Friday, September 25, 2015

Stay Composed When Handicapping Contests "Get Late Early"

I have marathon experience, having slogged through New York City's 5 boroughs 3x in my life.

My average time was in the 5-hour ballpark, which is why I equate thoroughbred marathon stakes races to bottom-level claimers, since citing my own pedigree and lack of breakaway speed one does not need to be a sprint champion of any sort to get to the marathon finish line.

Handicapping contests are similar and require a mix of guts, self-belief and patience.

Later this afternoon I will be competing as 1 of 66 entries in the NHC Qualifier on, with 2 berths to January 2016's NHC in Las Vegas up for grabs.

I earned my $295 entry with a 3rd-place of 46 in Wednesday's $22 pre-qualifier.

Two Keys

I am picking up experience with time, but not a proficient enough pedigree player to be extremely confident in maiden special weight races with several first-time starters and especially two-year-olds.

In Wednesday's 5th race from Belmont, however, Trappe Shot first-timer Trappe Play seemed appealing based on my nascent knowledge of pedigree.  I recall her father's greatness in 1-turn races and, especially, his gutsy loss by a nose to Sean Avery in the 2011 Vanderbilt Stakes.

Trappe Play was confidently handled from a wide post (#10 of 12) by Jose Lezcano in a 6.5-furlong sprint and scored an easy 2.75-length win at nearly 14-to-1, yielding $42.20 of win-place bankroll to vault me into fourth place at the time. 

Plainview's win in Race 6 thrust me into third and, fortunately, no one near me in the standings hit the $19 winner in the contest finale, so luckily I held onto the final prize for Friday's $295 NHC qualifier.

The ultimate key, however, was patient handling -- a concept I have touched on past writings but, sometimes, is easier said than done.

In the opener of Wednesday's contest (the full Belmont Park card), Sol the Freud stole the race at nearly 10-to-1,  Four of the 46 contestants had Sol, while several of us picked up $3.30 of place money on Be a Hero but were already $26.70 of bankroll behind the leaders, 

Granted, there were 8 races remaining on the card, but with some thin-ish and chalk-looking fields, I could not argue with players reaching for prices earlier than planned.  I stuck to my guns with horses I liked in the 4-to-1 to 6-to-1 range, landing a place in Race 3.

"I do believe some players tend to respond to missing an early price with an immediate swing to tray to match, not unlike a football team ditching its running game upon being down 14-0 in the first quarter," said Terry Flanagan, my friend and first-time NHC qualifier by way of the $200 Monmouth-Woodbine Challenge on September 20

Josh Kamis, of nearby East Brunswick, NJ and a 2015 NHC qualifier through Derby Wars, generally does not ditch his ground game after a sizeable early score by his opponents.

"After being down what seems to be insurmountable in any contest, you really need to take a deep breath and relax," said Kamis, also a guest blogger with The Tournament Edge.  "Yes, I've written about hitting tilt, but you really need to stay calm and keep to your guns.  You still have bullets left."

Channeling Yogi

Flanagan and Kamis are in agreement when players find themselves in a similar situation midway through or in the closing stages of a handicapping contest.  

"Of course you'll need to recalibrate along the way,"  Flanagan said.  "If it's 3-4 races after the early price you missed and you haven't made up any ground, you should probably start price-shopping.  As the late Yogi Berra might say, it can get late early in contests."

Off line, I have spoken at some length with Kami about contest preparation. 

Josh is a proponent of handicapping contests from back to front, giving him foresight to long-shots later in the card that make more sense, rather than (in an early deficit) prematurely tossing aside logical, shorter-priced plays and incremental bankroll gains that could build to that decisive long-shot score in the later stages. 

"Let's say a 10-race contest (you're) down $30 after one race...there are 9 races to go!," said Kamis.

"With that, I can relax and tell myself I have 2 possible long-shots and a few mid-price chances.  I like my chances to come from behind and cash some way in the contest.  By picking up $10 per race, in my mind at least I should be OK in the end with at least a chance, and that's all I can have a chance," Kamis continued.

After wrapping up work Friday, I get the chance to test my patience in a field rife with several multiple qualifiers (i.e. players playing 2 tickets) and where 13 races (Belmont 6-10, Gulfstream 6-10 and Churchill Downs 8-10) afford enough of a cushion to stick to my guns if other players hit a big price early in the contest.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

NHC Freebie Contest Goal: Hit 2 Cappers

Seriously folks, my post this morning is not out of crankiness because of Rutgers' last-second defeat to Washington State last night (the chicken and beef gyro/Greek tailgate kicked some tail, BTW)...

Nor that the NHC Tour put another of its five "free" members-only contests on the day of a live Monmouth Park contest -- the final one of its season, and where I will be spending this afternoon but had to quickly 'cap another 7 races outside the 23 races at Woodbine and Monmouth...

Nor that rain washed all races off the turf at Belmont...

Nor that I finished in the bottom 10% of the Del Mar Summer Handicapping Challenge and was nowhere close to defending my 2014 co-championship...

It's more out of the quality (or lack thereof) of races on today's 10-race program for No. 4 of 5 National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Tour "free" contests, open to all Tour members and offering four spots to the $2.5 million NHC in Las Vegas in January. 

The fields are mostly deep, but let's face it...pretty bad.

And, again, Belmont's off the turf.

Nonetheless, I find that it presents a great opportunity to take some shots on outsiders against morning-line favorites that, in my view, are nothing special.

My goal this afternoon (and assuming my top picks do not scratch) is to hit 2 of my bomber selections in the NHC Tour freebie and pick up some Tour points.  Otherwise, I do not put a ton of effort, admittedly, into a 1-day contest with 2,000 players; it's not worth a ton of my time.

Here is a look at the horses I entered as top selections for the NHC Tour freebie.  Tour members can still sign up here before first post of Race 6 from Woodbine around 3:30 p.m.

Woodbine 6: #7, Aldous Snow (8-1), is bound to sit closer to the front in a seemingly pace-less field and was not in as good a form going into last year's Grade 1 Northern Dancer; has a good shot.

Belmont 6: #11, You Lie (20-1), has early foot as evidenced two back at non-winners of 3 lifetime and broke her maiden over a sloppy Gulfstream track.  Off the turf and with a field scratched down to 5 runners, I hope to get 7-to-2.  

Churchill 7: #8, Trawee (20-1), seems to be improving, but I use the term loosely in a bad $5,000 starter allowance field, and I like that 3 back she was game against $25-$30k beaten claimers where she finished second at an elongated sprint distance.  No shoe-in, but facing a 9-to-5 favorite who has beaten up on fields at Thistledown and Something-Or-Other Valley.

Belmont 7: #7, Second City (30-1), is live, in my opinion, off a game effort last out vs. similar at Saratoga and has won before with Kendrick Carmouche aboard.  Worse long-shots than this one, especially for a gelding with a win over an off surface.

Belmont 8: #9, Saratoga Dreamer (10-1), WAS my top pick anywhere until scratched from the Allied Forces, so I will side with #5, Conquest Tsunami (12-1) in a race shortened to 5 furlongs, as I figure any horse tried in the Delta Jackpot (a tight bullring track) has enough speed to maybe surprise #8, Ready for Rye, whom others will view a shoe-in at 9-5 morning line.  Taking a stand against.

Churchill 9: #3, Emmajestic (6-1), was overmatched two back on the same oval against $75,000 optional claimers and drops down even more from Grade 2 company at Indiana Downs to an easier condition and very evenly-matched field.  

Woodbine 9: #2, Button Down (12-1), cuts back three-eighths of a mile and faces tougher here, but I'd take Joel Rosario over Luis Contreras any day and I sense this 4-year-old filly gets a nice stalking trip and can fire late, similar to her maiden-breaker in May. 

Churchill 10: #12, Renn Lake (30-1), faces awful $5,000 claimers here and returns to the site of his best speed figure (November 2014).  The last two efforts show, to me, that against this field Renn Lake will at least be game, as evidenced by in-the-money finishes in 50% of his 20 dirt starts.   

Belmont 9: I loved #7, Constantine (20-1), but with the field scratched down to 5 horses and off the turf, I take a shot at "front-running" #9, Majestic Guy (30-1) for VERY low-percentage connections but where the horse's lone win was on a sealed sloppy track. Play at your own risk. 

Woodbine 10: #2, Grand Arch (6-1), is my top pick in a Woodbine Mile that, in my view, is merely so-so.  I tossed half of the field (3 thru 5 and 7 thru 9) and simply figure Luis Saez will cleanly stalk rail horse Obviously and win a Grade 1. If my earlier picks are flops, I might switch to #6, Tower of Texas (15-1) at a price but am sort of spooked by his late collapse in his last out at Woodbine.