Monday, September 10, 2012

Bold Move by

Validating observations in my Irrational Exuberance posting of April 10, National Handicapping Championship (NHC) feeder site is upping the ante for sites competing for NHC Tour players' cash-constrained budgets. 

I received separate email from (Saturday) and the NHC Tour (Monday), publicizing a lower entry-fee online handicapping contest structure rolled out by the affiliate of Ellis Park Race Course that, in my opinion, will prompt a few others to eventually follow suit.  

One NHC contest hub lower fees
Anyone who has read my blog with any regularity knows that, as a predominantly weekend player on a budget, I am a fan (and NOT a spokesperson of any sort for any contest site) of, even though the detractor will argue there is "better value" (i.e., higher odds, prize packages) out there for my handicapping contest dollar.  

Flatly, for me, the prospect (albeit slim) of winning a spot to the $1.5 million NHC XIV in Las Vegas in January 2013 for only $15-$20 is appealing, considering I lack the bankroll of a full-time or hardcore Tour player, live in a state restricting play through Advanced Deposit Wagering (ADW) sites offering boatloads of NHC "seats," and have work and family obligations that preclude travel for on-track tourneys.  

That as part of its prize packages does not include a travel voucher to offset airfare is not a drawback for me (I can fly to Vegas from Newark or Philly for $300-$400), and I am not hellbent on takeouts, recognizing any contest organizer, whether online or on-track, has expenses (IT, personnel) and  that being an NHC hub is probably not a get-rich-quick business model.   

Effective immediately, and presumably for its remaining 2012 contest slate, has cut the cost to enter its NHC qualifier tournaments by 28%, to $140 (from $195), and its "pre-qualifiers" by 25% to $15 (from $20).  The trade-off on the qualifiers is that grand prizes (entry to NHC XIV and paid hotel) now goes to 1 out of every 60 entries, rather than 50.  The award for finishing in the top 10% of a pre-qualifier, meanwhile, is intact, in that winners still earn a credit to enter a future HorseTourneys qualifier (or can allocate winnings to more pre-qualifiers -- a method I am employing). 

Consistent with my April commentary that the online handicapping contest circuit is "in the throes of an irrational growth cycle," Operator/Tournament Director McKay Smith addressed the catalyst for his site's reduced fee structure.  "It is clear that the players are becoming more and more price-sensitive," said Smith via email Monday, "mostly due to the fact that there is far less scarcity with NHC inventory (spots) than there has been in the past." 

Entries from two contests this past weekend were reflective.  The NHC qualifier on Saturday drew 163 entries (some players played multiple entries) for three NHC seats, while Sunday's $160 NHC qualifier at drew 162 entries for just two NHC seats., much like, gives away 1 NHC "seat" per 60 entries and so-called "breakage" refunds as well to the top non-qualifiers, but contests have been known to easily draw 200-300 entries in the past. 

Perhaps last weekend's lackluster turnouts were anomalous or an improper anecdote, but I would argue that either Tour players needed a respite after the Saratoga and Del Mar seasons, or more likely that players can only allocate so much bankroll to contest play and are spread thin by the rise in tournaments, and therefore more selective about which contests to play in general.  When I joined the NHC Tour in 2010, there were only 300 seats available to the NHC, and was the primary online contest site, charging $100 for its lower-cost events.  Today, however, there are 500 seats available and more competition.

These support my observation of "irrational exuberance," whereby supply is outstripping demand.  Not that the demand is not there, but in what I would still consider a recessionary economic environment and with contests costing upwards of $1,000, players can pick and choose when they play in NHC qualifiers.  

"(Co-Director) Ron Geary and I have always committed to lowering prices per additional inventory," said Smith, who noted that also had its allotment of NHC "seats" upped to around 80 (from 65-70 seats earlier).  "All in all, I felt getting into the sub-$150 range per entry was where we needed to be.  I also like the idea of having the lowest feeder tier under $20; that is accessible to absolutely everyone."

Whether the lower-fee approach as a trade-off to a slightly lower-percentage chance of Tour players qualifying for NHC XIV pays dividends remains to be seen, but I will continue my bid to accrue entries to qualifiers through their scheduled November 24 finale as, for me, there is only one more on-track event for the remainder of 2012 (the Monmouth-Woodbine Challenge: Sunday, September 16).  

With the NHC Tour season approaching the three-quarter pole, it will be interesting to watch whether's gambit prompts more entries and/or other venues to reduce their contest entry rates, or whether lower online tournament turnouts (and more unclaimed NHC seats) will continue, perhaps prompting some "last-chance" tourneys to pop up in the December-January time frame when the contest schedule really thins. 


  1. Bill,

    If you can earn a spot in the NHC qualifier via a $15 or $20 feeder then Horse Tourney's is great value but the slightly lower cost of $140 versus $160 at NHC Qualify is not good value. For the extra $20 you get a $500 travel voucher, which will cover the cost of airfare. My only other gripe is why none of the online handicapping contest sites (except the free crapshoots offered by the NTRA) offer free DRF pp's? Horse Tourney's just added free BRIS pp's, which I do not use and NHC Qualify offers nothing. When there are three or four tracks in a contest the cost of buying online pp's or a paper DRF and online pp's for tracks not in it increases further.

    1. Lenny,this site might help for free PPs.

  2. I understand the airfare dynamic, but that's not a big hangup for me. Would I like that included? Sure, who wouldn't. In my case, I'd rather use a $15 feeder winner to use the $140 to play in more $15 feeders and try to accrue multiple entries for $140 tournaments down the road, which is a nice option. I figure that the November tournaments, in particular, will have more players who qualified for NHC already playing for Tour points, so even if I were to finish 3rd-6th, I might have a shot at getting into the NHC via the back door if, say, 2-3 finishers ahead of me have already qualified for Vegas.

    Two positives with Horse Tourneys are the free PPs (I have used Brisnet and have no trouble with it) and the more-flexible pick submission than NHC Qualify, where (because of scratches or other delays) they lock your pick in a minute before the published post time; Horse Tourneys pretty much waits to lock picks until the final horse enters the gate, whether the race goes off at schedule post time or 10 minutes past the original schedule.