Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Salty Thoughts

Salt is a recurring theme for the NJ Horseplayer lifestyle these mid-October days.
  • Anyone with the visual or olfactory misfortune of crossing my path after, say, one of my long (i.e. 15- 20-mile) NYC Marathon training runs will find my face literally covered in salty sweat
  • From a thoroughbred handicapping and contest perspective, I have finally taken a break from rubbing salt into my own wounds after, two weeks ago, throwing away a perfectly winnable seat to the 2013 National Handicapping Championship (NHC).  
  • Tuesday night's Night School on addressing "Other People's Advice" got me thinking: are "expert" handicappers' opinions worth their salt?
Take my observations with a grain of salt, but on the latter two bullet points especially, recent contest outcomes got me thinking a lot about whether I'm worth my salt as a Tour member and contest player, and whether outside (often free) advisers are worth their salt.

On the heels of a tiring 16-mile Friday training run and enjoyable Saturday at Rutgers Stadium tailgating and cheering on my beloved Scarlet Knights (yes, 6-0 and No. 15 in the first BCS standings), I took a physical breather on Sunday, October 7, and at the last minute entered's NHC qualifier.  I spent little time in advance handicapping, and so set my expectations low.

I stuck to my mantra of picking playable long-shots, and the outcomes of the first 6 (of 12) contest races yielded few winnings to anyone, with 5 of the 6 race winners paying less than $6.80 to win.  Granted, I ID'd eventual winner Balance the Books as the best horse in the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes from Keeneland, but saw no value in picking a horse that, ultimately, paid a combined $6.60 to win and place.  

So, with zero bankroll through the first half of the contest, I hunkered down in search of some prices, and in Race 9 from Keeneland landed on Charming She Is, listed at 20-to-1 on the morning line but off a second-place finish in a $75,000 stakes event at Kentucky Downs and a grass closer-type in a race filled with early speed.  Here's where the salt in the wound angle comes into play -- at the last second, I switched off Charming She Is, missing out on a 23-to-1 winner and a combined $57.80 of win-place winnings.  (Too bad I did not get get shut out of the system in that instance). 

This decision proved especially costly when considering that, two races later, I found another long-shot that made sense -- d'Princess was sent off in Race 6 from Santa Anita at 26-to-1 (totally dismissed off a 12-to-1 morning line) and wired the field, as hoped, to produce $62.20 of combined win-place money (FYI: win payouts are capped at 20-to-1) and put me at least within striking distance of the leaders with 3 contest races to go; but there were no big prices to be had thereafter, leaving me with a 45th-place finish.

Had I stuck to my guns with Charming She Is, I would have finished 3rd in the contest and won a berth to NHC.  Instead, I was relegated to licking my wounds and am back to the salt mines in search of a late-season bid to the $1.5 million championship next January.

Meanwhile, my participation in the September 29 qualifier on yielded an interesting observation that ties into Tuesday's Night School -- that of "expert handicappers' picks" and how much weight a horseplayer should put into another's prognostications. 

Opinions vary.  

Much as I respect what a Brad Thomas and Andy Serling have to say about respective Monmouth (or Gulfstream) and NYRA races, rarely do I make a selection based on their picks, unlike my colleague Red Rock or Bust, who I have seen win contest races on a Brad Thomas call, in particular.  I am generally skeptical of free advice. 

One such purveyor of "free" advice is one-time NHC Champion Ron Rippey, whose picks are regularly published in the Newark Star-Ledger.  Rip took down the September 29 contest and is headed to Vegas, but I was curious the next day whether his picks aligned with his Ledger picks, namely for Belmont Park.  To his credit, Rip gave out chalky Point of Entry in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic for the Star-Ledger and stuck with that in the online tournament, but no others for the Ledger in Races 6-11.  

To the contrary, in the contest, Rip hit on 8-to-1 Jersey Town in the Kelso, collected $4.20 of place winnings on Zagora in the Flower Bowl, and tallied $17.10 of combined win-place payouts on Bernard's Galaxy in the Belmont finale (a maiden special-weight).  

This is not to disparage Rippey for not backing his published Ledger picks with real money (i.e. an NHC seat) on the line, but to validate my view that experts' published picks are generally worth bupkis, and that all handicappers alike absorb a ton of information that can sway one's confidence at any point. 

Some of the Night School commentary would validate this perspective.  

Churchill Downs' Jill Byrne, for instance, noted that she needs to enter her picks for publication of the track program some 48 hours in advance.  I'm guessing the same holds true for Mr. Rippey with the Star-Ledger.  

A lot can change, especially in the seconds leading up to post time, much as it did in my switch off Charming She Is in the contest October 7, and much as it can for expert handicappers who see something in the post parade or hidden in the past performances that gets them to adjust on the fly with real money on the line.  

In such cases, that is why I will continue to take other peoples' opinions with a grain of salt and rely more heavily on my own handicapping and convictions. 

Unfortunately, I'm just not salty enough a contest player yet to recognize this in certain situations.  One such situation occurred on October 7, but I am confident that soon enough I'll salt away a trip to the NHC, so long as I continue to move forward -- kind of like with my NYC Marathon training.


Speaking of the NYC Marathon, it is less than 3 weeks away, and I truly appreciate the outpouring of publicity that industry colleagues such as Scott Carson ( and the NHC's Michele Ravencraft have provided the last two weeks.  

My campaign to raise $2,000 for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF) received a slight boost on account of Scott's and Michele's efforts, but I am a mere 25% of the way to my goal and generally disappointed that more horseplayers have not embraced this campaign.  I am nearing $3k in my bid to raise a total of $6k for 3 charities, but only a select few have responded to PDJF, which all horseplayers should keep in mind in terms of the risk that all jockeys take for the sake of our entertainment.

I am hopeful and confident that more folks will step up before I run the NYC Marathon on November 4, and thank you in advance for any donations you can make toward the cause. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Running the New York City Marathon for 3 Great Charities

Deviating from my typical, unsolicited (and boring to many of you) observations about thoroughbred handicapping contest strategy, I am using the NJ Horseplayer blog as a shill for raiding your wallets for a great cause.

NJ Horseplayer: 26.2 miles for worthy causes!
On Sunday, November 4, I will be running the 2012 New York City Marathon -- my fourth time "running" (used very lightly in light of my tortoise pace) the 26.2 miles through the 5 boroughs.

Through my profile page on the NYC Marathon fundraising hub's, my goal is to raise at least $5,000 for three charities: 

  • The LAM Foundation 
  • Alstrom Syndrome International
  • Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund

I raised money for the LAM Foundation my first few marathons (2000, 2001 and 2003), as that is a charity intertwined with my family, but was a little more reluctant to solicit donations for causes this year, primarily in the wake of a light, 4-mile jog in mid-August, where I re-aggravated an old hamstring injury that sent me to the sidelines.  I was afraid of hitting people up for charity and then being unable to run.

However, after a month's worth of rest (albeit during the most intense part of a typical marathon training schedule), I got back on the trail 3 weeks ago and am on a training roll -- akin to hitting a Pick 3, you could say.  I've upped my weekly tallies from 20 to 25 to 30, and coasted through a 14-mile "long-run" on Saturday, as some of you unfortunately saw on my Twitter this past Saturday.

This week I've got designs on 35 miles total, with a 16-miler scheduled for Sunday morning, and I will be deviating from the typical marathon schedule and upping my mileage approaching the Marathon, rather than tapering down as recommended in most runners' schedules.  The hammy forced my hand.  C'est la vie!

Anyway, I figured the horseplayer community was a great place to kick-off my fundraiser.  Surely as someone who appreciates all that the horse racing industry provides and recognizes the grave dangers that those physically involved face for our entertainment and betting interests, you will understand why I come to you for support in my NYC Marathon Fundraising effort.

As I am targeting three separate charities, and expecting to raise at least $2,000 for each, I figured the legions of NJ Horseplayer followers would prefer a donation to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, but by all means feel free to chose one of the other two (for background, my sister-in-law succumbed to LAM in 1997, and my cousin Phyllis is the Chairperson for the nascent Alstrom 501 (c)(3) charity).

I will be targeting my family and co-workers for those charities, however, so please consider a donation to PDJF and remember the sacrifices those jockeys who face infinitely more challenges each day than I will leading up to my 26.2-mile marathon.

Wish me luck, and thanks in advance for your generosity...and please spread the word!

Again, follow this link to my profile on CrowdRise and click on the link below "Bill's Fundraisers" to designate the charity to which you would prefer to make a donation.

Stay tuned to the NJ Horseplayer Twitter feed for updates on my training and more unsavory pictures from the marathon training trail, and please feel free to contact me with any questions or publicizing my fundraiser!

Bill Holobowski - NJ Horseplayer