Friday, February 28, 2014

Bridge Jumpers Welcome

As a nascent horseplayer and subsequent blogger about thoroughbred handicapping contest strategy, I sometimes discussed, but only sporadically saw through, place and show wagering strategies in live-money tournaments at my home course, Monmouth Park.

Machismo often won out to taking the more-rational, conservative approach when betting a live long-shot. 

I found myself unable to consistently pull the trigger on conservative win-place, win-show or place-show wagers in several instances, sometimes on account of my low standing on the leaderboard and needing to make up ground, but more often than not out of arrogance for wanting to pick winners.

Handicapping is about picking winners, right?!

In hindsight, those blog posts were more a lamentation for making 10 win bets and watching (in one particular contest), say, 7 finish second and 2 finish third.  

Chronicling my misfortune was mostly a way to vent frustration over a host of tough beats on square prices.

The more I mature as a handicapping contest player, however, I have come to realize that employing a betting strategy focused on "minor awards" (track parlance for place and show finishes for horses) has its merits in live-money venues, especially when a "bridge jumper" gets involved.

Bah, humbug!
T.D. Thornton wrote a phenomenal piece last month for the Daily Racing Forum on the earliest-known bridge-jumper, "The Lady in Red", that goes into far greater detail and technicality (like Equinometry's take on so-called "negative pools") than I care to explore here. 

But, in simple terms, a bridge jumper wagers a preposterous sum on a horse to finish at least third in order to capitalize on the mandatory payout (usually 5%, or $2.10 on a $2 show wager) at most tracks.  

Heck, the idea is so in vogue that there's even a Twitter feed of Bridge Jumper Alerts!

Such wagers in West Virginia are even more lucrative, paying (per state law) 10%, and especially came into vogue when a horse named Jax and Jill hit the bullring at Charles Town, attracting $350,000 of show money (86% of the total win-place-show pool) in the 2013 Sylvia Bishop Stakes last August.

Jax and Jill, coincidentally, won that 5-horse race, paying $2.20 each to win, place and show, but two months later cost backers a bundle (prompting them to find the nearest bridge from which to jump) when she finished out of the money.  

As evidenced in the Equibase chart, the winner and runner up of that race each paid at least 60% more to show than place, with the show pool egregiously inflated by Jax and Jill.

Valuable lesson from Esquire's Horseplayers

The notion of settling for third is counter-intuitive at the track, or in any competition, as I see it. 

Daphne Zuniga:
The anti-"Sure Thing"
Professional track handicappers try to pick winners.  

At Monmouth, I always pay attention to potential long-shot winners that Brad Thomas has to offer.

Meanwhile, certain patrons cannot contain themselves, offering unsolicited opinions on their locks of the day to anyone within earshot.  

Rarely have I come across a hot tip on "sure thing" designed to make a 10-cent profit on a dollar. 

That's no fun.

Ask John Conte, the 2009 NHC champion and one of the six "stars" of Horseplayers, who found out the hard way in the latest episode of the Esquire TV show

"You bet a horse to win because it's all about getting the most money," Conte said as the camera rolled, explaining $250 win wagers on two horses in a 5-horse field in a contest race (the Fleet Treat Stakes) last July at Del Mar.

3 Horseplayers, 3 Scenarios

In the handicapping contest world, players can use show wagers not only to beat a bridge-jumper, but also to meet contest parameters, such as minimum number of wagers.  Monmouth's on-track contests, for instance, require at least 10 win, place or show wagers to qualify for prizes.  

Horseplayers underplayed the show-wagering angle until later in Episode 4, but in the case of The Fleet Treat, three players took vastly different approaches in a race where, according to Thornton's DRF piece, $440,000 (50% of the entire win-place show wagers in the race) was bet into the show pool on 3-to-5 favorite Doinghardtimeagain.

  • Conte, as noted, went for the gusto on Qiaona (14-to-1) and Warren's Veneda (15-to-1)
  • Christian Hellmers, looking to meet the contest mandate for minimum bets, wagered $500 on Doinghardtimeagain
  • Kevin Cox, presumably aware of the bridge-jumper on Doinghardtimeagain, bet $100 to show each on Qiaona, Warren's Veneda and 6-to-5 second choice Sweet Marini

Doinghardtimeagain finished fourth, rewarding Cox handsomely with a $2,720 profit as his horses all finished in the top 3.  On a $2 show wager, Sweet Marini paid $8.40, while second- and third-place runners Qiaona and Warren's Veneda paid a whopping $25.40 and $26.60, respectively.

Conte and Hellmers each lost $500 on their wagers, with Conte missing out on a $6,200 score had he wagered $250 each to show instead.  That would have been a significant score in the live-money tournament that provided the setting for Episode 4 of Horseplayers.  

The scene proved that even the best of handicappers have lapses in rational judgement. 

The Nearest Bridge is That-a-way!

The outcome of The Fleet Treat Stakes was far more on point in the wisdom of useful show wagering than Esquire's later portrayal of the Bing Crosby Stakes, where Horseplayers' producers and editors embellished a bridge-jumper situation on a horse named Comma To The Top, who did not hit the board.  

The above footage showed an enormous sum on Comma To The Top in the show pool, but based on eventual show payouts ranging from $6.60-$8.40, The Fleet Treat race provides far greater validation of the show-wagering strategy, in my opinion.  

Viewers of Horseplayers probably missed out on that subtlety, but no matter, as the silver lining is that they witnessed the unselfishness and true elation of horseplayers supporting one another in the contest setting -- a positive element the industry should play up. 

Taking the concept even further, look at the chart on this race from Mountaineer, where 1-to-5 favorite Nicole's Dream, in a race from 2006, won by six lengths but was disqualified to fourth place, presumably sending her show-pool supporters to the nearest bridge.  The 34-to-1 horse awarded first paid $71.20 to win, $23.20 to place and $109.20 TO SHOW!  Show payouts on the next two finishers were $25 and $43.60, respectively.

In sum, and based on a mildly successful show wager at Calder as chronicled in my last blog entry, I am finding that the show-wagering strategy is extremely useful in spots, but should not be relied upon as a central thesis to winning handicapping contest play.  

The drawback to the Monmouth Park contests is that players can only bet one horse per race, unlike the Del Mar tournament showcased on the latest Horseplayers episode, where players were able to bet the entire field against bridge-jumper horses.  

However, the nimble player should focus on show pools throughout contest play (I tracked show pools on my phone during my last Monmouth contest) in order to pounce on rare opportunities where bridge-jumpers have taken the first of hopefully two plunges.

1 comment:

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