Thursday, August 30, 2012

When To Play (Contest) Defense

I started a nearly two-week vacation last Friday on a decent hoof, winning a $195 NHC qualifying tournament credit by virtue of a fourth-place finish (out of 60) in a $20 NHC "pre-qualifier" at

The decisive call proved to be 16-to-1 winner Sam Hillic in Race 7 from Monmouth Park ($46.60 combined win and place earnings on a notional $2 WP bet), but a runaway win in the fourth race of the eight-race contest on 5-to-2 Storm Da Chaser in Race 8 from Calder padded my bankroll by another $12.40 to vault me into third place at the halfway point.
Cliche: Defense wins championships

With four races to go, however, including three from a typically deep-fielded Saratoga, I was not entirely secure about my position despite a sizable bankroll edge over many competitors in Friday's contest.

Yet, as unlike many days where I have little advance prep time, I had Friday afternoon all to myself (kids on a sleepover, the wife out after work) to engage in serious handicapping and noticed that scratches pared several of the late-card races, and the contest finale (The Ballerina Stakes) was a mere six-horse field featuring Turbulent Descent (9-to-5 morning line) -- a virtual shoe-in to win versus a so-so field.

Time to buckle my chinstraps and play defense.  

The premise of my handicapping is, typically, to identify playable long-shots, but on Friday I angled especially high on the odds board in hopes of preventing other contest players from jumping the leaderboard with horses 10-to-1 or above.  Two of the last four races (7, 8 and 9 from Saratoga, and 9 from Monmouth Park) were especially conducive to this strategy.
  • Saratoga, Race 7 -- Sally's Dream scored at nearly 9-to-1 on a nice ground-saving ride by Rajiv Maragh, while Rosie Napravnik (consistent with other times I have landed on a Rosie-run horse during the Saratoga meeting) ran my selection, 23-to-1 Grisaille, 3-4 horses wide and finished in seventh.  The $26.10 combined win-place payout would have been nice, but I remained in the top six.
  • Saratoga, Race 8 -- Really a dumb, contradictory decision on my part, but I felt like Silver Timber (1.9-to-1) was simply the best horse in the field and went with my gut, rather than making my alternate choice, Chernobyl's Hero (20-to-1), my top selection and recognizing the value of the big long-shot.  Silver Timber petered out in the stretch, while Chernobyl's Hero lost by a mere neck to 6-to-5 favorite Isn'tlovejustgrand.  The outcome was not damaging, as none of the top eight in the standings had Chernobyl's Hero, but I was kicking myself nonetheless for picking a chalky horse. 
Entering the finale, I sat in fourth-place behind Maurice Colpron ($84.20), Tony Calabrese ($71.40) and Paul Shurman ($65.60), but my $64.80 bankroll was $15.50 ahead of the next player (Harvey Sides) and $18.20 ahead of sixth-place Thomas Blosser.
  • Saratoga, Race 9 -- After 8-to-5 morning-line favorite It's Tricky scratched, Turbulent Descent appeared the standout of the six-horse Ballerina.  Considering I only needed to finish in the top six to win a $195 Horse Tourneys credit, I threw out three horses -- Turbulent Descent, Nicole H (4-to-1 morning line) and Derwin's Star (5-to-1 morning line) -- since players trailing in the standings could not conceivably win enough with any of those horses to pass me.  I focused my handicapping, instead, on Island Bound, Belle of the Hall and All Due Respect -- 10-to-1, 15-to-1 and 20-to-1, respectively, on the morning line.  I settled on All Due Respect, who got little respect from the bettors and went off as the second-longest shot but seemed logical, as I saw it, considering the horse's front-running style in a race lacking a pacesetter.  I thought the other horses were stalkers and closer-types, which absolutely played out as All Due Respect easily held the lead most of the way before fading to third.  No harm done, considering the 1-to-2 favorite won and Derwin's Star paid just $5 to place.  

The last race outcome did not shake up the standings among the top five, though Sam Rivera moved up three places in the standings to sixth, courtesy of Derwin's Star.  I suspect that Friday's contest winner Maurice Colpron considered the same strategy as me heading into the last race, as he also played All Due Respect, but you had to go further down the standings to find others making the same play.  

Now, had Friday's contest been an actual NHC qualifying tournament, and I were 80 cents out of third-place (typically the top 3 finishers in HorseTourneys' NHC qualifiers reach the annual National Handicapping Championship), I almost certainly would have played Turbulent Descent, but the circumstances validated an approach of hunkering down and playing some defense.  

The is often fruitless to play favorites in the latter stages of handicapping tournaments featuring compulsory races.  Friday was but one such case, though I encourage you to chime in with your own late-contest thoughts or strategies in the comments below.

Monday, August 13, 2012

When A Flared Nostril Flares MY Nostrils

Perhaps there's nothing more frustrating in the handicapping lexicon than when your pick loses by a nose.

NJ Horseplayer pulls a
"McKayla Maroney"
Fresh off the Summer Olympics, ask anyone that finished fourth in the medal round and just missed out on the podium.  They'd rather have finished last.

As a relative newbie to the contest circuit, but one extremely interested in handicapping strategies, logic and wagering methodologies, I probably have little room to criticize a rider for an poor outcome since I have zero experience riding or training, but I will blame my slide down the standings Sunday in the Del Mar 2012 Online Handicapping Challenge on the jockey.  

Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Let the video of race 7, a $40k optional claimer at a mile, show that Planet Sunshine, not winner (by a flared nostril) Shaun Washington, was the best horse in the race and with a ton left coming into the stretch until Victor Espinoza tried his hand at parting the proverbial Red Sea.  Alas, he's no Moses, and ended up losing in a driving photo finish. 

Alright, maybe I should calm down, especially since this is a no-cost-to-enter contest and my chances of winning 1 of 2 NHC XIV spots awarded this year are slim, but as a contest player, this is the kind of loss that alters outcomes and future handicapping (especially around the halfway point of this particular contest) and churns up memories of nose-bobs lost.  

Entering the race, I was $88 in the black (not a huge sum by any stretch, but on the plus side and in the top 25% among 4,000-plus players), having built momentum with a $16.20 winner (a $710 profit on a notional $100 win bet) in Friday's Daisy Cutter Handicap with 7-to-1 Nechez Dawn.  On Saturday, although my pick ended up some 6-7 lengths behind a runaway 1-to-5 shot, Hot Affair ran a very game second at 23-to-1 as sixth choice in a 9-horse field in Race 7, so with some luck I could have scored big at $100W.  

Sunday, in the ill-fated seventh, confident in Planet Sunshine (went off at 5-to-1) I put down another notional $100W, only to see a potential $600+ payout turn into a nose defeat to a horse that ran extremely wide in the stretch but had a trouble-free trip where, as expected, a handful of horses burned each other out into the stretch.  So, rather than an approximate $700 bankroll to the good and being in the Top 300 (i.e., striking distance of having a better shot), you'll find my alter ego (billhobo) at No. 1,168 in the contest standings. 

Of course my recap is very tongue-in-cheek.  In all seriousness, I use this contest for practice and casual play, realizing that out-handicapping 4,000+ players is an egregious long-shot, but Sunday's setback got me thinking this afternoon how one outcome can alter a handicapper's contest strategy.  

For the next two weeks I intend to handicap as I have throughout this particular contest, where I try to identify a logical horse at 4-to-1 to 10-to-1, recognizing there's enough time for, say, two winning picks to get me back into the upper realm of the leaderboard.  Once we turn into the homestretch, however, my logic may change, and I may look back upon this weekend's defeat as an inflection point in my contest outcome. 

I am interested to know how other players react after a "tough beat" in a handicapping contest, particularly during the middle to late stages, so fire away with those comments.   

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Proposal to Revise NHC Tour Points System

A week removed from an on-track handicapping tournament where five of the top 10 finishers were not members of the NHC Tour, I maintain that it is patently unfair to dues-paying NHC Tour players to lose out on any opportunity to accrue valuable points in the NHC Tour standings.

Call me a whiner if you will, but I can take the criticism, and you'll see my side very quickly.

The general public might first question...what is an NHC Tour, and what standings?

This is how the Tour determines how many points that
NHC Tour players get for finishing in the Top 10% of
sanctioned contest standings
The short answer is that anyone interested in thoroughbred racing and, handicapping contests (i.e., players compete against each other to see who can accrue the biggest bankroll on a particular set of races) in particular, pays an annual membership ($50 in 2012, $45 in 2011) to join the Tour.  Members have access to a handful of "free" online tournaments, plus other swag (i.e. Daily Racing Form discounts, political advocacy).  

The brass ring for NHC Tour players, however, as evidenced by the Tour's headline bullet point about membership, is winning 1 of 500 berths in the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) each January in Las Vegas.  The 2013 prize pool is a not-to-shabby $1.5 million and has fringe benefits, including a championship ring and getting your face plastered all over the DRF.

For the 2012 season, the Tour cognoscenti -- presumably with input from its annual member survey -- added new wrinkles for qualifying for NHC XIV, namely greater emphasis on contest participation (especially on-track) and accruing Tour points for finishing in the top 10% of on-track or online contests.  The Top 100 point-getters (an all-time high) get a spot in Vegas, whether or not they've won a qualifying tournament, so clearly Tour points matter.

The premise to give players who play regularly a greater shot at qualifying for Vegas even if they fail to outright win tournaments makes sense, especially when trying to grow interest in not only the contest circuit and its organizers (i.e., racetracks, online venues such as and, but a languishing thoroughbred racing industry in general.

Until last week, when with a few races left in the Suffolk Downs contest I was in seventh-place out of 135 players, I had not given Tour points standings much thought, considering I am not a full-time handicapper and lack the bankroll to play in enough contests for points to probably matter, and my handicapping has been weak when actually having the time to play (generally at Monmouth Park or online).

However, the outcome at Suffolk ruffled my feathers, with the blame squarely on the NHC Tour.

Similar to contests at nearby Monmouth Park, Suffolk Downs (to no fault of its own) allowed players from outside the NHC Tour to enter.  As noted last week, caveat emptor -- I knew going in that anyone from off the street could plunk down $60 to play.  I have no problem with this setup, recognizing the value of maximizing player participation and letting first-timers kick the tires of a contest, so to speak.

As fate would have it, 5 of the top 10 finishers were not members of the Tour.  My problem with this is strictly from a Tour points perspective.  

A glance at the Tour's Points by Event chart shows the top NHC Tour finisher, Tony Linares, collecting 2,625 points, which based on the chart above suggests he finished second to a non-Tour player in an event with 100-149 players.  Granted, Tony and fellow Tour members Pierre Poulin (1,750 points) and Joe Long (1,525 points) won automatic berths to NHC XIV as the top three Tour finishers, but only two other Tour players (Henry Conte, 941, and William Clark, 816) scored Tour points.

This suggests that, NJ Horseplayer, as the 15th-place finisher overall (and, at worst, 10th among Tour finishers) got zero points.  In essence, the non-Tour players who finished ahead of me and any Tour players who finished 11th-14th cost us points in the standings.

OK, the 800-1,200 Tour points we could have gotten may appear negligible, but as I see it there are probably only a select group of Tour members who have already qualified for Vegas who will continue to play in tournaments throughout the year to accrue points (i.e. full-time/professional handicappers).  Indeed, the Tour paid out $50,000 to the Top 10 point-getters for the first half of 2012, including $15,000 to top finisher Rhonda Sylvester.  Clearly, there is concrete monetary value to these Tour points.

On the other hand, you might have NHC Tour members who qualified for NHC XIV in Vegas who no longer see the need to play in NHC-focused handicapping tournaments to accrue Tour points.  

Then, there are Tour players who have yet to qualify for Vegas by virtue of a qualifying tournament victory but are in the Top 100 of the Tour points standings, such as my friend Terry Flanagan of Red Rock or Bust, who through August 8 was 99th in points -- striking distance for an NHC XIV berth.

Say Terry was in my shoes at Suffolk -- Top 10 among NHC Tour members, but zero Tour points for the effort.  In that case, 800-1,200 Tour points would have proven extremely valuable to his cause to make it to Vegas and put him somewhere among the Top 40-60 point-getters.  Instead, 5 folks with zero interest in the NHC Tour or unwilling to pay $50 last Saturday to join the Tour took points away from Tour members.

This is an extremely mixed message for Tour players and devalues the $50 membership. 

In my case, I could have taken care of business by handicapping slightly better last Saturday and beating the NHC Tour players above me.  I also get that the host tracks want to maximize participation in handicapping contests.  However, I would task the NHC Tour with addressing an obvious loss to Tour members.

The solution is simple and could be enforced by the 2013 season without hurting the host tracks who want more players to sign up for handicapping contests:

  • Keep two sets of standings -- one for Top 10 finishers and one for Top 10 NHC Tour finishers
    • Contest registration sheets already require players to say whether or not they're Tour members
  • The Top 10 finishers overall would split any cash prizes, much as the case with current allotment at the Monmouth Park and Suffolk Downs tournaments
  • Any non-Tour finishers would be excluded from the standings when doling out NHC Tour points
    • If, for instance, 100 of the 300 contest entrants are not Tour members, then allocate points to the Top 20 finishers among the 200 Tour players (under #200 in tournament, see chart)
    • I would argue that this would even give Tour players the motivation to hang around contests longer, since a 19th-place finish would have Tour-point value; now, such a player might take a late-contest stab on an unplayable long-shot in hoping for a miracle win and Top 10 finish.
There should be no mechanical hurdles to enacting such changes.  To ignore implementing or even considering such a methodology would remove the exclusivity or luster of belonging to the NHC Tour.  

Feel free to share our thoughts in the comments section below.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ironically, Done In By A Monmouth Longshot

There is special place in my heart for long-shots in my handicapping contest strategy, but never would I have landed on the 53-to-1 bomb in the eighth from Monmouth Park who blew up the tote board and ruined -- to that point -- what had been a solid performance for me in Saturday's NHC tournament at Suffolk Downs.

Ultimately, I finished 15th among all 138 players (7th-best among NHC Tour players...more on that later), but for 10 hours of driving I came away without a coveted seat to NHC XIV.

Red Rock or Bust finds the
quintessential "steamed cheese"
but still in search of NHC XIV
The day was loads of fun, however, as fellow road-tripper Terry Flanagan and I met a great group of individuals from the NHC Tour/Twitter/blogosphere (Donna Pelletier and her mom, Susan from A Saturday Afternoon Horseand fellow Jerseyans Steve and Marie) enjoyed lots of laughs and banter about thoroughbred handicapping.

To cap it off, a steamed cheeseburger from the legendary Ted's in Meriden, CT on the trip home was the perfect antidote.

To their credit, five entrants (two were non-NHC Tour members) to yesterday's $60 contest had the courage to put Caffe D' Oro among their 15 notional $2 win-place bets in a "pick-and-pray" format covering races from host Suffolk, as well as Saratoga, Monmouth and Del Mar.

Since there was no cap on payouts in the Suffolk format, the combined $155.20 of winnings on a notional $2 win-place wager sealed everyone's fate, and will send NHC Tour members Anthony Linares, Pierre Poulin and Joe Long, all of Massachusetts, to the $1.5 million NHC XIV next January!

In Suffolk's format, players entered selections for all 15 mandatory races before the post time of the sixth race from Suffolk (2:50 p.m.).  I confidently entered mine about an hour in advance, having doped out all but three races on Friday night.

I picked nothing below 8-to-1 on the five Suffolk races, perceiving the lack of quality favorites in any field, and otherwise co-mingled post-time favorites (i.e. Ron the Greek in the Whitney) with a slew of mid-priced horses at the other three contest tracks.

An 0-for-2 start was not crippling, considering the winners were a chalky 6-to-5 and 3-to-1.  In the third contest race (Suffolk 7), Nesfield came through for second at 28-to-1 (up from a 15-to-1 morning line) to run my notional bankroll to $21.60.

Four races later (Suffolk 9), Youbethecan, an egregious overlay at 35-to1 (morning line was 12-to-1) ran a game second to pad my bankroll by $22.60 and, for the time being, tied me for tenth-place about halfway through the card.

The next race, however, spelled contest doom for me and 133 other players, as Caffe D' Oro held on in a 5.5-furlong turf sprint at Monmouth at 53-to-1.  The outcome mostly cast a pall over the room.

Although it would have taken a miracle to catapult the Caffe D' Oro benefactors with only seven races remaining, and no chance to alter selections, there was still an outside chance for the Top 10 (kudos to the Suffolk Downs organizers for paying back ALL entry fees in cash prizes) and NHC Tour points (top 10% of finishers), so all was not lost, considering my $44.20 bankroll to that point.

To be sure, back-to-back winners at 4-to-1 (Julie's Love, Saratoga 8) and 6-to-1 (Big Cash, Suffolk 10) vaulted me to 7th-place in the standings with a $78.90 notional bankroll, though that was fleeting, as I failed to channel my inner Mariano Rivera and could not nail a winner in the last five contest races.  A runner-up finish for Ron the Greek added $3.90 (place payout) to top off my finishing $82.90 bankroll, but was an afterthought to cracking the Top 10 (tenth place finished with a $100.20 bankroll).

Ironically, I recall discussing with Terry on the 4 1/2-hour drive to Suffolk how, among the four contest tracks, Monmouth concerned me the least, considering its usually chalky outcomes, but Caffe D' Oro set me straight, I suppose (of course, in the two other Monmouth races the winners paid $7.20 and $4.20).

There's no shame, however, in collecting winnings in 33% of Saturday's 15 races, including three at $20 or more -- validating my long-shot thesis and ability (and courage) to identify a few prices that make sense.

At least one player I met on Saturday mentioned that, if not for the low $60 entry fee, he would have passed on a contest with no cap on win-place payouts; most contests (namely online tourneys) put a 15-to-1 or 20-to-1 win payout and 8-to-1 to 10-to-1 cap on place payout, which in essence deters players from taking wild stabs at a bunch of nags and hoping to cash in on one or two, which is what happened at Suffolk.

I still have mixed sentiments about contest caps but lean toward Mike Brady's principle of caveat emptor.

"Let the buyer beware"
On the one hand, regardless of the payout, I agree with the concept that any handicapping contest should reward the best handicapper that day; whether that should be based on total number of correct selections or highest bankroll remains up for debate.

On the other hand, as was the case Saturday, everyone plunking down 60 bucks to participate knew the rules and had just as much chance as anyone else to call a 53-to-1 winner as the rest of the players.  Five had the courage and were rewarded handsomely.

And, at least check, those risking $2 to win at the betting window on a 53-to-1 horse took home a $109.60 payout, not $42.

Considering that the top three finishers added at least another $70 of notional winnings to their bankroll somewhere amid the other 14 contest races tells me that Messrs. Linares, Poulin and Long were clearly the best handicappers at the Suffolk yesterday.

On to Las Vegas in January 2013 for them, and back to the drawing board for NJ Horseplayer.

The one thing I would like to see, however, is for all NHC-based contests to mandate that ALL players pay the $50 annual NHC Tour membership fee in order to participate.

I understand the tracks want to maximize contest participation, but it is a slight to players like me, who topped all but 6-7 other NHC Tour members but will NOT come away with any NHC Tour points for finishing in the top 10%.

The thought is...why bother joining the Tour when anyone can enter NHC-based tournaments?

As NHC Tour players know, Tour points are far more coveted now (almost more than the cash prizes awarded at on-track contests), with the Top 100 gaining a berth to NHC XIV.

In short, unless I am misinterpreting the NHC Tour rules and got incorrect information from a fellow Tour member on Saturday, the 7 players who finished ahead of me in the standings and were not members of the Tour cost me somewhere around 900 points.  This is not enough to get me to the top of the standings, but could prove valuable in trying to crack the top 100 by year's end.

Players who fork over the 50 bucks to join the Tour, contrary to those too cheap or indifferent to what the NHC represents, should not be penalized as such.  I will seek clarification on the points issue with the Suffolk and NHC Tour folks, as clearly this is an important issue.

Suffolk Afterthoughts

The administration at Suffolk Downs deserves much credit for fronting the cost for three National Handicapping Championship seats (a source tells me that NTRA tracks pay $10k for 3 NHC seats, while non-NTRA members pay $20k) and returning all of Saturday's entry fees to the players.  To boot, they provided players a spacious and comfortable clubhouse room in which to circulate, and a lunch and dessert buffet, and I would no doubt return to Suffolk for future contests.

Although the travel is a logistical headache and the on-track product is clearly not the draw (i.e. versus a Saratoga), the trip was well worth it, in my opinion.

As I have lamented on several occasions, being a New Jersey resident is an extreme burden in the NHC Tour world.  Monmouth Park, which certainly could take a cue from Suffolk Downs in terms of limiting the contest cost AND throwing in a lunch for the trouble, is the online "live" NHC contest venue around, and our inability to qualify for NHC via a or is a severe crimp to Tour members who cannot jet-set from track to track for handicapping contests.

As an NHC Tour player, I plan to approach the Tour administration about lobbying on New Jerseyans' behalf, in terms of gaining access to online tournaments through out-of-state ADW programs.  If anyone out there shares in my opinion and is willing to contribute to this effort, let me know.

In my opinion, our annual membership fees should go beyond access to a few free tournaments and ability to qualify for NHC and toward initiatives that advance the accessibility to NHC qualifiers.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Next Stop: Suffolk Downs

The NJ Horseplayer caravan is headed to the Boston area bright and early Saturday for the NHC Qualifying Tournament at Suffolk Downs.

NJ Horseplayer on to Beantown
OK, it's not such a big caravan -- just me and Red Rock or Bust (got a few seats left if anyone else from Jersey wants to tag along) -- but the two of us are loading up my VW Sportswagen diesel for the five-hour trip to East Boston in hopes of qualifying for National Handicapping Championship XIV next January in Las Vegas.  Three seats will be up for grabs.

Personally, I am entering the tournament a bit apprehensive from a handicapping perspective, considering I could just as well stay home and save myself the time, but Suffolk is throwing in lunch as part of the $60 entry fee and offering cash prizes to the top 10, while I'm sure I'll come away with some fine stories and experiences.  Rumor has it, too, that we'll be meeting Donna (@travelbyrv) and Susan from the Saturday Afternoon Horse blog (@asaturdayhorse), so fraternization with fellow horseplayers will be a big plus!

Win or lose at Suffolk,
Ted's is a winning wager
And Terry doesn't know it yet, but we're absolutely hitting the world famous Ted's in Meriden, CT for steamed cheeseburgers on the way back to NJ for dinner. 

For those in the Boston area or insane enough to travel far and wide like me, Saturday's contest will comprise 15 races in a "pick and pray" format, whereby players make a notional $2 win-place bet on each race and must enter all picks for the entire card before the first contest race (Suffolk Downs, Race 6).  From there on out, the outcome is in the hands of the horse' connections.

The format is pretty interesting and mirrors that of some contests on, where I hit on a minor award once but have not played enough to gauge my prowess.  I will spend this afternoon and evening doping out the 15 races (which will conveniently wrap up by about 6 p.m.):
  • Suffolk Downs: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
  • Saratoga: 5, 6, 8, 9, 10
  • Monmouth: 7, 8, 10
  • Del Mar: 1, 2
I figure, like most contests, picking winners will be key, though in reality it looks like a few big long-shots could prove more valuable.  Unless I've misread the information on Suffolk's website, I'm seeing no citation of a cap on winning payouts.  Most online tournaments I've played put a 15- to 20-to-1 cap on win payouts and 10-to-1 on place payouts for the notional $2 WP wager.  I'm going in assuming that the rules sheet will spell out some kind of caps, though I've never been one to shy away from horses 20-to-1 and above; the last two pre-qualifiers where I've won awards come to mind.

Anyway, best of luck to everyone else headed out to Suffolk Downs on Saturday, and anyone looking to connect there should either reach me on Twitter (@NJHorseplayer) or call/text (732.322.0130).

Haskell Day Afterthoughts

I hadn't planned on making it to Monmouth Park on Sunday considering plans for NYC Marathon training (man, does it suck training in this humidity) and cleanup from a Saturday house party, but my man Chris Skurat from Tinton Falls had never been and asked if I'd be interested.  It didn't take much arm-twisting.

Chris (left) didn't need it, but I certainly could have used
Joe and Jeremy's (far right) insights on the Haskell
The crowd was announced at 35k, which seemed accurate, though some of the best action was in the picnic area, where after the racing concluded I had the pleasure of running into Joe Kristofek and Jeremy Plonk, co-creators of Horse Player Now.

Because we did not show up until Race 9 on Sunday's 13-race Haskell program, we did not spend a lot of time at Monmouth and instead opted for the comfort of the grandstand, but in hindsight discovered that Joe and Jeremy were on hand to promote, yet again, fan education.

These guys have done a wonderful job as true ambassadors for the sport and deserve a lot of credit for educating fans in all aspects of the thoroughbred (and now harness) racing game -- from wagering strategy and horse ownership to horse pedigree and handicapping -- via their Night School program, held online every Tuesday night from 830p-10p ET.

Simply put, these guys get it, attempting to generate grassroots interest while educating the fans in a wonderful but fragmented and perceived dying sport.  Certainly some tracks (Saratoga comes to mind) offer handicapping seminars and such, but most are under-publicized and probably turn many people off who feel too inexperienced to get involved at the track.

Night School welcomes fans of all levels, and I sense the online chat format makes even the newest of fans comfortable asking questions and learning online, as opposed to walking up to someone and admitting they have no idea, for instance, what to do with their racing program.  I would recommend anyone who has yet to try Night School to give it a whirl, and check out the online archives for a flavor of what the guys present each Tuesday night.  It's definitely worth your while!