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.


  1. Hey Bill, Nice re-cap here, and your tweet reminded me that I should e-mail Suffolk for my results. (Ugh) Don't know if you are doing the Huddie contest? , but it got blown apart today with 3 people selecting the Vanderbilt winner and adding over $100. to their bankroll.(no cap!) I was sitting at 10th, before today, now this will change but there's still 4 more weekends to catch up. Have thought about getting down to Monmouth, haven't been since BC, maybe one of these days...

  2. Susan, you'll have to clarify the "Huddie contest" for me...never heard of it.

  3. I disagree with your look at non tour members being in tournaments.What if you finished fifth in the Suffork downs tournament and two people in front of you are not tour members.You would be going to Vegas Right??If they signed up,You would only be getting a small check from Suffork Downs
    Suffork Downs Player

  4. Suffolk Downs Player,

    You're right about the prospects of finishing 5th and hypothetically getting into the Vegas tourney by default with a few non-Tour people ahead of me in the standings, but that misses my point.

    In general, at the same time the NHC Tour is forcing Tour members to play in on-track tournaments in order to qualify for the Tour standings awards for 2012, they're letting anyone off the Street enter NHC qualifiers, which is an EXTREMELY mixed message to Tour members.

    I get that the tracks want to maximize contest participation, but it's not my fault someone's too cheap or too disinterested in spending a mere $50 to join the Tour. Those people should either be excluded from the standings when it comes to allocating Tour points (I don't care so much about the top-10 prize money pool) or prohibited altogether from participating in NHC-based contests.

    Let them play in Horse Player World Series or other contests that are not contingent upon NHC Tour membership.

    The Tour's treatment of the Suffolk contest standings, in essence, tells its members that their $50 annual membership is meaningless, since roughly 5-6 players who aren't even on the Tour took points away from dues-paying members who could care less about accumulating Tour points.

  5. ...and (in the last sentence) I meant that dues-paying members ABSOLUTELY care about accumulating Tour points (perhaps more than winning prize money in many cases)

    1. I think there is an argument on both sides"But I feel your chances of qualifying are much betterwith non/members finishing near the top then losing out in the top 100 pt. leaders.You came to Suffolk Downs because The three seats seemed very attractive.It would have been more attractive if they sent the 5th and 6th place finishers to Vegas.As far as non/members not having to pay $50.00,I bet the suffolk winner and the July 7th Monmouth winner are kicking themselves right now and the players who backed in are Happy.Plus we need player participation,Look what happened tothe Super Qualifiers,They are Gone'We also need paramutual betting at these venues,If racetracks are going to continue to host these events.When you came to Suffolk Downs ,Would you rather have played against 130 tour members or 30 tour members and 100 non/members?
      Suffolk Downs Player

  6. S'Downs Player, I made the trip to Suffolk to have fun and maybe to get lucky enough for an NHC seat (not so much for the prize purse), but also because there is only one on-track NHC tournament I can afford or make time for in my area (Monmouth in September). Lenny (of the Equinometry blog) wrote about this a few weeks back. The Tour wants us to play in more tournaments, but the players in areas w/limited access to on-track tournaments (Boston-area folks among them) are totally screwed, unless you can afford to travel huge distances to play at out-of-state tracks. Again, I wouldn't have so much of a problem w/non-Tour members competing for the cash prizes if tracks want to increase player attendance, but I think those players should not be counted toward the NHC Tour points standings. The number of non-Tour participants is irrelevant. If in your example there are only 30 Tour players competing among 130 total, then the Top 3 (10% of 30) should get the Tour points, rather than (hypothetically) none of them getting points because the top 3 finishers are not Tour members.

    1. Nj Horseplayer
      I'm glad you had fun,That's important.I agree with Tour points,But i think your to harsh on not letting non/members play.They are getting penalized not going to vegas and some are getting their feet wet for the first time and after that I bet when they are more comfortable,They will sign up for the tour.Instead of keeping them out we should be welcoming New players.I bet the suffolk and Monmouth winners will be tour members.The person from Monmouth was in his first tournament.I personally hope they stay non/members.
      Suffolk Downs Player

  7. I totally agree about encouraging new players. And, in fact, I'm OK with allowing non-Tour players into on-track tourneys and them having a shot at prize money, but in terms of point allocation I'm saying it's up to the NHC to allot points solely to NHC Tour players, rather than giving third-place points, for instance, to the top NHC Tour finisher in a particular contest.