|NHC pastures harder to reach for
the NJ Horseplayer
Spending $400 to enter an online tournament at NHCQualify.com is not justifiable on a budget, and allocating an entire weekend to play in an on-track event like Belmont's Summer Handicapping Challenge this Saturday and Sunday is simply not feasible.
Were I single, retired or extremely wealthy, perhaps, but not as an avid contest fan who has a world of work and familial obligations.
And much as I enjoy the live competition, even the contests at nearby Monmouth Park are looking less appealing. Yes, a top-two finish could yield a lucrative payday, but considering the $200 entry fee for a mere 2 NHC seats, players' chances are a meager 1:80 to 1:100 of qualifying for NHC XIV.
OK, my handicapping is not stellar, but the more my interest grows in an NHC berth, the more realistic I have become about limited opportunities for Tour players like myself (weekenders), compounded by my residence in New Jersey, where at least a quarter of NHC seats are out of reach owing to an arcane, monopolistic law prohibiting out-of-state ADW systems via TwinSpires, DRFBets or TVG.
The NHC Tour's lack of transparency in how much racetracks and online contest organizers pay to offer seats to the annual championship compounds my frustration, especially when a facility like Emerald Downs (Washington) somehow just offered five (5) NHC seats and a $12k first-place cash prize in a $100 June 3 contest capped at 300 participants (1:60 shot) (congrats to winner Chris Larmey!). Meanwhile, Lone Star Park is offering a free on-track handicapping contest series, culminating in an October 6 championship where the six (6) top finishers get fully paid NHC berths.
I can only question how these two particular tracks can afford to offer as many seats through one qualifying tournament as my state's leading track does in a tourneys potentially costing upwards of $1,000 to play (based on entries to three Simulcast Series Challenge and two other tournaments).
This has prompted me to consider my options for the second half of 2012, and where I may allocate my resources through Labor Day on a shoestring budget, relative to other players who frequent online contests or with limitless budgets and travel schedules. Here's what I'm targeting, at least through Labor Day:
- July 7: Monmouth Park ($200 Handicapping Contest) - less than 50/50 at this point, considering potential July 4 weekend scheduling conflicts (plus, I was not on track in time on the date of cancelled May 19 contest to at least get the $50 chit available to other players)
- July 18-September 5: Del Mar Internet Contest (free) - The NHC Tour calender shows two (2) NHC seats will be awarded this year, versus one (1) the last two years; a fun, but tough, contest
- August 4: Suffolk Downs ($60 entry fee) - The notion of driving 4.5 hours toward Boston on a summer Saturday may seem far fetched, but with three (3) NHC spots and potential Tour points on the line, and the Red Sox hosting the Twins that night, I am considering this one. Plus, my 45-MPG diesel is conducive to efficient road trips).
- The tournament format looks a bit rigid, in that players have to make their selections on all 15 contest races before the start of the first race, but adds an intriguing strategic element.
- HorseTourneys.com (assorted $20 NHC pre-qualifiers) - Perhaps the best NHC value, in my opinion, when considering that for an Andrew Jackson, Tour players can qualify in a real-time event for a $195 NHC Qualifier and, ultimately, 1:50 shot at an NHC berth.
- Any NHC Tour member freebie tournaments - seems like a while since there's been one (the Tour gave away 10 seats in my first year of membership, and if I recall eight last year), though I am figuring one will surface at some point this summer.
Clearly my opportunities are limited relative to NHC Tour players residing in other states, but those are the breaks in the Garden State. Then again, it's a great place to fritter away time with the kids in the sand at the shore, so there!