Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Blessings

March proved a pretty good month for NJ Horseplayer, garnering not just one, but two berths in the Simulcast Series Challenge Invitational on Saturday, April 20 at Monmouth Park.

Results are pending Monmouth Park's audit, but yesterday I finished 8th out of a record-high 323 contestants in SSC#3, where the top 20 finishers round out a 60-entry field, with the top two players on April 20 advancing to the 2014 National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas next January.

Considering there are few local on-track NHC qualifying events, picking up a pair of spots in the SSC Invitational seems a coveted accomplishment in my third full season of competition, and getting to play two cards gives me a 1-in-30 shot at Vegas -- not bad, considering that over the course of the SSC qualifiers, there were some 900 entrants playing to make the final 60.

Tossing Discipline Out The Window

I spent a good amount of time on Friday handicapping two of Saturday's contest tracks -- Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park; I left Tampa aside, considering the lack of quality (one one allowance race).  I targeted 7 "must-play" races of 23 total, five that I classified as "maybes", and tossed the other dozen or so aside (Gulfstream's was a deep card, with 13 races on Florida Derby Day).

However, three of my seven "best bets" scratched, prompting me to break from my strategy of limiting my number of intended plays to 10-12 bets and delving more deeply into my "maybe" races.  I ended up making 18 overall (of 34 carded races), not sold on anything in particular and dabbling a lot on horses I thought at least had a shot at offering value.

Unfortunately I rushed into Monmouth Park to bet Race 1 at Gulfstream, where a dud named Happy Fella dropped my $100 starting bankroll by $10.  Another "must-bet", Race 1 at Aqueduct, proved a harbinger of my late-contest play, where I switched off a horse I liked a lot, Ambassador Bridge, but not at less than 2-to-1 (off a 9-to-2 morning line) and lost $10 more on a flat Troubleinrivercity.

Deviating from my initial pick proved valuable in my third contest race, where I thought Summer Breezing was too huge an underlay off a 6-to-1 morning line in Race 3 from Gulfstream.  Monument Hill looked like a much better value at 9-to-2, considering his turf record (5 wins and only 3 off-the-board finishes in 19 turf starts) and decent performance in mid-February off a 7-month layoff.  A courageous stretch ride by Paco Lopez proved the difference in Monument Hill winning and padding my bankroll to $125.

My next 6 plays proved fruitless, including a confident $20 win/$10 show wager on 26-to-1 Alcolite in Race 5 from Aqueduct (finished a game fourth); I stuck to my guns, singling out Alcolite as a horse with a puncher's chance in what I considered a lackluster field of state-bred optional claimers.

Nothing Better Than A Beer

With my bankroll down to $45 a little more than halfway into the contest card, Will Run for Beer seemed like a logical contender in Race 7 from Tampa, the aforementioned allowance race at a mile and a sixteenth on turf.

Perhaps flawed, but I tend to throw class out the window at Tampa most of the time, and I was not turned off by the class jump for Will Run for Beer from the claiming ranks; the horse was fresh off an early-February turf win at Tampa and seemed logical, and jockey David Amiss is lightly-raced but sports a respectable record for 2013.

Amiss guided Will Run for Beer to a nose victory, breathing life into my contest hopes with a $103 score and upping my bankroll to $138 -- not great, but positive territory after 10 wagers.

With no great confidence in anything on the rest of the contest card, however, I dipped down into some "maybe" race plays and went 0-for-5 to drop my bankroll to $78.

My fortunes changed in a major way in Race 10 from Aqueduct.

No Offense, Pierre Tomas...

I think every horseplayer has jockeys that make their skin crawl.

This Pierre knows how to
take it to the house
For me, Joe Bravo never wins when NJ Horseplayer money is on the line, and somehow I have no luck anytime I bet on Joe Talamo.

There a part of me that thinks jockeys like this get extra pleasure in the winner's circle when my money's not on them, knowing that my hard-earned money went out the window with them so often.

Admit it, you've been there too.

Then there's Pierre Tomas, not to be confused with the New Orleans Saints running back, who in some years proved valuable to my fantasy football teams.

Tomas, to me, is an automatic toss in any race.  I have never really seen this jockey squeeze anything extraordinary out of a horse that, granted, probably has little chance of winning a race, but I've seen the likes of Eibar Coa, Maylan Studart and Vinnie Bednar score improbable victories on long-shots.

Pierre Tomas...  not so much, as borne out by Equibase data -- 4 wins in 170 starts.

...Christian Hidalgo Rocks

Precisely why Beyer
Speed Figures mean little
most of the time
Race 10 at Aqueduct, a bottom-level state-bred claimer that drew a whopping 15 entries (four of whom scratched before the card and another that scratched at the gate), looked very playable to me, considering there was no clear favorite in a field better suited for hansom cab duty a few miles west in Central Park.

As seen in the first of two pages of past performances for the race (you can thank me for saving you the anguish of seeing the other entries), I made a notation to myself when handicapping on Friday that the 3 was "maybe worth a look if desperate" -- not the most bullish of indicators, but there were several reasons to consider Trixie Star at a 30-to-1 morning line, in my view:

  • Trained by James Ryerson, who scores 12% overall and on dirt, in sprints and with maiden claimers
  • Race under her belt, albeit a distant seventh of 11 at the $16k claiming level, signaled some positives:
    • "Rank early, greenly" signaled that maybe she simply needed a race just to get acclimated to getting into the starting gate and learning how to race
    • March 15 race line suggests she got left at the gate, but actually passed two horses in the stretch and gained 3.5 lengths on the ultimate winner, Rockin Mandy
    • March 15 second-place finisher T C Lane was third choice at 5-to-1 in Saturday's morning line but scratched as an "also eligible" after running a close fourth in a race at Aqueduct on Friday
    • Three of five relatively speedy works of five: March 4, February 2 and January 29
  • and, last but not least...rider switch from Pierre Tomas to...anyone else...
Who Is Christian Hidalgo?

That's a tremendous question, and one I could not come close to answering when my contest compatriot Terry Flanagan posed it to me yesterday afternoon.  

In hindsight, it turns out Christian Hidalgo rode long-shot Tactical Saenz to a runner-up finish in Race 1 from Aqueduct, and Equibase data show 3 wins, 4 seconds and 2 thirds in 55 starts...not awful for a 10-pound bug on a tough circuit. 

In any case, I thought the combination of these factors merited a $5 win-place stab (SSC contests mandate win-place-show wagers of at least $10 total) on Trixie Star, even with the odds escalating above 40-to-1 at the time of wager.

Trixie Star broke very well from post 3, securing a place among the top two through a quarter-mile in 22.40 seconds and then getting into a speed duel with 3-to-1 co-second choice Ferritto; these two clicked off a half mile in 45.74 seconds, egregiously sharp for $16,000 maiden claimers.  

Neck and neck entering Aqueduct's final turn and into the stretch, Trixie Star scored a neck 76-to-1!!!

The miraculous $513.75 score ran my bankroll to $581.75 at that point, good for a short-lived third-place. 

With only four races on the card, I knew I had a Top 20 finish and second berth in the SSC Invitational, but was insecure about my place in the standings, since several players behind me had $250-$400 bankrolls and could easily knock me down the standings, which happened over the next three races.  

Admittedly paralyzed by the unlikely victory at Aqueduct, I passed on Race 11 from Gulfstream, where on Friday I pegged 8-to-1 Upgrade as my top Gulfstream pick on the day, but he scratched, and I was not in love with any of the other runners in the Grade 3 Appleton.  I then erred in passing on the Florida Derby as well, where I liked Orb but could not pull the trigger hovering around 5-to-2.  

So, heading into the final contest race, an allowance turf race from Gulfstream, I was in 5th or 6th place.  

Where Second Guessing Hurts

On Friday, I circled 6-to-1 Transgression as my top choice in Race 13, a $64,500 allowance.  

With 15 minutes to reconsider that choice, I erred in switching off to 5-to-2 Celestial Kitten, who was breaking from post 9 but, to me, seemed the class of the field.  I figured I did not have a shot at taking down the entire contest (the leader was still over $2,200 at that point), and so I wagered $50 win-place, figuring I had a logical horse who could run my bankroll toward $700+ and perhaps grab a Top 5 placement and heftier prize money (fifth was worth $1,130).  

Celestial Kitten ran decently under Joe Rocco, but too wide into the final turn and flattened out to finish third behind, you guessed it...Transgression.  

Following the race, it was a matter of gauging the leaderboard to see where I finished -- 8th, ultimately, so clearly the final race gamble did not hurt me that much, considering 6th-10th place payouts were the same.  I was $100 lighter, but in the end, satisfied with another Top 20 finish.

Great Day When All Is Said and Done

I have yet to figure out how to handle two entries for the SSC Invitational on April 20, but I'll ponder that in the weeks to come.  There are many players, I'm sure, that would like to have that dilemma, so for that I'm fortunate to have played pretty well in back-to-back contests and topped several classy handicappers.  

Furthermore, I also had another wonderful afternoon catching up with some great people on the contest circuit -- Jersey Capper Ray Wallin, Steve Fitzpatrick (who qualified for the SSC Invitational with a Top 20 finish in SSC#1), Paul Zerbst (NHC qualifier and SSC Invitational runner-up in 2011) and Mr. Flanagan.  The shared passion of fellow handicapping contest players and the ability to tap their opinions and share some laughs and great discussion make SSC one of the best tournaments out there.  

Coming home a little richer as well certainly did not hurt matters either, so now I've got some extra powder to buy my two entries for April 20 and hope that my fortunes improve even more on my quest to qualify for NHC XV next January. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Maiden Voyage to Keeneland...Need Advice

The NJ Horseplayer is as eager as ever for this Saturday's Simulcast Series Challenge (#3) at Monmouth Park, but perhaps more anxious to hit the road to attend opening day at Keeneland next Friday.

By virtue of my top-20 finish in SSC#2 on March 2, I have already locked up a berth in April's SSC Invitation at Monmouth, where the top two of 60 qualifiers will win berths to the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas next January.  That gives me the option to play a little more fast and loose in SSC#3, but it's too early to discuss and I'll save writing a preview for later this week, once I've had an opportunity to sift through past performances for Saturday's card (Aqueduct, Gulfstream and Tampa).

NJ Horseplayer to Keeneland for
opening day: Friday, April 5
Considering I have never been to Keeneland Race Course, it's not too early to solicit ideas for what I and my two kids should do during our maiden visit only 10 days away. 

So, what should the NJ Horseplayer contingent do?

The caravan (not the minivan variety -- I'm Volkswagen diesel all the way) makes its first stop at about our halfway point -- Pittsburgh, PA, where we'll devour some Primanti Bros. sandwiches in the original Strip District location, maybe hit Deluca's for its buckwheat pancakes, ride the Duquesne Incline and shiver our way through a Pirates day game vs. the Cubs. 

Then we hit the road for Lexington.  Rain, snow or shine, we've got our grandstand tickets already for fabulous Keeneland and plan on arriving early just to stroll the grounds and take in the beauty.  

From there, it's anyone's guess, and I could really use help for "must visit" eateries and attractions from people who've been before.  Or, if anyone has contacts and can hooks up up with something unique, I'm all ears. 

If the weather allows, we'll head up to Cincinnati for Saturday's Reds game before heading back to NJ, but I'm open to sticking around the Keeneland area if there are things we absolutely should do in our short stay.

This is where you come into play...

Please use the comment field below to offer your suggestions.  Any and all are welcome. 

Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Chalkdust Torture

I'm not sure how many horseplayers are Phish fans like me, but after Saturday's Tampa Bay Derby, it's clearer to me what singer/guitarist Trey Anastasio and co-writer Tom Marshall meant when they penned "the torture of chalkdust collects on my tongue" in 1991.

Verrazano made winning that Grade II event look like a stroll in the park and is clearly the early Kentucky Derby favorite, but as a handicapper focused on the contest circuit, I stuck with my strategy of backing a horse I considered a plausible contender at a square price.  The 4-to-5 morning line put Verrazano clearly head and shoulders above all other entrants in Saturday's nine-horse field, but I landed on Java's War.

My Thinking

This race has seen its share of upsets, and Verrazano trainer Todd Pletcher has sent other well-intended big chalk (something like 1-for-his-last-10) to Oldsmar, FL and come away empty.

By some odd chance, maybe Verrazano would not like the sandy Tampa track.

Maybe he would not take to a 2-turn race after blowing away only four rivals in a $75k optional claimer at one turn a month prior at Gulfstream Park.

Maybe, as some radio pundits I heard had put it, Verrazano already "ran his best race," earning a 104 Beyer figure for his prior win at a 1-turn mile.

Those, and Verrazano's 2-to-5 final odds, seemed like logical "plays against," and in keeping with my handicapping contest practice, through my new TVG account I plunked down $10 win-place (along with a few daily doubles) on the 32-to-1 Java's War. 

As I mostly commented on my Public Handicapper selections page, there were several angles that I posited gave Java's War a better puncher's chance than the other contenders:

  • two wins as a 2-year-old, including a two-turn stakes win
    • half the Tampa Derby field had never gone two turns before
  • a close third in the Breeders Futurity at Keeneland last October
  • a seasoned local jockey (Willie Martinez; wins 11% at Tampa) who knew the track well 
  • not in love with the second-choice Dynamic Sky
    • I was suspect of the jockey change to Joel Rosario from regular rider Luis Contrares, who rode Dynamic Sky to a win in the Pasco Stakes and a neck loss in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis (both at Tampa); I disagreed with this move by trainer Mark Casse. 

The bettors clearly did not agree, but I was willing to dismiss Java's War's last race -- the Kentucky Juvenile Cup in late November at Churchill, where the replays showed Java's War simply broke poorly from the rail and ran 4-6 horses wide thereafter but still finished a creditable 6th of 13 starters.  The works, too, suggested that trainer Ken McPeek had a fresh, live horse.

As the replay above will show, Java's War broke well beyond the pack but ultimately made a late run to finish a respectable second, paying $14.60 to place.

He was never going to pass Verrazano with that kind of sluggish start, even if they took another spin around the track, but the outcome did not disappoint.

The daily horseplayer might call me an idiot for not wheeling Verrazano and Java's War with a bunch of others to perhaps hit the trifecta or superfecta, but as I approach the Simulcast Series Challenge Invitational on April 20 at Monmouth Park, the last thing I want to do is get bogged down in pursuing ancillary scores when I need to focus strictly on handicapping contest strategy.

I think there's much merit in that concept, and am using my TVG account to create scenarios similar to an actual handicapping contest where I need to identify winners (and/or place and show runners).

Perhaps this is too niche a goal for readers, but to me it makes sense, and in the weeks ahead I'll use the Public Handicapper card to focus my wagers in preparation for the Invitational and SSC#3 at Monmouth on Saturday, March 30.

I met a similar, albeit crueler, fate in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park this past Saturday.

The Razorback was headlined by graded stakes winner Alternation, a million-dollar earner who adores the Oaklawn surface (5 wins in 6 starts, $450,000 of earnings) but too short a price at a 2-to-1 morning line and first off a five-month break.  Stuck outside another front-running type San Pablo, I landed on Golden Ron, 20-to-1 morning line and merely an allowance winner at Mountaineer and Hoosier Park but who scored a 101 Beyer last out and was the clear early speed.

I had no qualms betting $10 win-place on Golden Ron at nearly 27-to-1.

The race went exactly as planned...until the last 50 yards, where Golden Ron could not hold off 7-to-1 Cyber Secret in the shadow of the wire.

Again, I get the merits of wheeling such a prohibitive longshot to cash some exotics wagers, but contests are all about picking winners, and I stuck to my guns.  Besides, the $20 wager yielded a still decent $107 payout, so I have some scratch to play with for next weekend's Public Handicapper card.

Sloppily, I failed to wager on my San Felipe Stakes selection, Hear the Ghost, but was having dinner guests and could not watch the race live and so passed on betting it.  Hypothetically speaking, however, had I gone $10 win-place on Hear the Ghost, I was a head away (Golden Ron) from turning $60 of wagers into a potentially massive score in a handicapping contest:

  • $14.60 to place on Java's War x 5 = $73
  • $21.40 to place on Golden Ron x 5 = $107
    • at 26.9-to-1 final odds, a win would have added $55.80 x 5 = $279
  • $18.40 combined win-place x 5 on Hear the Ghost = $92
Combined, that's $551 of potential contest bankroll, which at the least would give me a shot at making some noise and reaching that elusive National Handicapping Championship berth.  

Granted, my handicapping may well prove awful in either SSC#3 or the SSC Invitational, but the exercise here is to use weekday or weekend wagers as exercise in preparing for handicapping contests, much as you would train for, say, a 5-kilometer race or full-blown marathon run.  

It was clearly tough (not torturous) eating the chalk in the case of the Tampa Bay Derby in terms of missing out on a lucrative win payout on Java's War, but a worthwhile $10 investment as a confidence booster (i.e., ID-ing a playable longshot) approaching some key upcoming handicapping tournaments. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Similar Horses, Far Better Outcome In SSC#2

Official contest standings show that I finished 17th of a record-high 287 players in Saturday's Simulcast Series Challenge #2 at Monmouth Park, earning 1 of 60 spots to the SSC Invitational on April 20, where the top two finishers will earn berths to the 2014 National Handicapping Championship (NHC XV). 

Of course it would have been nice to finish first and take down Saturday's top prize of $14,350 (plus bankroll winnings) as well, but a Top 20 result was my stated goal heading into this winter's SSC.  This is my first time in three years of attempting to qualify for the SSC Invitational, so needless to say I'm happy with the outcome, especially since I found Saturday's betting card ho-hum and got off to a wretched start.

Save The Date:
SSC Invitational, Sat. April 20
My $100 starting bankroll slid to $40 after an 0-for-6 start where my $10 win selections largely stumbled at the start.  Still, I could not get discouraged, since there were horses I liked later in the contest.  

Fortunes turned for the better on my seventh wager: 8-to-1 Perfect Tay in Gulfstream Race 6 at a mile on the grass.  

I did not know this tidbit beforehand, but this 4-year-old colt was among the last offspring of renowned turf sire Rahy and otherwise drew my attention for breaking his maiden last March on Gulfstream's turf and racing in 2012 at Woodbine against some tough stakes runners like River Rush and Miami Deco.

The four-month layoff and 15-to-1 morning line were not a huge concern, considering Edgar Prado had the mount (he rode Perfect Tay in his maiden, and lone, victory) and the 5-to-2 favorite in this $25,000 optional claimer, Lemon View, looked vulnerable in an 11-horse field at a mile.  

True to form, Perfect Tay got off to a slow start, but the early fractions were brisk, and Prado made an aggressive move from the rear heading into the final turn before passing 30-to-1 bomber Buzz the Deputy very late in the stretch to pay $19 to win.  The $95 total payout to me boosted my bankroll to $125, giving me some ammunition for later in the contest. 

Two wagers later -- my ninth of a requisite 10 to qualify for cash prizes and advancement to the SSC Invitational -- I was quite familiar with the field of horses racing in the $60,000 Challenger Stakes from Tampa Bay Downs (replay courtesy of  

Turning Fortune On Its Ear

Recall, if you will, my diatribe on the outcome of a race from Tampa Bay Downs during SSC#1.  No need to rehash that one, but half of the Challenger field was coming out of that Feb. 2 race, where I thought I got jobbed by a poor stewards' decision (only to find out the final chart did not make note of my jockey brushing another horse with his whip in the stretch -- a clear cause for disqualification).  

This Saturday's tote board showed that bettors were all over the entry of Nicklaus Way and Meowser, the first- and second-place winners of that common Tampa optional claimer on February 2, betting them down to 2-to-1 from the 9-to-2 morning line.  And they were not even the favorites; 9-to-5 morning-line choice Prospective, a 6-time stakes winner (including a Grade 2 and two Grade 3 events) went off at less than 6-to-5, leaving four other horses at juicy odds.  

I felt that the likes of Shellback and Thank U Philippe (runners on February 2) were tosses, as was 35-to-1 The Original Scotty.  That left 12-to-1 Argentine Tango, and my eventual selection.

"14-to-1 is egregious on the 5 horse."

Those were my exact words to fellow contestant Red Rock or Bust before making my way to the window for a $10 win wager on Flatter This, who at a 4-to-1 morning line was completely dismissed by the bettors, going off at nearly 15-to-1 and producing a $158 win for me, running my bankroll to $263.  

Antonio Gallardo gave Flatter This a perfect trip, settling toward the rear of the pack in the backstretch before pouncing on the leaders into the final turn and then running clear to a nearly 3-length victory. 

Handicappers missed key angles on this one, perhaps explaining the massive overlay.  

Flatter This lacked the kinds of graded stakes victories of Prospective (2012 Delta Mile, Grade 2 Tampa Derby, Grade 3 Ohio Derby among them), but was coming out of a $62,000 optional claimer on January 26 at Gulfstream won by 2012 Grade 1 Travers Stakes winner Golden Ticket.  Flatter This' December 29 try on turf was a toss, but the previous 2 efforts, including third in the Gulfstream Claiming Crown Jewel, signaled that prominent Tampa trainer Kathleen O'Connell could get this one to fire.  

Needless to say, it worked out.

By that time (around 4:40 p.m. ET), I needed to make one more wager to comply with contest rules...but knew that, unfortunately, I had to leave by 5:15-5:30 p.m. for, um, an engagement party.  (Thanks, Mrs. NJ Horseplayer!)

As much as I wanted to stick around until the bitter end, I could not, and so contemplated 1-2 more wagers in hopes, first, of a decent win to put me in the Top 10 (i.e. eligible for a cash prize) and, second, of keeping my bankroll above $200 and maybe hanging on for a Top 20 finish and SSC Invitational berth (the 20th-place finisher ultimate ended up at $185.50). 

I went $20 win-show on 23-to-1 Be Bullish in the Tom Fool Handicap at Aqueduct, but fell 3 lengths short of ultra-impressive Comma to the Top, whom I had dismissed in Friday's blog on account of short rest and cross-country travel but ran like a true champion.  I have no regrets about Be Bullish, who was very game late and galloped out well, but seemed never seemed comfortable along the rail under Mike Luzzi. 

Transparent ($10 win) was then no match for the impressive Vyjack in the Gotham, decreasing my bankroll to $213 and leaving me with a decision.

All In...Or Capital Preservation?

Had it been feasible for me to stick around for the 3-4 races remaining from Tampa and Gulfstream, who knows what could have happened; but before leaving Monmouth, I settled on one final $10 win wager on Tidal Slam in the Tampa finale.  I liked the horse, and figured, at worst, I'd break even for the day on my initial $200 investment and still have a shot at the Top 20.  A win could put me at $250-300.

Tidal Slam ultimately was bet down to less than half his 10-to-1 morning line and ran extremely flat, finishing fifth behind 33-to-1 bomber Countess Emma, which made me (and Red Rock) cringe.  

At that point, watching the race from home, I figured a dozen or so contestants with $10-$20 left in their bankrolls would have bet the longest shot on the board in hopes of a miracle and knocked me out of the Top 20, but ultimately that did not happen.  

I am left to only speculate what could have been (positive or negative) had I been able to stick around through the final race.  I had no strong feelings on races 9-11 that closed out the Gulfstream card, but on Friday night I handicapped Brainy as a worthwhile play in Race 10 from Tampa.  I'm not sure, however, I would have bet on a such a huge underlay (2.9-to-1 final odds of an 8-to-1 morning line).  

Either Way, Mission Accomplished

It's easy days after to contemplate different outcomes, but through SSC#1 and SSC#2, I find myself playing pretty well this Simulcast Series Challenge season.  

In both contests, I increased my $100 bankroll to at least $250 and put myself in position to make a big play late (SSC#1) and/or qualify for the Invitational (SSC#2). 

Ahead of SSC#3 on Saturday, I now have some room to be less conservative, considering I am now assured a spot in the SSC Invitational.  

I'm not sure I have the courage yet, say, to go "all in" with my full bankroll on a horse, but in my last three contests at Monmouth (dating back to last fall), I have made between $40 and $90 wagers on horses I've liked.  I did not hit on any of them, but (knock on wood) have generally been able to build profitable bankrolls with some well-intended long-shots to stick around late in contests -- all positive signs. 

Come the SSC Invitational in April, the key will become putting that amount (or more) on a winning selection like Flatter This to have a shot of rolling into Vegas for NHC XV next January.

Friday, March 1, 2013

TVG Now Live in New Jersey

OK, TVG, you can start advertising NJ Horseplayer as a new account holder!

(And "welcome home," former Monmouth Park handicapper Tom Cassidy!

It took two minutes to sign up for an active TVG account in the wee hours Friday -- a fresh break from the painstaking snail-mail process of registering for my short-lived account about a year ago that fell just shy of submitting to blood testing, fingerprinting and DNA testing.  (However, as a Board of Education member in my borough K-8 school district, I'm used to such treatment.)

OK, TVG...
you took Cassidy;
now leave us
Brad Thomas!
Setting up an account was simple, and TVG offers several deposit options (i.e. credit card, direct bank transfer, on-track, etc.).  I was able to enter a promotional code for a $125 New Account Signup Bonus, which would get me a $100 credit if I wager $200 within 30 days of signup, though I'm not sure I'll hit that watermark, considering I'm not a daily player; but, we'll see (maybe time to roll out some show bets). 

The conditions also make clear a key point that legacy 4NJBets account holders might find interesting: no fees until June 1, when I figure that account holders will thereafter be subject to either TVG's $19.99 per month subscriber fee, or the $0.25 per wager fee.  Stay tuned.

As minutes of Wednesday's meeting of the New Jersey Racing Commission are not yet available, I can only speculate that Darby Development LLC, the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority's off-balance sheet operator of Monmouth Park and supervisor of TVG, included this as part of the agreement.  Legacy 4NJBets account holders may not like this, but if the signup process is any indication, TVG is a marked upgrade in terms of technology and member benefits over NJ's old ADW operator, SportTech.

I'll likely dabble with TVG in the weeks ahead, but hope to cast my sports journalism hat aside and return to writing about thoroughbred handicapping contests.  Speaking of which...

Simulcast Series Challenge #2 Tomorrow, Monmouth Park

The card for tomorrow's SSC looks much more difficult than the February 2 affair, which was marked with some pretty short fields at the three contest tracks -- Aqueduct, Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs. 

After guiding my daughter's rec basketball team to a convincing 12-4 playoff victory last night, I settled down with my past performances and tackled Aqueduct first, where six of the first seven races are deep but unsavory, but gets interesting from races 7-11.  In all likelihood I'll pass on the Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap, which is the least-bit intriguing to me as a bettor, but am considering some prices in the Grade 3 Tom Fool (Race 9) and Grade 3 Gotham (Race 10).  

Contest details here
On Public Handicapper, I'm siding with 20-to-1 Be Bullish and 8-to-1 Transparent in those respective races.  I may change my view for the Monmouth Park contest (or have squandered my $100 bankroll by then), but can poke a lot of holes in the favorites for those races, namely the Tom Fool, where Comma to the Top (3-to-1) ships in from Santa Anita off 7 days rest and I expect will be pressed early.  I just think that's a lot to ask of a horse.  The second choice, 7-to-2 Smash, is another California shipper, but I'm speculating it may take a race or two for this one to acclimate to running under cold conditions on a hard dirt track for the first time.  

There's just better value elsewhere, and I think the line is WAY too high on Be Bullish, who is jumping up in stakes class but is 16-for-21 in the money on the Aqueduct inner dirt and, in my view, will have plenty of early pace to run into from Post 1.  In the Gotham, meanwhile, I see Transparen't respectable fourth-place showing to Orb and Revolutionary as a key race, with 8-to-1 too good to pass.

Surprisingly, I did not have nightmares in my sleep after getting 3-4 races into the Tampa card, but will finish handicapping those and Gulfstream sometime this evening.  The 13-horse Grade 3 Swale Stakes is the clear highlight, though, again, sticking around to that point (5:35 p.m. post) will be difficult in SSC#2.  

My goals, outside of winning, are to finish in the Top 20 to advance to the SSC Invitation in April, where 60 qualifiers will compete for 2 spots to the 2014 National Handicapping Championship (NHC XV). 

If you're at Monmouth Park tomorrow, stop by the first row of the dining terrace and say hello. I'll be there, playing alongside Red Rock or Bust, who had better do well after taking three weeks off to handicap tomorrow card.