from Fair Grounds, Gulfstream, Oaklawn Park and (gulp) Sam Houston.  Outside of Gulfstream, rarely do I watch these tracks, although I will give it my best and hope my choices - on the longer side - do not scratch between now and tomorrow's card.

One that I'm intrigued by is Ms. Short Pockets, who ran at Monmouth this summer and has been on the bench since October, but at 15-to-1 M/L and with some early lick in this race, I am willing to endorse Pockets at a decent price in a wide open optional claimer at a mile on turf.  In my view, this horse needed the freshening after faltering badly in its October 10 effort at Monmouth, and I point to the June 4, 2010 effort off a 7-month rest as a benchmark for Pocket to be able to score off a rest.  Otherwise, despite the awful post in a 5f turf sprint, Suzzona is worth watching in the Ladies Turf Sprint from Gulfstream as well at 10-to-1, and I'm hoping for a Breeders Cup bounce from M/L favorite Rose Catherine.  All I can do, however, is set the DVR and hope in hindsight that I got lucky in at least half of the races (very difficult when the field will likely surpass 1,500 contestants).

Regarding this weekend's Public Handicapper card, I think Soul Candy is definitely worth a long look in the Big Cap at Santa Anita at 30-to-1 M/L.  In my view, a pace meltdown is possible, and I think Soul Candy can only benefit from the extra distance in this 10-furlong handicap.  

Good luck to everyone playing this weekend in the NHC contest and (for TVG customers) the Turfway Park Challenge!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Monmouth Park contest dates released

Some new dates have been distributed for live contests this summer at Monmouth Park, although the press release indicated more dates are in the works (presumably for the other Horseplayer contest at the Orleans):
  • Sunday, June 5: Monmouth-Woodbine contest (1 NHC seat)
  • Saturday, August 27: $300 contest (3 NHC seats)
  • Sunday, September 18: Monmouth-Woodbine contest (2 NHC seats)
Separately, riding home on the bus from work in NYC yesterday I gave a long look at today's 7th from Santa Anita (DRF's Race of the Day and today's Del Mar free online contest play) and have landed on Hughesy at a 9-to-2 morning line.  It seems the experts (i.e. Brad Free) love Hollemans (3-to-1 M/L) and Dahoud (4-to-1), but I can't ignore Hughesy's progression before his last start was taken off the turf; and, unless I've misread the PPs or there is an imposter, Hughesy beat out Champ Pegasus to break his maiden ($45k special weight) at SA last January.  A lot better than the other horses' maiden-breakers.  I'm going to DVR this one to have a watch tonight when time allows. 

This weekend, the only play I'll be making is in the free NHC Tour contest on Sunday and, as usual, will consider the four weekly Public Handicapper races. Unfortunately, I have to make my picks well in advance, owing to a family commitment in Connecticut. NHC Tour members should not forget to sign up for this event. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Night School 2 focused on "class" handicapping

The second of 40 sessions of Horse Player Now's "Night School" fan education series seemed to flow more smoothly this week and provided valuable insight to new and experienced horseplayers.  No big revelations for me as this Monday night's session focused on handicapping for "class" and provided interesting insights; a replay is available at the link above, and here are some useful study materials from  Kudos to Joe Kristufek, Jeremy Plonk and Jill Byrne for conducting what I deem a worthwhile foray into fan education.

Separately, I found this column Monday from Andrew Beyer very interesting for perspective on the durability of Chilean horses versus those in the U.S., if for no other reason than sharing an observation with other horseplayers not to discount horses from places like Chile, Brazil and South Africa.  One of the trainers I always keep an eye on, particularly with turf entries of Brazilian horses in California, is A.C. Avila, who seems to do decently with that angle.  And Graham Motion has done very well with South African shipper Gypsy's Warning, winning the Grade 1 Matriarch at Hollywood and the Grade 3 Eatontown at Monmouth (I had Gypsy's Warning at 7-to-1 in my 7th-place contest finish that afternoon).  Perhaps my perspective is askew, but it seems that players put a ton of value, particularly in turf races, on U.K. horses and often understate the value of shippers from elsewhere.

Congratulations to Bob Farah for taking down the $13,900 top prize in Saturday's SSC#2 at Monmouth Park, besting a record-high field of 279 contest players.  Farah scored big in the final contest race and turned his $100 bankroll into $1,392.50 of winnings, edging out the second-place finisher by $14.  The top 15 from SSC#2 (along with those from the January and March 19 SSC) move on to the April 9 SSC Invitational, where the top two finishers will win seats to the NHC.