Sunday, August 11, 2013

Crime Pays

Nine hours of driving and several more handicapping yielded bupkis for NJ Horseplayer at the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) qualifier at Suffolk Downs on Saturday, August 3, save for a great pit stop at Ted's in Meriden, CT for a steamed cheeseburger and getting to hang out with some wonderful Tour brethren at yet another fun-filled contest.

Similar to the 2012 rendition, when 53-to-1 shot Caffe D' Oro scuttled my hopes of NHC glory in what was an otherwise productive contest, another egregious long shot from Monmouth Park (where I never seem to catch a price) catapulted a handful of people to the top of the standings.  

This year, however, I was nowhere close to the leaderboard, registering zero winners and just five place runners on the 15-race card.  Ouch!

Somehow, and I still cannot figure out how, bettors dismissed 10-to-1 morning line shot Crime Time in Race 7, sending the horse off at 41-to-1 in a 10-horse turf race at a mile.  Dixie Sun (17-to-1), my pick in a race devoid of a clear favorite, simply flew too late and lost fourth by a length.

The 41-to-1 odds on a horse that showed decent turf form were entirely criminal, but second-year NHC Tour player James Timinck was one of seven benefactors of Crime Time.  

The Raynham, MA dealer of high-end vintage sports collectibles finished third overall but tops among NHC Tour players, earning 1 of 3 berths to NHC XV awarded by Suffolk Downs!

I had the pleasure of being introduced to Mr. Timinck toward the end of the day by fellow Tour players Stephen Fitzpatrick and Marie Jost, and caught up with James via email to recount his experience at Suffolk Downs and pick his brain about qualifying for the NHC, handicapping and other tidbits.

NJ Horseplayer: Congrats on your third-place finish in the 2013 NHC qualifier at Suffolk Downs and earnings 1 of 3 spots to the $1.5 million NHC XV next January.  Will this be your first time competing in the national championship, and has last Saturday's victory sunken in yet?

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Marie Jost,
NHC XV qualifier James Timinck
and NJ Horseplayer at
Suffolk Downs
James Timinck:  This is my second year playing tournaments on a consistent basis.  I have not qualified...until now.  It has started to sink in, that in January I will be competing for the ultimate prize.  How many chances in life do you get a legitimate swing for the fences for approximately $1 million.  I am not a professional golfer, tennis or poker tournament player who gets a chance at a large prize each and every week, and fortunately I do not play the lottery, LOL.

NJ Horseplayer:  Did you imagine getting to the National Handicapping Championship so quickly?

James Timinck:  As far as qualifying so quickly, I believe in my handicapping ability.  I think that mentality, and you have to have that mindset, as the ups and downs in this game are quite sudden.  I did realize in those first couple of tournaments real fast that I would have to reassess my expectations as far as how difficult it really is and tweak the way I grind through a tournament.

NJ Horseplayer:  How long have you been handicapping thoroughbreds and playing in contests, and what's your typical preparation and strategy?

James Timinck:  I started betting races in the mid-to-late 90's, playing strictly greyhounds, as there was a greyhound track and also two other greyhound parks and simulcast facilities in my area here in the East Coast.  As greyhound tracks started to close, I started to focus more on playing horses, and by the mid 2000's I was taking notes and watching replays and playing the horses on a regular basis, and now with the handicapping tournament scene getting more popular, it seems natural to play in tournaments, as I love a good competition to test skills. 

NJ Horseplayer:  Considering Suffolk's format is "pick-and-pray," how much time did you put into studying the 15-race card, and how did you go about building your ticket?  Do you strictly go in with your best pick...favor your ticket around 1-2 key races, much as you would for a multi-race exotic ticket such as a Pick 4 or 6?

James Timinck:  As far as preparation, as soon as I get the designated races from that tournament up, I get started right away marking up the races, referring to past notes on certain horses, watching replays, and I have a good database of horses to watch out for when they get an entry into a race.  The "horse watch" on Equibase and DRF is great, because as soon as you have a note on a horse you can enter them in your horse watch and receive an email the very same day they get an entry into a race across the country at any track.  

When I am building my exotic tickets for Pick 4, 5 or 6, odds play zero factor as to whether I select any horse.  I do tier horses in each race A, B and C as to who I think has the best chance to cross the wire first, all the way to the least likely.  

When playing the "Pick & Pray," I apply a different strategy.  Since you cannot know when entering your picks what the odds are on a certain horse in the tournament, I immediately identify who I believe will be the odds-on favorite in each race and immediately put a line through that horse as if the horse was scratched in the race.  I really like using Beyer speed figures as a reference point to starting the handicapping process in each race.

NJ Horseplayer: I never seem to find a price horse at my nearby track, Monmouth Park, but in my second-straight season of playing in Suffolk's contest, another bomber played a big part.  Last year it was a horse called Caffe D' Oro, who scuttled my NHC qualifying hopes with a 53-to-1 victory (I think I was in the Top 5 to that point).  This year, though my picks stunk overall, Crime Time won at 41-to-1 in the 7th from Monmouth.  First, how did you get to that horse?  Second, how could the bettors let that horse (10-to-1 morning line) go off at such an enormous price?  

James Timinck:  What immediately caught my eye going through the race was Crime Time was not new to turf, having five consecutive turf starts in which his Beyer jumped from a Beyer average on dirt of approx.31.2 to a Beyer turf average of 61.4.  Looking at the other horses, and taking their best 3 Beyers in there last 4 races, #5 Crime Time was tied with #1 Staff Sergeant for the best Beyer average with 64.6, with #2 Discreet Duke coming in with 64.  Finally, I came to the conclusion that the  #1 and #2 would take a lot of money with (Paco) Lopez and (Angel) Serpa, while I get a horse that gets a jockey upgrade from (Carol) Cedeno to (Jose) Ferrer, who gets off the rail and, most importantly, may very well still have more room to improve on turf.

NJ Horseplayer:  You finished 3rd overall and tops among NHC Tour players at Suffolk.  What were your other big scores in the contest? 

James Timinck: My other horses I cashed with in tournament were:

  • Saratoga, Race 6:  #6 Gimme Credit ($9.20 win, $4.40 place)
  • Saratoga, Race10: #4 Cross Traffic ($9.10 win, $5.40 place)
  • Delmar, Race 2  #4 Smokin' Cat ($12.00 win, $5.40 place)
So, I ended up with 4 winners total and I had 4 second-place finishes (every dime counts). 

Sounder advice:
Buy a real bike rack. I was behind
some clown on the Mass Pike
who figured rope would work well.
Yes, that's his little girl's front
tire hanging over the roof (right).
NJ Horseplayer:  Based on your success on Saturday, what advice would you have for fellow Tour players in terms of pick-and-pray formats?  

That's an area where, personally, I haven't had a ton of success, though the format is clearly favored by players in online tournaments.

James Timinck:  My advice on Pick & Pray would be immediately to find who you think will be the odds-on favorite and pitch him, and after that do not calculate odds again.  Just pick a horse you have handicapped, isolate 2 or 3 horses from the field using your tools on how you select horses, and make that decision.

NJ Horseplayer: Now that the Tour is allowing players 2 spots in this year's NHC, what other tournaments are on your calendar this season?  Or, now that you're already qualified for Vegas, will you turn your attention elsewhere? 

James Timinck:  I will continue playing in tournaments all year long in a quest for a second entry.

NJ Horseplayer:  What are your pursuits outside the NHC Tour?  If I recall, you're also a collectibles dealer and otherwise into the casino world. 

James Timinck:  When I do play at the casino, I play poker and craps.  I always want to play games where I am either not playing against the casino or playing with the casino.  When playing dice, I play on the casino's side that the public will not make their points and lose.  Poker, for obvious reasons, using math probability and playing your opponent to be a winning poker player.  You have to dedicate yourself to the games to make a living from them.  My part-time sample size has yielded good results, so knock on wood.

I buy/sell/trade/collect high-end vintage sports collectibles.  The collectibles market has exploded in the last decade as people from all walks of life are diversifying their portfolios with collectibles as strong investments. As we all know, the boys from Manhattan have been a little loose with the numbers this decade.  So, rare high-end collectibles are a great investment for the future and people like quick-and-easy access to liquidity.

NJ Horseplayer:  Again, great job in the Suffolk contest.  It was great meeting you, and thanks for sharing your thoughts on Saturday's win and other points.  I hope to see you in Vegas!

James Timinck:  No problem, anytime.  I may be going to the Monmouth tournament in September. You?

NJ Horseplayer:  Absolutely!  See you there!


  1. Tough luck NJ
    Suffolk was pretty generous with their tournament. One big problem with the tournament is no cap! Everything seems to be decided on one race. I guess their position is you don't know the odds. I think it's very tough driving long distances and seeing that 40-1 shot win and not having it the tournament is very much decided from the people who have it! I know on the flip side if you have it your ecstatic. It's just not a true handicapping contest.

    Just my 2 cents

    1. Kind of rude of me nhc winner. Didn't mean to take anything away from your great performance.

      Good luck in the finals!

    2. 1st Anonymous, I have no problem with the rule or the contest format, save for NHC Tour players missing out on Tour points when non-Tour players are factored into the equation. To the contrary, I dislike when sites like Derby Wars caps winners at 15-1, which is too low, IMO.

      2nd Anonymous, you lost me with that comment. I wrote that my performance was dreadful at Suffolk. Last year I had a good showing, but was atrocious this season, so please clarify.

    3. Nj first let me say it doesn't happen all the time in a 15 race contest. But suffolk should eliminate that part. You have no problem with the format that's fine. But don't pretend your going to a handicapping contest and looking at your racing form because you have to guess which 40-1 50-1 60-1 is going to win. And you don't even know who's 40 50 60-1 can you really call that a contest?

      As far as your performance being atrocious. I wouldn't call it atrocious. You just didn't circle the 40-1 shot when you had the pen in your hand. Same as last year you didn't circle the 50-1 shot.

      My suggestion for better results. Take every number thats 10-1 15-1 20-1 put the numbers in a hat draw each race until you have 15 races. Now you can't tell me you can come up with anything better then that

    4. I see your point, Anonymous, and you're right, I would never pick 15 horses 40-to-1 or higher just to take stabs. However, in defense of James and 7 other players, Crime Time was 10-to-1 on the morning line; not their fault the betting public was clueless and dismissed the horse all the way up to 41-to-1. I had to shake my head at that one; horse should NEVER have been that high, and a few of us were saying as much at the contest. So I don't think Crime Time was difficult to pick, unlike Caffe d'Oro last year, who had no business winning that race and was priced accordingly.

      Based on my recent contests, I'm thinking about incorporating your drawing numbers from a hat strategy though ;)

    5. Ha ha nj always good to have a sense of humor! And I give james a lot of credit for doping out that horse. The difference between a long shot in the monmouth contest is you can counter attack. You hit a 70-1 at the ssc if you decided to bet 50 to win you get 3500 a monster score. But not impossible to overcome. If I had a 400 dollar bankroll I could pass you with a 8-1 shot. So there's more figuring involved. Probably not a recommended strategy. But never the least there is opportunity to come back. Plus you were willing to risk your money to get that score I give you credit for That

    6. EXTREMELY valid point, which is why I've always said SSC is perhaps the best tournament around (except for giving out only 2 NHC seats for all of that work). A contest with real money on the line (i.e. live bets) totally changes the contest dynamic. I even remember 1 player in a HPWS contest at Monmouth betting real money on a 102-to-1 shot that hit. That was among 125-150 players if I recall. Guaranteed in a Suffolk-type contest you'd have at least a half dozen who swung for the fences on that kind of horse, so I see your point altogether.