Saturday, December 15, 2012

Case Study in "Pick-and-Pray"

(Updated on Wednesday, December 18 with comments in red italics...utter disaster Saturday picks-wise, but follow-up commentary as promised)

Contrary to my last posting, two no-cost contests have come up -- exactly in the NJ Horseplayer wheelhouse -- offering spots in year-end championships in Las Vegas: one for the Horse Player World Series (HPWS) on February 2013, and two for the National Handicapping Championship in January 2013.

Each is a "pick and pray" format, whereby contestants must make selections on all of a series of pre-determined contest races and wish for the best.  In short, handicap the races, make a primary selection and a backup (in the event of a scratch of your top choice)...and wing it.

I am more intrigued by next week's contest, especially as an NHC Tour member. will serve as the host, and the only requisites are to be a Tour member and have a HorseTourneys account.  As I have written in the past, free NHC events are akin to winning the lottery, as evidenced by the prospect for as many as 3,500 players next Saturday, December 22.  However, the Tour will have to wait another week for that final shovel of dirt on my NHC grave.

Meanwhile, this afternoon, (unfortunately, in retrospect) I have entered's 14th Annual Online Handicapping Championship, where in addition to an entry and travel package to the HPWS, Brisnet will award the Top 15 finishers prizes ranging from cash to website credit.  I thought it would be fun to detail the anatomy of my selections and hopefully draw some feedback from readers about whether my philosophy makes sense (OK, so my readership is responses).

There are 10 contest races from multiple tracks, so different consideration all around.  Here's my thinking, with the race number followed by my top selection and backup selection.  I'll follow up later with results of this case study. I've gone no higher than 12-to-1 with any of my selections.  Take a look and let me know what you think in the comment section below!
  1. Aqueduct Race 8: Snap Call (12-1), Readthebyline (5-2) -- Typically I am not a big fan of Finger Lakes shippers, but I sense Readthebyline will be an underlay and see no other huge threats. Snap Call's front-running style could play well on the inner dirt at a mile and 70 yards. (Sure as ****, Readthebyline wins by 4 1/2 and goes off at 9-5...not a crushing start, considering a meager combined win-place payout of $6.60; Snap Call got the trip I expected, but weakened to 4th.)
  2. Gulfstream Park Race 7: Which Market (4-1), Forward March (12-1) -- I cannot hit the broadside of a barn with my Gulfstream handicapping, but the horse I liked initially, Burn the Mortgage, did not get in off the "also eligible" list, and so I'm on John Velazquez's horse.  In my view, the switch from Which Market's rider the last two (Mike Luzzi) alone is an upgrade, and this one has won against allowance company in a $75k event, so the $62.5k optional claimer is winnable. (Which Market went off around 7-2 and just missed by a head; $4.20 place payout.  Forward March, by the way, finished a very game third. Of course I didn't bet the race, but my top three selections came in for a $206 trifecta). 
  3. Hawthorne Race 2: Brick House Road (5-2), Got Luck (6-1) -- Good first try in July at Canterbury, finishing second against straight-maiden company, and plenty of rest while dropping down to the $15k claiming ranks against Illinois state breds.  Price may be short, but no one else stood out. (I guess Hawthorne's that much tougher than Canterbury...BHR finishes a not-so-close 4th)
  4. Hollywood Park Race 2: Got Heem (5-2), Zippingaroundtown (5-1) -- Mitchell-Talamo combo dropping down from maiden $50k claiming to a $30k tag and the addition of blinkers suggest this one could win in his third try this season.  I gave serious consideration to 20-1 bomber Hillcrest Avenue based on a rider switch to Aaron Gryder, but was concerned about lack of early speed. (Got creamed, is more like it. Uninspiring 5th, about 10 lengths off the winner.) 
  5. Gulfstream Park Race 8: Little Sheba (12-1), Verso a Verso (5-2) -- Sheba broker her maiden in her debut ($30k claimer) at 6 furlongs at Keeneland in October and seems to fit versus two-year-old rivals that all have at least three races under their belts and have mostly run at Calder. The comment line for Sheba shows she won the debut despite being steadied, and did so pretty easily with the patient Julian Leparoux aboard.  I like this spot with Jose Lezcano aboard.  Going another furlong today on dirt does not spook me at all. (Little Sheba last seen still running to the finish line; Luca Panici blows up the tote with a 53-to-1 winner...ouch! Nearly $5,800 trifecta payout says it all about how this race went.)
  6. Aqueduct Race 9: Riverdance Rock (12-1), Sunshine Valentino (5-1) -- I write this knowing that jockey Irad Ortiz has won 5 of the first 8 races carded for the Big A, and I should probably have used my backup selection instead (Irad's on Valentino), but I leaned toward the lightly raced Bruce Brown trainee.  Brown's 19% with horses his first time, and I expect bettors to dismiss Riverdance Rock off the outside post and a rough trip last out. Luzzi was on for the maiden-breaking score two back, and based on the comment line I think this horse will be either extremely live or finish dead last (6 starts -- 1 "lost rider", 3 "squeezed" or "brushed" starts).  Throw out the last and roll the bones. (What do Mike Luzzi, Edgar Prado and Joe Bravo have in common...? They zig when I zag. 4-wide trip for Riverdance Rock spells doom...mid-pack finish.)  Way out of contention in the contest anyway, so no matter.)
  7. Tampa Bay Downs Race 9: Fifth Street (7-2), Riki McD (8-1) -- Fresh horse who likes dirt (in the money 12 of 21 tries on fast surface) and has won 2 of 7 at Tampa.  I expect Fifth Street to track the inside speed at the rail (Alisa's Engineer) and pass in the stretch.  (Game 2nd-place effort, a whopping $2.60 place payout for the effort). 
  8. Hollywood Park Race 3: Porfido (7-2), Te Rapa (3-1) -- Uncharacteristically chalky types for NJ Horseplayer, but Nakatani is patient and tough on turf, and even though Porfido is 1-18 (with 5 seconds and 6 thirds) on the grass at Hollywood, early pace sets up well for this one at 9 furlongs. (Porfido's owners weren't lucky one paid the $40k claiming tag)
  9. Gulfstream Park Race 9: Itsmyluckyday (5-1), Reporting Star (4-1) -- Best Bet.  Prior race (Grade 3 Delta Jackpot) is a toss; wide trip on a bull-ring.  Itsmyluckyday's turf debut in the Tyro at Monmouth in early August was enough to tell me this is a good value today at 5-1.  The horse won a $100k stakes on dirt at a mile-and-70 at Calder in September and will handle two turns on turf. (Lost all interest by this point, though I'm getting good at picking 4th-place finishers). 
  10. Hawthorne Race 4: Ultimate X (10-1), Helicopter (9-2) -- Maybe others will disagree, but I generally side with longer prices in these pick-and-pray contests.  I'm assuming I will not be on the lead heading into the last race, and will roll the dice with a long-shot.  Ultimate X made sense to me in a salty field with little other early speed.  Here's to X setting moderate fractions up front and hanging on for dear life to the finish line. (Started doing some sheet-rock repair in my home office by this point...not from punching holes in the wall or anything...)
Best of luck to my fellow contest players, and check back later for the happy recap! (Congrats to Alan L. of Baton Rouge, LA, who amassed a $169 bankroll with 5 win payouts and 7 place payouts...he's going to the Horse Player World Series!  Me...I finished ">1,000", according to the standings.)

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