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 DerbyWars.com, 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.
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."
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 ask...to 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.