Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Outside Looking In

Six weeks left in 2013, I am one of many NHC Tour players on the outskirts of the 2014 National Handicapping Championship (NHC) next January in Las Vegas.

The simplest way in is to win a tournament outright.

I have a few qualifiers on my radar in the coming weeks, namely this Sunday's and the December 22, both of which fit into my busy schedule (Sundays work better for whatever reason) and price comfort (around $200).

Otherwise, I could lament having opted on November 3 for the bankroll-builder tournament (instead of the NHC qualifier) on, where I would have finished third overall and picked up some serious Tour points, instead of my second-place finish and winnings of $240 of site credit.

Photo courtesy of Bitchspot
I am not one to typically lick wounds, and generally maintain a forward-looking posture, but sitting in 227th of the NHC Tour standings as of November 14, my decision that afternoon could prove an inflection point in playing in Las Vegas in January or sitting home and beginning my run for the 2014 campaign (see below).

Through Sunday, and playing in a limited number of qualifying tournaments relative to some I find with multiple entries in every tournament in creation, I have accrued 2,400 NHC Tour points.

The Top 150 in the standings at season's end earn a berth to the NHC Championship, whether or not they have won a tournament.  This is akin to Bert Blyleven's entry to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame -- more of an accumulator approach.

That makes 2 of us, Bert!
In essence, even if you play on bad teams, you earn merit for longevity -- staying healthy and accumulating enough positive stats to produce a notable body of work, but without really being the greatest among your peers.

To be sure, there is no shame in being an accumulator.

That is how I feel about my 2013 NHC season -- some admirable finishes, including three points-scoring finishes in 10 Tour qualifying events and a host of "bankroll-builder wins," but no brass ring.

A third-place finish in the November 3 qualifier would netted me 1,575 Tour points, running my season total to 3,962, which as of Sunday would have put me at 112th in the Tour standings.

Then again, perhaps nearly 4,000 points will not prove enough to even finish in the Top 150 come season's end, considering there are still several more tournaments on the NHC Tour docket, including several (i.e. TwinSpires, DRFBets, Surfside Race Place) out of my reach.

Either way, my focus remains on winning a qualifying tournament, and I have 2 (maybe 3, if Capital OTB's tournament in Albany, NY -- a 3-hour drive from home -- is open to players outside of New York-based account holders) shots at taking one down.

Otherwise, at the least I would need two very good (i.e. Top 10) finishes in my tournaments to earn enough Tour points and get to Vegas through the back door.

Monmouth Park's 2014 Contest Schedule Already Out

Assuming NHC XV is out of the cards, Monmouth Park already put out its 2014 Simulcast Series Challenge schedule, with the first of now four SSC Invitational qualifiers on Saturday, January 4, certain to kick off my 2014 NHC campaign.

Readers will know that the SSC is absolutely my favorite tournament on the calendar, and perhaps the only thing to get me through the winter mentally.

Winter contest schedule
First stop: Saturday, Jan. 4
Kudos to Brian Skirka and Monmouth's team for organizing the SSC schedule earlier than I can recall (November 7) and giving players enough time to mark our calendars.

Rules and regulations remain to be seen, but Brian's email set off some concerns on my end.

One thing's for certain, based on the email received from Monmouth Park, another SSC qualifier has been added.  In addition to January 4, SSC Invitational qualifiers will be held:

  • Sunday, February 16
  • Saturday, March 15
  • Saturday, April 5

In breaking from tradition of the top 20 finishers from 3 qualifiers competing in the Invitational for 2 NHC seats, Monmouth is adding a fourth qualifier and granting entry to the Invitational (Saturday, April 26) to the top 25 finishers of the four tournaments (i.e. 100 players).

Perhaps this was driven by player feedback for more opportunities.

I would not know, since I was never asked.

Maybe it was based on enticing more people to come to the simulcast parlor in the dead of winter.

Again, I can only speculate.

On the one hand, 40 more spots in the Invitational is 40 more opportunities in an NHC qualifying tournament, which carries even more weight than online tournaments in the Tour's points structure.

On the other hand, the bar is set much lower, taking some of the luster off what is an extremely difficult tournament series.  It generally takes a really solid effort to finish in the Top 20 of the SSC qualifiers, as the competition is very stiff.

More disconcerting, as I see it, is that Monmouth will still offer only 2 NHC seats via the SSC Invitational, while at the same time watering down the field and chance of Top 2 finish .

Instead of 60 entrants competing for 2 NHC seats, there will now be 100 for the same 2 spots.

The counterargument would be that 1-in-50 is still a pretty decent proposition for an NHC qualifier, but when you break down the prospect of $200 entry fees to each SSC event, the notion of a prospective $1,000 investment (Invitational entrants pony up $200 as well) is steep for two seats, in my view.

Maybe I'm a cheapskate, and I admit the zero takeout (and cash prize element) proposition of SSC is certainly attractive, but in circling back to my earlier NHC Tour points discussion, one can sit home and accrue points through or for less cash and still come away with an NHC seat without having to slog through potentially 5 tournaments to do so.

Really, I think earning the trip to Vegas is why anyone joins the NHC Tour.

At the least, I am hopeful that Monmouth will at least consider scaling back the number of SSC Invitational entrants to 80 (i.e., the Top 20 from each SSC qualifier).

Or, if dead set on 100 players for the Invitational, perhaps award the Top 20 from each pre-qualifier and offer 20 "wild cards" for non-qualifiers accruing the highest composite bankroll from SSC #1-#4.

Much as the NHC Tour credits the Bert Blylevens of its world, maybe Monmouth could incorporate an element that rewards consistency, especially if the track is not going to increase the number of NHC seats awarded through the SSC Invitational, where the winner has more or less gone the equivalent of 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali.  


Goldencents is all that came between me making a decent profit on my $150 two-day bankroll for the Breeders Cup and not cashing a single ticket.  Give credit where credit is due.  Goldencents ran his eyeballs out, beating my key for Friday, Golden Ticket, who otherwise was clear second-best at a nice price.  I did not notice the will-pays on Golden Ticket, but much lower-priced Goldencents with Chriselliam in the Race 8-9 double paid $158.40.  Tough beat.

Congrats and good luck to Jeff Gural and the Big M on their vision for the new Meadowlands grandstand, which official opens this Saturday night!  I'm not a harness fan, but it's nice to see the progress made in hopes of turning around the operation there with a new facility that makes a lot more business sense than the monolith that will be razed after the Super Bowl.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Medal Count Key to Breeders Cup Saturday Picks

It's late, and I've got to get up early for a Rutgers-Temple football tailgate, so here are my selections.

I am making a bold call with #11 Medal Count in the Juvenile (Race 8), arguing that the 20-to-1 morning line is too high and may actually creep higher.  I'm making Medal Count my top play of the day.

Otherwise, I have pretty strong conviction about #2 Romantica (GB) in the Filly and Mare Turf (Race 5), #11 Groupie Doll in the Filly and Mare Sprint (Race 6; just could not find another horse there that I think have a shot to knock off my 5-to-2 favorite), and #12 Mizdirection in the Turf Sprint; until she's beaten on Santa Anita's downhill turf course, I will continue to back her (she's 6-for-6 lifetime on the course).

The other Breeders Cup races did not jump out at me, though I think #7 Fort Larned, at an attractive 6-to-1 morning line, can repeat in the Classic.

Without further adieu, here's what I've already done (advance wagers) with an $89 bankroll.

  • Race 4: $1 Exacta Box -- 6, 7, 10 
  • Race 5: $1 Pick 3 -- 2, 4, 6 with 11 with 12, 14 
  • Race 5: $2 Double -- 2 with 11
  • Race 6: $1 Pick 3 -- 11 with 12, 14 with 3, 6, 11
  • Race 7: $1 Pick 3 -- 12 with 3, 6, 11 with 3, 7
  • Race 7: $2 Double -- 12, 14 with 11
  • Race 8: $1 Exacta Box -- 3, 6, 11
  • Race 8: $0.50 Trifecta Box -- 3, 6, 11
  • Race 8: $2 Double -- 11 with 3, 4, 7, 9
  • Race 8: $0.50 Pick 3 -- 11 with 3, 7 with 6, 7, 9
  • Race 9: $0.50 Pick 4 -- 3, 7 with 6, 7, 9 with 2, 5, 8 with 6, 7
  • Race 11: $0.50 Trifecta Box -- 2, 5, 7, 8
  • Race 12: $1 Exacta Box -- 3, 6, 7
Good luck on Breeders Cup Saturday!