Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Quest for Jim Benes' NHC Crown Begins Saturday

Congrats to professional horseplayer Jim Benes of Illinois for winning the $750,000 top prize on Saturday as champion of the National Handicapping Championship (NHC)!

Not this Gunning for Glory...
but you get the idea
The margin of victory was scant for the second year in a row (Mike Beychok won NHC XIII by $1 of notional winnings), with Benes beating out NJ Horseplayer's fellow Garden Stater Roger Cettina, of nearby Rumson, by $1.20 on a chalky, but extremely lucrative, selection in the contest finale from Santa Anita.  Rich Grose, the leader after Friday's opening round, finished fourth.

Enough of the platitudes...time to gun for a spot in NHC XV and Benes' title as NHC champ!

The quest for me begins this Saturday with Simulcast Series Challenge #1 at Monmouth Park.

For the faint of cold winters, SSC (3 such $200 buy-in tourneys produce a 60-player "invitational" in April for 2 berths to NHC XV) is the perfect remedy.  The weather forecast here in Central NJ is tame, so there should be no threat of postponement on account of poor driving conditions.

The only conditions that matter will be those at Aqueduct, Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs -- the three tracks in play for SSC#1.

The contest parameters, for those who have never played in this event, are straightforward: $100 contest bankroll, mandatory 10 wagers on any of 10 races at the three tracks, and wagers on only 1 horse per race are only win, place and/or show of at least $10 each; failure to meet the parameters results in disqualification.

Players will pony up $200 -- $100 to a no-takeout pot split between the Top 10 finishers, and the other $100 for player bankrolls.  Thereafter, it's open game, as players can bet their $100 on any of the 30+ races carded, with an eye on finishing with the highest bankroll for the day...or, simply finishing in the Top 20. Note, too, that players keep any accrued winnings.

This year, Monmouth expanded the number of players in the SSC Invitational (Saturday, April 20) to 60 (from 45), which could change strategy of horseplayers like me who simply want to qualify for the Invitational.

Last year, the 15th-place finisher in SSC#1 finished with a meager $127.50 bankroll, though results of SSC#2 and SSC#3 suggest players this Saturday will safely qualify for the SSC Invitational by increase their $100 starting bankrolls to around $225-$250.

The question for me ahead of starting my handicapping on Friday becomes whether I can cast aside my mentality of going for the win (after all, first prize is estimated at $10,000 if 200 players enter), or be happy with, say, a 20th-place finish.  If I am lucky enough to hit enough races to increase my bankroll to $200, for instance, logic would suggest that a conservative stance would suffice. However, will other players in the same spot employ the same tactic, or will someone, say, in 21st place with a $190 bankroll sit on their winnings and hope others fall out of the Top 20, or go for broke with a large wager in the finale?

I suppose the solution is to build a $1,000 bankroll a third of the way through the card, but that is probably not realistic.  Nonetheless, I would expect other SSC#1 players to consider similar strategies as me, which is what makes the Simulcast Series Challenge not only a great remedy for the winter blahs, but an even more interesting mental exercise with 15 more total contestants eligible for the Invitational in April.

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