Wednesday, April 9, 2014


One-quarter of the way through the 2014 National Handicapping Championship (NHC) qualifying season, there are a few reasons why I feel that much farther than ever from landing in Las Vegas next January.

The 2014 winter Simulcast Series Challenge (SSC) series was enjoyable but totally unproductive, unlike last season, when I qualified for two entries to the SSC Invitational.  

No seat for NJ Horseplayer
at the 2014 SSC Invitational
This year, in four pre-qualifiers, I depleted my bankroll in three of the tourneys and came out just a few bucks ahead in the other, falling a few spots shy of earning a bid to the SSC Invitational on April 26, when two NHC berths will be awarded.

End result?

No passing "Go" and collecting $200 for NJ Horseplayer.

No room at the inn.

Shut out of the prestigious SSC Invitational.

There were no "brutal beats," so to speak; only inconsistent handicapping and bankroll management.  It really came down to bad end games, where I will need to improve in live-money tournaments.  Online tournaments as well, for that matter.

As a part-time player, I have yet to come up with a viable system for late-contest, live-money wagers.

In SSC No. 4 this past Saturday, for instance, after playing patiently on a 30-plus race card from three simulcast tracks (Aqueduct, Tampa and Keeneland), I failed to capitalize on a good mid-contest score at 12-to-1, whereby I conservatively played the minimum $10 win bet instead of doubling down or risking my remaining (at that point after 6 unsuccessful win wagers) $40 live bankroll in a sink-or-swim bid.

The Esquire TV show Horseplayers has me thinking more about late-stage bankroll management.

There was a scene where professional horseplayer Christian Hellmers wagered something like $16,000 on two bets late in a high-stakes contest, convinced he could connect.  Instead, he lost on both, but came away not second-guessing his logic, which was predicated on tried-and-true handicapping and a lack of fear.

That type of mentality is one I need to channel more as a handicapping contest player.

Speaking of Horseplayers, and extending the theme of inadmissibility, the show offers a stark reminder of how difficult it will be for a part-time player of my caliber to get to and succeed at the National Handicapping Championship.

Several of the show's scenes were filmed on location at extremely expensive tournaments -- the $10,000 buy-in Breeders Cup Challenge, the $3,000 Grade One Gamble from Keeneland, a $1,000 mid-week NHC tournament at Saratoga and an exclusive, almost made-for-TV tournament from Louisiana.

There is an air of exclusivity that I did not sense as much early on in the show, but have noticed more lately.

The NHC Tour, and the thoroughbred industry on the whole, needs to be extremely wary of this, in my opinion.

NHC Tour new points system
misses the boat on pre-qualifiers
The concept of ponying up $50 to get five "free" NHC online qualifying tournament, candidly, is none too appealing when it seems, at least in my view, that the Tour has become very slanted toward full-time and big-money players.

Opening the door for Tour players to earn multiple berths to the National Handicapping Championship is in itself ludicrous.

Is playing two tickets in a tournament a show of one's true handicapping skill?

I say "no," and therefore see a conflict in the Tour offering players a shot at 2 NHC seats per season, simply for the sake of increasing in-season contest participation and tacking on seasonal points standings.

Perhaps that is what the NHC Tour wants, and therefore I am merely the outlier who can afford (i.e. time- and money-wise) to play a few $100-$200 on-track tournaments a season but am otherwise relegated to bankroll builder tournaments and NHC qualifiers via and other online hubs.

The new Tour points system, meanwhile, misses the boat on certain nuances of on-track tournaments and, with the SSC series in particular, devalues what is otherwise a great but difficult event.  Monmouth Park will need to take note of this loophole, since players could choose to stay away from SSC and participate in what is now a far more lucrative summer schedule of direct NHC qualifiers in Oceanport.

At the same time the NHC is encouraging on-track contest play, the Tour gives zero reward to players at Monmouth Park who, over the course of four SSC qualifiers, like myself, paid $200 per tourney, or $800 in total.  The reason for this, as I understand it, is that "pre-qualifying" tournaments (i.e. those that do not directly give away NHC berths) do not count toward NHC Tour scoring.

Under a new scoring system rolled out this year, players who participate in an NHC qualifying tournament at the track receive 150 NHC Tour points just for entering (online tournaments award only 50 points).

So, those of us that sign up for the $300 May 31 contest at Monmouth will receive our 150-point participation bonus.

Those who signed up for any 1 of 4 live-money SSC pre-qualifiers this winter got zero points.

Same goes for players who pony up $165 to play in a "pre-qualifying" tournament on -- zero points.

Such participation bonuses are, therefore, really no incentive to increase player participation.

Personally, I see no difference in someone forking over hard-earned money to play in either an NHC-oriented tournament, whether it is a pre-qualifier or a qualifier.

In reality, too, reaching the NHC is even that much harder for players who, in essence, have to win or place highly in two consecutive tournaments, so why not reward Tour participants for their efforts and supporting the game financially.

This is especially true for those of us who cannot canvass the U.S. (i.e. the Esquire TV Horseplayers set) playing the elite tournaments from week-to-week.

Regardless, I do give the Tour credit for amending the tournament points system in what seems a fairer distribution of awards to the top 10% of players in a given event, but think the leadership needs to take a second look at allocating points for NHC-focused pre-qualifying tournaments.


  1. NHC Tour points kind of reminds me of an arcade game, where at first glance it looks easy enough to capture a stuffed animal with the claw, but in reality it's extraordinarily difficult.
    In my opinion points are only worth pursuing for the heaviest players, because if you're not a heavy player you have essentially no chance of winning cash
    Non-heavy players have a chance to qualify for the NHC via points, but even with the top 150 getting in, you really have to thread the needle to swing that.
    NHC Tour points expire worthless for the vast majority of NHC tour members.

  2. Agreed, Terry. I found that out most last year, where I was on the border of Top 150 but would have had to play a bunch of tournaments to get there (or simply do well in one, is more like it). You really need to be a weekly qualifying contest player in order to have a good shot.

  3. Hey Bill, let me make an argument of why the Monmouth SSC needs to be reworked a little. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for an inexpensive tournament so close to home. I just don't understand why we have to spend $400 ($200.00 x 2 entries) a month, 4 times (Jan, Feb, March, April), only to hope to get into the final for a chance to win two seats. We have already talked about how 3 years ago only 45 people qualified so you had a 2 in 45 chance to get a seat. Then last year it was a 2 in 60 chance, now this year it is a 2 in 80 chance; totally unfair. In my opinion, each tournament, January thru April, should each carry 2 seats, then the final should be five to ten seats for the 3rd thru 10th place finishers from the qualifiers. If you look at the NHC tour schedule, Monmouth players are the only ones who have to qualify to have a chance to win a chance at a seat. Here are a couple reasons for my ideas; 1st, in the NTRA final at Treasure Island, 10th place paid $11,600.00. That is tenth out of about the 500 best handicappers in the Country. If I have $100 or $200 going into the last race an SSC qualifier, I am going to probably bet it all. 1st place in a qualifier will get you close to $15,000.00, and you only have to beat about 250 players or so, as opposed to $11,000.00 for 10th out of 500, come on! a no brainer to me. Second, two or three years ago, there were only about 100 or so players in an SSC tourney. Now there is about 250 to 400, so the handle is more than double just from the players. These are live money tourneys so players are betting there own money, plus bringing their friends out to the track. Third, again, Monmouth players are the only players in the Country who have to do this. I have more but I am getting longwinded. I used to play just to qualify, but several veteran players (also past winners, I won't use their names) pointed out to me the above reasons on why I need to go for the win. In all four qualifiers, I had enough money to win if I only I picked the winner in the final race; I didn't. In the first three I had to bet all of my money to try to win, so I left with zero dollars and no qualification for the invitational. In the one last week, I had $1120.00, sitting about $800.00 behind the leader. I only had to bet about $300 to try to win it all, but my horse lost and I was still left with $820.00 finishing 6th and finally qualified. I don't want to seem like I am trying to bash Monmouth or the people who run the tourneys, I only want them better and to have more players from Monmouth represented in Vegas every January. I had the time of my life in all four qualifiers, I just couldn't close the door. I also won a lot of my own money betting outside the tourneys, so this year I am playing with "house money". Maybe some day I will be able to close out and win one, and I certainly will keep trying. As long as I have a job, a wonderful wife who lets me go, and I don't miss a single minute of my daughter's life especially her sporting events, I will keep trying. Bill, I hope you don't mind the response to your blog, because as you can see, I share your enthusiasm for the sport and every day life. Frankie Sal

    1. Frankie Sal, I totally get what you're saying, and it's refreshing to hear players like you going for the gusto in these tournaments. I'm hoping that, at some point either in the fall or winter, Monmouth solicits contest-player feedback on SSC. It needs to send more than 2 seats to NHC - maybe include BCBC berth or HWPS at the least for those who make the Invitational and finish outside the Top 2.

  4. Heavy players do have advantages, But can get that seat and still lose 10-15 grand for the season. Big bankrolls don't guarantee profits.

  5. The inclusion of multiple entries was necessitated to drive the prize pool. If they didn't do that, the latter half of the year would have resulted in under attended online and local tournaments. It also removes a bit of the charade about some qualifies who couldn't tell one end of a horse from the other.

    Ideally, everyone should only have one entry but if the rules are two, you almost have to get the two to maintain quality. I would rather participate against 300 people for $500K than 450 entries for $750K but until there is sponsorship or some funding for the prize pool, it is essentially self-funded by the players and the multiple entries does drive that.