Since there is some time between each race of today's NHCQualify.com 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 McClenin...wow...alone 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