Thursday, June 21, 2012

Greener Grass Outside NJ

Approaching what is a very quiet mid-season in my third annual stab at qualifying for the National Handicapping Championship (NHC), as a predominantly weekend player my shot at merely getting to Las Vegas next January is becoming as long as the horses I espouse in contest wagering.

NHC pastures harder to reach for
the NJ Horseplayer
Spending $400 to enter an online tournament at 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.  
  • (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!


  1. The Horse Tourney contests are terrible value because they don't provide money for airfare. That's going to cost you around $500 for a round trip ticket from the East Coast. Also if you go the route you mentioned you have to perform well not once but twice. I'd rather stick with the NHC Qualify contests which provide a $500 travel voucher or Twinspires which unfortunately for you isn't an option.


  2. Agreed about lack of flights, though getting to Vegas from Newark is usually not too pricey. And I understand the "need to have 2 good tournaments" thought, but came pretty close a few months back ago through that venue after winning a pre-qualifier. I think NHC Qualify used to be better, but bumping up to $160 for their play-ins (from $100) and giving only 3 slots away for a $400 tourney (and I know 4th-24th got some of their entry fees back, which is at least something) is not my idea of value.

  3. I hear you that the Belmont contest isn't very feasible with a family given its a whole weekend essentially. But in terms of value , you can't beat the nyra contests - absolutely zero takeout, all monies returns paid out in prizes, not even any exposure to the track takeout that you get with a live bankroll. Plus they serve a nice lunch plus free beer starting around mid afternoon. And 3 nhc seats plus airfare. It Sounds funny but you can lose $400(as I'll probably do)and still kind of feel like you got your money's worth.

  4. I know you're a huge fan of the Belmont and Aqueduct contests. I'd love to join you, but the commitment of a full weekend is out of the question for me at this stage.

    Good luck at Belmont this weekend!