Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Two-Track Mind

Saturday proved another unfavorable outcome for NJ Horseplayer, this time in a live-money handicapping contest at Monmouth Park, but with a handful of positive takeaways.

Generally I do not get riled up about Horse Player World Series (HPWS, not as prestigious as the National Handicapping Championship, far as I know) tournaments, but the calendar was open (a rarity), so I plunked down my C note to participate in a contest with a $60 bankroll and $40 going to a pot to be split by the Top 10 finishers.

Players were required to make at least 5 win, place or show wagers (or a combination thereof) of at least $6 (one-tenth the starting bankroll) each on the cards at Monmouth Park and Saratoga, and my 100 Twitter followers know I'm not averse to place and show wagering, though low-budget contests make this tough.

Right-track...good 'capping of
Monmouth card...left track...BAD
'capping by NJ Horseplayer at
Saratoga in Saturday contest
As has been my strategy the past few live-money contests, I attempted to move the chains in hopes of considering 1-2 large wagers come contest's end.  The strategy worked decently on Saturday, sitting among the Top 25 with a "whopping" $92.90 bankroll through 14 of the 23 carded races (I did not play all of them), but really the first lesson learned is that it's difficult to score any price at Monmouth these days (the highest-priced winner was 4-to-1).  I hit on 4 of 6 wagers, including 2 that I bet around 7-to-2 about 1-2 minutes to post but who got walloped by bettors down to 2-to-1 and 8-to-5.  The fruits were not necessarily worth the risk, though I took them.

The two other wins were on the place and show ends of respective $10 win-place and $10 win-show wagers where, had the horses had just a bit more, I speculate I'd have had a legitimate shot at placing at least in the top five of the contest.  In Race 4, bettors totally dismissed 10-to-1 morning line Chief Operator, who went off at 39-to-1 and finished a game third to at least allow me to recoup the $9.20 show payout.  In Race 7, Violator went off at 23-to-1 off a 20-to-1 morning line that, in my view, neglected the horse's 5-for-10 in-the-money record on turf.  Alas, Felix Ortiz rode the horse well, but could only muster second place in what was a convincing win for...you guessed it...the chalk, Alke John (1.9-to-1).  

After two of what were an afternoon of awful calls on Saratoga races, I put about half of my bankroll on another selection I doped out in advance of the contest -- Berni de Mint in Race 9 at Monmouth.  This Charles Harvatt trainee was in the money in 5 of 7 turf tries (including 2 of 3 at Monmouth) and making his second start after breaking his maiden in mid-June.  Figuring the bettors would bite on Joe Bravo's Cacaway, a horse I knew would be over-bet, I considered 16-to-1 on Berni de Mint an egregious overlay and went for it (I kept the other half of my bankroll in reserve for a horse I liked in the Monmouth finale, who never panned out).  Bravo's horse never factored as expected, but Berni simply did not have enough to win and finished third, a length-and-a-quarter behind 3-to-1 winner Exeter Road.

Considering the highest win payout on the entire Monmouth card was $10 (Winiliscious in Race 10), one could argue that playing races from Monmouth is fruitless from a contest perspective, but in hindsight I feel somewhat validated in having mapped out 4-5 playable longshots who seemed to have a decent shot at scoring at a price and ultimately outran their odds.

Saturday's outcome suggests, at least to me, that there's a very fine line between yet another loss in a live-money handicapping contest and taking one down.  I cannot assume that no one else bet on the same horse as me, or bet even more, but a prospective $240-$250 payout on a $10W wager on 23-to-1 Violator, for instance, would have assuredly given me enough ammo to gravitate toward playing shorter-priced horses or, possibly in Race 9, making a large show wager on a horse where I had some confidence.

In the end, Saturday's HPWS was worth the effort and proof yet again of my theory that often it takes only one well-placed long-shot play to be a factor in a live-money handicapping tournament.

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