Monday, July 13, 2015

Del Mar Defense Begins on Thursday

On the heels of two awful zero-win performances in National Handicapping Championship qualifiers (July 5 Monmouth Park contest and this past Saturday at, my confidence is not the best at about the midway point of the 2015 NHC season.

Sign up by Thursday for
Del Mar's free online contest
Nonetheless, as any horseplayer can attest, fortunes can reverse overnight, and so I begin my co-title defense of the Del Mar Online Handicapping Challenge, which begins this Thursday afternoon (with a race to be determined);  I finished 2nd in 2014 in harrowing fashion, securing my first berth to the NHC.

Before delving into tongue-in-cheek trash talking on my defense, I cannot help but, first, to think at this time of Lucy Nico, whose husband Steven ("scottsdad") took first-place in last year's tournament but tragically passed away a few days after a heart attack on Thanksgiving night and I dearly missed at the NHC in Las Vegas in January.  In that vein, I play this year in Steven's memory and extend heartfelt thoughts and prayers to Lucy and her kids during their healing process.

As there were nearly 4,000 players last season, I sense the secret is out about this tournament, but encourage newcomers to have some fun with this year's Del Mar contest, whether registered as "serious" players or not.

It's free to enter (deadline is Thursday; no sign-ups once the contest begins), and in fact players do not even need to be NHC Tour members to enter, or win.

The top two finishers win entry to the 2016 NHC in Las Vegas and $1,000 hotel and travel stipend.

The contest premise is simple -- pick winners and find prices.  

At least that's my aim again in 2015.

Del Mar selects one race per day during its 40-day meeting, which starts this Thursday and ends on Monday, September 7.

Each contest race is usually posted by 5 p.m. ET the day prior, and Del Mar provides free past performances as well.

I recommend registering, separately, for an account on (free, as well), which offers access to live video and race replays; it's a great service and one whose model I wish all states would follow in order to grow the sport.  Cal Racing's mobile site works well, too.

Del Mar Online Handicapping Challenge mandates that contestants play their full $100 mythical (no real money changes hands) bankroll in at least 20 of the 40 contest races to qualify.  One can bet less than $100, but that would not count as one of your 20 qualifying wagers.

Unlike other contests in the win-place-show format, Del Mar allows players to bet more than one horse, meaning you could go $10 to win across the board in a 10-horse field if you wanted.  I would not advise it, but it's allowed.

As noted in last September's analysis of the Del Mar contest, I plan to again identify horses within a range of 5-to-1 and 15-to-1 (morning line), and will probably invest $100 to win each day.

Del Mar bettors LOVE to over-bet favorites, meaning the prospects are good for getting an "overlay" (final odds above the morning line) on an 8-1 horse you like as real-money wagerers push the 3-to-1 favorite in a deep field down to 4-to-5 at post-time.  Trust me, it happens.

Last year, I generally picked one horse per day and played $50 win-$50 place, which produced positive returns but not as much had I put my full $100 to win.  I'll likely go $100 win exclusively in 2015; it's fake money (but real stakes) after all.

If you've never played, give it a try.

I use this contest primarily to stay sharp and cross my figures for good fortune again.

It's a great daily exercise (Thursday through Sunday, at least) and a perfect opportunity for less-frequent players to spend some time analyzing a single race.

Leave a comment if you have any questions, and good luck!

I leave with some quick thoughts and comments:

  • Use the free past performances and Cal Racing video to your advantage; as a commuter to NYC at times, I'd print the free PP's and use mobile video to study on the bus to find a long-shot that made some sense.
  • Get your selections in by the contest site's published post time; you'll get shut out if the site shows 6:30 p.m. ET and the actual post (because of delays earlier in the card) is, say, 6:45 p.m.
  • Avoid prohibitive favorites:  Not worth the risk (-$100) of, say, a $40 win, $30 place and $30 show wager on a horse that's 9-to-5 and will only produce minimal returns; rather, simply pass on that day's race if the field's short or you're that convinced the favorite will win (in which case I would argue you bet the full $100 on that horse). 
  • Do NOT get discouraged if you go 0-for-4 and are -$400 at the end of week 1.  Even if a few players hit a 30-to-1 bomber (the cap on contest win payouts) and are at +$3,000 at week's end and you're tied in 3,000th-place, remember there is a LOT of contest remaining.  
  • NHC Tour seriously, as there are FAR more Tour points to be had this year, with the Tour shifting the points allocation from Top 30 to top 10 percentile.  Assuming the contest draws 3,750 players again, finishing 100th, for example, would yield more than 2,000 Tour points, by the Tour's calculator, unlike 2014 (zero). 
  • The Del Mar Futurity is usually the final contest race.  Last year, American Pharoah romped at 3-to-1 to victory, and in 2013 California Chrome ran somewhat sluggish (I picked him in the Del Mar contest that year to no avail). 
  • Be courteous, and do NOT hassle the people running the contest.  Remember, it's free, so if the leaderboard is not up to date 2 minutes after the race results are posted, do not fire off a bunch of email asking when the leaderboard will be updated.  
  • Embrace the challenge and have fun.  I never imagined finishing in the Top 2 last year.  It was gut-wrenching for me toward the end, but the ride was fun as hell.  

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