Thursday, December 1, 2016

Trying My Hand as a Public Handicapper

So, earlier this week I received a surprise email from Scott Carson, founder of Public Handicapper, to be an "editor" for the site's "The Winter of Our Discontent Holiday Handicap" contest, which kicks off Saturday and runs through January 28.

NJ Horseplayer seen weekly at
As an enormous fan of public service, and since I've been a regular participant for the last 5-6 years, I jumped at the chance to volunteer to break down and make publicly available selections on four of the top U.S. thoroughbred races each weekend.

Plus, I add to the already-charismatic roster of expert editors whose role, outside of winning the contest, is to provide insights that may help bettors win money at the track.

Mine and my colleagues selections can be found here each week, with analysis on each race (as of Thursday night there was a technical glitch that hid my analysis of my first two picks, but that'll be fixed shortly). 

For those new to the Public Handicapper, it's a free handicapping contest site where players make mythical $2 win wagers on 1-4 races per week and at least one hours before the listed post-time for each race.

The winner is the person who accrues the highest bankroll in the tournament after meeting the minimum requirement to make selections in 12 of the contest races.

Prizes for this particular tournament are largely cash and consolation-types (i.e. free past performances), coming off the May-November contest that awards two valuable seats annually to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC).

In that one, I finished in the Top 200 (of 4,000-plus contestants), which is the best I've ever done in what is a rigorous grind where the races are difficult and the competition top-notch.

The winter of discontent contest that begins on Saturday is a perfect example, featuring three extremely deep and difficult races from Gulfstream Park in Miami, FL, and a 12-horse, Grade 1 turf race at Del Mar in San Diego, CA.

If anyone has questions about joining the contest, let me know and I'll try to help. Otherwise, just click the "Sign Up to Play" link on the site's left toolbar and follow the simple instructions.  

And remember to click on "Editor's Picks" up top to get mine and the other experts' selections and analysis...and I just might tip a half-full pint of Guinness your way as a sign of goodwill.

If my picks don't work out for you, remember that you get what you pay for (my services are free).

Friday, November 11, 2016

Bing Crosby Contest Starts Today

It's last-minute notice, but if you're interested in a free shot at a seat to the 2017 National Handicapping Championship (NHC), entering Del Mar's online handicapping challenge by this afternoon could be your ticket.

Del Mar in San Diego, CA, kicks off its "Bing Crosby" meet this afternoon.  The season, and handicapping contest, run through December 4, and again they're offering players a free, online tournament for two berths to the NHC.

Here's where you sign up:

As there's no cost to play I can't complain, but the format has been changed this year to one that I'm admittedly not crazy about.

Consistent with years past, players get a mythical $100 bankroll per day on which to place bets on a pre-selected race each racing day. In years past the wagers were limited to win, place and/or show, and payouts were capped at a robust 30-to-1.

This year, Del Mar has broadened the "wagering" card to exactas and trifectas and removed the cap.

The benefit for players who like to play those wagers is that one major score could be the difference.

The drawback is that it's not really about picking winners anymore, the basis upon which the NHC champion is determined each season. I see the positives and negatives, but for the latter think that someone can just get lucky playing a $100 trifecta with their three favorite numbers and getting lucky.

Regardless, I'm entered to play (user name "billhobo") and have had success in the past, qualifying for the 2015 NHC through Del Mar's summer contest.

It's a lot of fun to play, so make sure to enter; and for NHC Tour players it's a must, since Tour points are awarded to the Top 10% of finishers, consistent with other NHC-focused contests.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Trenton Screws Up, Yet Again, on Casino Bill

A few friends and family have asked, so here goes.

My vote on Public Question #1 is a resounding "No", with advice to the State Legislature, especially South Jersey politicians to go back to the drawing board and get your head out of the 1970s.

After 40+ years of abominable mismanagement of casino gaming in Atlantic City, including Governor Christie's stupid backing with tax incentives of completion of the Revel, the state wants us to support an ill-drawn plan that would put a multistory casino in Jersey City, another 10 miles away at the Meadowlands, and again screw the state's thoroughbred program and Monmouth Park.

Rightfully, Oceanport's leaders have called this out. The bill's logic is so flawed and has far more question marks than answers, typical of NJ politics where it's "vote yes now with 10% of the details and transparency and we'll figure it out later...once our friends get paid."

What NJ needs, and what many voters would support, simply, are smaller "neighborhood" casinos at Monmouth Park and the Big M that daytrippers will use and that will steal business back from nearby racinos in New York (Yonkers, Aqueduct) and Pennsylvania, where PARX (Philadelphia) is physically closer to A.C. than Monmouth Park.

Only in NJ would legislators back a bill that spitefully excludes Oceanport as a potential site. That's because, by this bill, a new casino has to be, specifically, 72 miles outside of A.C.

Guess how far Monmouth is from there?!

That's right.

I was in A.C. two weeks ago, solely for a convention. It's clear that after 40 years of failure, in a dire market with an outdated business model and looking to take the state's racing industry down with it, the Vegas by the Shore theme is a misnomer. It's a convention city with a gambling side business and has never evolved. If they'd had any sense, they would have backed expanding the NJ market and cross promoting itself through partners at Monmouth and the Meadowlands, but that hasn't happened. Instead, much as they got buddy Chris Christie to strip the tracks of millions of dollars of annual profit-sharing (so they wouldn't put casinos at the tracks), they view A.C. in a bubble. They're instead learning that the ends of monopolies can be a bitch.

At the same time, anyone who went to Monmouth this summer knows it's struggling, at least in part by Trenton's doing. The horsemen get blame too for failing for years (a fault of the ENTIRE racing industry) to ever really cultivate new racing customers. The scraps they'd get from a "Yes" vote on Tuesday, to me, seem to leave it shortchanged, no matter Monday's backroom, last-minute deal for the Big M's operator to give the thoroughbred interests a bigger cut...IF...he gets a casino.

And, at that, I'd rather not see a Jersey City casino cannibalize one at the Meadowlands or turn the City into A.C. North with a vacant 40-story tower after money disappears with all sorts of graft, leaving taxpayers holding the bag.

If Trenton gets it's act together and tells the A.C. lobby to shut up (after four decades they've learned little), legislators can then come back with a workable plan in a year or two that both the thoroughbred and standardbred operators want and that could prop up the state's breeding and racing program, via Station Casinos-style racinos found in our neighboring states.

I'd rather take my chances, too, were I operating a track, seeing what shakes out with the Oakland Raiders' potential move to Las Vegas. If that happens, the NFL would have zero leg to stand on in opposing sports betting in NJ, which is something we all want and I posit could happen sooner than any revenue benefit from two No. Jersey casinos. Sports betting would be a boon to the tracks AND A.C.

It's a "NO" vote for me on Tuesday and may -- much as NY and PA racino operators funded the no-casino TV and radio ads in NJ the last several months -- be time for A.C. and the horsemen to pool some money together to silently fund ads pushing for the Las Vegas Raiders.

Friday, November 4, 2016

3 Big Ideas for Saturday's Breeders Cup on a $100 Budget

On the heels of a 158% return on Friday's $50 investment, I have three horses in Saturday's Breeders Cup that bettors might ignore but who could produce a handsome profit at minimal cost and perhaps land me in the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) in January.

Tamarkuz did exactly as expected on Friday and paid $129 on our $10 win wager in the dirt mile.  I unfortunately turned down advice to use Gun Runner in the exacta (paid 50-to-1) but look ahead.

In my preview on Thursday, I noted a $150 bankroll and maybe more in the event of a decent Friday score, but for the sake of readers held to a C-note, I'm reverting back to $100 worth of wagers on Saturday, centering on three key horses, listed in sequential order.

Ambitious Brew (10-to-1) is my top choice in Race 7, the Turf Sprint. 

On another track this might not be the case, but Santa Anita's downhill turf course has generally favored horses with experience over the 6-and-a-half furlong route that starts atop a hill, turns right, crosses over a small dirt strip turning for home, and produces blazing fractions.  It's perhaps the most interesting race in all of North America.

Brew drew post 10 in a 14-horse field that'll fly home in about 1:11 or less but is extremely deep and puzzling.  Candidly, I toss European horses from the race for lack of experience on this type of track, and think the U.S.-based runners have a distinct edge, and especially those with past tries on the surface.  Plus, the snobbier set among Breeders Cup handicappers may summarily dismiss a U.S. horse, so we'll get at least 10-to-1 odds.

Outer draws are generally favorable, and here jockey Mike Smith gets a great spot inside three contenders who either prefer to run late or are cutting back in distance.  If Smith can get him into 4th or 5th at the end of the downhill and let Pure Sensation (1), Obviously (2) and Mongolian Saturday (3) knock each other silly the first half mile, then look out.

I think Brew's got home field advantage, with 5 wins in 10 tries on the downhill.

Mondialiste (15-to-1) has a serious shot in Race 9, the Longines BC Turf. 

Ask anyone I know and they'll tell you I think marathon turf races are cheap claiming horses dressed as champions (since the paces tend to be dawdling), but here people need to keep an eye on Flintshire, one of the best racers on four legs.

I had the pleasure of seeing him in person at Saratoga this summer, and he's definitely one for the ages, having won about $9 million on the track by age 6.

He's the 5-to-2 favorite and basically got a paid second-place workout in his prior race, where he loped along and got beat by a really game horse (#5, Ectot, 8-to-1) on a really yielding turf track.

Nonetheless, I think he's vulnerable here and may get softened up a bit by Ectot and local horse Ashleyluvssugar (15-to-1) in the early stages, setting up for a horse that I backed heavily in the 2015 Breeders Cup Mile but finished second after getting set so far back early by his jockey.

In my opinion, Mondialiste may be the best turf horse in the field tomorrow, and will certainly appreciate added distance after mostly running at just a mile.

Look for him to sit mid-to-rear of the pack for a bit, save ground, and look for an opening in the stretch before rolling home at a square price, probably around his morning-line odds.

Gomo (20-to-1) is perhaps even more extreme, yet I love her chances in Race 10, the Filly and Mare Sprint, at seven-eights of a mile.

There's no clear goddess in this 13-horse field, as far as I'm concerned, and so I went looking for an outsider who at least once showed a really big race, has a bit of local (Santa Anita) experience, and is likely to get dismissed by the bettors.

A 31-to-1 overlay on the odds board at (I was 1 of only 23 backers, out of around 900 players, as of 10 p.m. ET on Friday) suggests very few think she has a shot, but a few angles tell me otherwise.

Gomo is a Grade 1 winner.  Granted, that came last fall as a 2-year-old on a wet track in the Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland, and she has had only two races since, but she showed clear talent and put in a tremendous effort even without being prompted in the Unzip Me Stakes on October 1 at Santa Anita.  For my money, the effort in the video here shows she was sharp off a 6-month layoff and probably could have beaten the field if prompted, but was using that race for a Breeders prep.

And maybe this is something only a long-shot player like me could enjoy, but local trainer Doug O'Neill might have found a vulnerable enough field to steal this one, and I believe Gomo's jockey Mario Gutierrez's best of 3 opportunities to score on Saturday's Breeders Cup card.

IF somehow I'm correct on Gomo, I might have an outside shot at sneaking up toward a Top 2 finish and NHC berth in the finale to Public Handicapper's season-long contest. A win by another of my top three choices certainly would advance that prospect.

Otherwise, for the non-tournament players out there, using any one of or all three of these selections could produce a decent profit on the Breeders Cup.

Here's my Top 3 selections for Saturday's 9 Breeders Cup races:

BC Juvenile Fillies
1. Union Strike
2. American Gal
3. Sweet Loretta
BC F&M Turf
1. Al's Gal
2. Lady Eli
3. Sea Calisi
BC Sprint
1. A. P. Indian
2. Masochistic
3. Drefong
BC Turf Sprint
1. Ambitious Brew
2. Obviously
3. Mongolian Saturday
BC Juvenile
1. Klimt
2. Lookin At Lee
3. Classic Empire
BC Turf
1. Mondialiste
2. Flintshire
3. Found
BC F&M Sprint
1. Gomo
2. Tara's Tango
3. Finest City
BC Mile
1. Dutch Connection
2. Alice Springs
3. What a View
BC Classic
1. California Chrome
2. Melatonin
3. Hoppertunity

Here's what you get for $100 of bankroll.  These plays spread quite a bit, and all will key around my top 3 horses.  Save for some Pick 3 tickets, I generally avoid races where I lack strong conviction, where fields were short (BC Sprint, BC Juvenile and BC Mile), or, in the case of the BC Classic, I think a horse (California Chrome) will annihilate the field.

Race 5 -- $1 Pick 3: 1, 5, 8 with 5 with 10 = $3 wager
Race 6 -- $5 Daily Double: 5 with 10 = $5 wager
Race 7 -- $5 Win #10
Race 7 -- $4 Exacta: 10 with 2, 3 = $8 wager
Race 7 -- $1 Exacta: 2,3 with 10 = $2 wager
Race 9 -- $5 Win #6
Race 9 -- $4 Exacta: 6 with 4, 10 = $8 wager
Race 9 -- $1 Exacta: 4, 10 with 6 = $2 wager
Race 9 -- $2 Trifecta Box: 4, 6, 10 = $12 wager
Race 9 -- $5 Daily Double 6 with 4 = $5 wager
Race 9 -- $2 Daily Double: 6 with 3, 11, 12 = $6 wager
Race 9 -- $2 Daily Double: 4, 10 with 4 = $4 wager
Race 9 -- $1 Pick 3: 4, 6 with 3, 4 with 1, 2, 7 = $12 wager
Race 10 -- $5 Win #4
Race 10 -- $2 Exacta: 4 with 3, 11, 12 = $6 wager
Race 10 -- $1 Exacta: 3, 11, 12 with 4 = $3 wager
Race 10 -- $0.50 Trifecta Key Box: 4 with 3, 11, 12 = $9 wager

Bonus Breeders Cup Classic Pick ($12) -- $1 Trifecta: 4 with 6, 8, 9 with 1, 2, 6, 8, 9

Good luck and enjoy the's by far, the best racing day of the year!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Playing Friday's 4 Breeders Cup Races on a $50 Budget

For people like me crunched for time and on a budget of sorts, the Breeders Cup (BC) -- thoroughbred racing's Super Bowl -- presents a wealth of opportunities to build some wealth.

Over two days, horseplayers have 13 opportunities to make decent scores off of fully stocked fields on different surfaces and from several distances.

It's a lot to absorb and can get you to spend more than you may want.

Host track Santa Anita provides additional intrigue with its 6.5-furlong downhill turf course, which I consider one of my specialties and will be a big part of my Saturday handicapping and wagering.

My strategy and bankroll are modest: $50 for Friday's four BC and $150 for Saturday's nine BC races, with the latter subject to an increase if I can hit for something decent on Friday.

As a result, on Friday in particular, I will target my wagers around my top selection.

Tamarkuz, at 8-to-1 in the Dirt Mile (Race 7, 6:05 p.m. ET post), is my key. 

In circa-1970s Battle of the Network Stars fashion, the Dirt Mile field of 9 this year brings together one-time stars who've seen better days with some other sorts unrecognizable to the public. Yet, it's impossible to look away.

A William Devane-type stalwart, Dortmund is your 6-to-5 favorite, but 0-for-3 this year and some smaller victories on his resume since a dazzling Santa Anita Derby in April 2015.

Second-choice Runhappy (3-to-1) is 7-for-9 lifetime but was unimpressive in his only start this year; plus the mile distance raises questions for this sprinter.

I anticipate a Bob Conrad-type effort with a rocket-start but where after a short distance the Marlboro Reds and a six of Schlitz begin to catch up on tough talk.

Third-choice Gun Runner (9-to-2) had the Sept. 24 Pennsylvania Derby gift-wrapped but drifted toward the grandstand down the stretch and was beaten by lesser.

Tamarkuz offers great value and I expect will maintain if not lay over his 8-to-1 line, since California bettors tend to over-bet favorites.

I'm hopeful for maybe 10-to-1 here for a horse that ran a good second to A.P. Indian, one of the best in the U.S., in the Forego in late August, then was barely prompted in what looked like a paid warm-up for the Dirt Mile when he finished second to Anchor Down in a blazing Kelso Handicap on Oct. 8 at Belmont.

I just think the horse is ripe and will appreciate the mile. To me, he looks tactical enough where jockey Mike Smith lets Dortmund and Runhappy beat each other up, then makes his move coming home and draws away, just like Mr. Kotter did to Pappy Boyington in the ABC clip above.

My only other "strong" opinion is Stellar Wind (5-to-2) in the BC Distaff.  

The 8-horse field is loaded with speed, and my view is that Stellar Wind is capable of stalking or closing into frenetic fractions to win the race.

Wellabled, at 15-to-1 in the Juvenile Turf, is intriguing if he breaks cleanly from the starting gate and gets courageous on the lead, as he has in three of his four lifetime starts; but I'm never one to back up the truck on 2-year-old races, and so I have no strong opinions in races 6 and 8 and will mostly use European horses in my Race 6-9 Pick 4, hoping for a miraculous feat of hitting 2 "singles."

NJ Horseplayer's Selections for Friday's Breeders Cup Card

Race 6, Juvenile Turf: 9 - Wellabled (15-to-1), 11 - Good Samaritan (9-to-2), 6 - Big Score (8-to-1)
Race 7, Dirt Mile: 8 - Tamarkuz (8-to-1), 2 - Tom's Ready (12-to-1), 6 - Texas Chrome (20-to-1)
Race 8, Juvenile Fillies: 9 - Cavale Doree (15-to-1), 13 - Roly Poly (4-to-1), 11 - Rymska (20-to-1)
Race 9, Distaff: 5 - Stellar Wind (5-to-2), 1 - Songbird (6-to-5), 8 - Beholder (5-to-2)

NJ Horseplayer's Wagers for Friday's Breeders Cup Card ($50 Total)

Race 6: $3 exacta box 9, 11 = $6 total
Race 6: $3 daily double 9, 11 over 8 = $6 total
Race 6: 50-cent Pick 4 ... 6, 8, 9, 11 with 8 with 7, 9, 11, 13, 14 with 5 = $10 total
Race 7: $10 win 8 = $10 total
Race 7: $4 exacta 8 over 2, 6 = $8 total
Race 7: $1 exacta 2, 6 over 8 = $2 total
Race 7: $1 trifecta 8 over 2, 6 over 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 = $8 total

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Show-ing the Big M the Door

I admit when my handicapping and contest play stink, but there were controlled external and deceitful factors that played into my futile bid to win one of three NHC packages available Saturday at the Meadowlands and prompts me to scratch off the Big M's future handicapping contests.

It also calls into question who the hell is regulating these things.

As noted by friend and fellow Tour player Pete Rogers, there was value in Saturday's $400 buy-in tournament. Only 129 entries meant a 1-in-43 proposition per National Handicapping Championship seat, compared the about 1-in-70 for online qualifiers.

Photo courtesy of &
Carol Lam -
On the other hand, subversively changing the rules on players midstream from what was clearly published in the contest sign-up brochure is an ugly business practice and yet another example of why American racing is losing customers by the minute.

There are constantly questions about product integrity, whether it's equine medicine and dishonest trainers, the greed of horsemen in each state in trying to ruin others rather than working together to save and grow the sport, or dirty politics.

The Big M, Churchill Downs and Belmont Park, either singularly or in combination, blocked the show wagering option to Meadowlands contest players for particular races...just for the contest, and NOT at the respective tracks.

So, if you were at Churchill Downs you could make show bets. This was not the case for simulcast bettors at the Meadowlands.

Show wagering, or betting a horse will finish no worse than third, is generally an afterthought for the majority of bettors. In most cases, betting $2 to show on a 2-to-1 favorite will yield measly returns of $2.10-$2.20, so the reward is not worth the risk when your return on a $2 win bet is at least $6.

The proposition is different, however, when in the minds of bettors with giant bankrolls a prohibitive favorite is almost a shoe-in to beat a far weaker field of horses. Imagine California Chrome coming to Monmouth Park to face $5,000 Jersey-bred claimers. In such a case, someone with $100k could make a $5k profit on a horse almost assured to finish first, second or third.

There's immense risk in such "bridge jumping," but there are also few places where you can make a 5% return in two minutes or less, and there are people crazy enough to make that bet.

At the same time, smaller-ante bettors like me can capitalize when those shoe-ins do not "hit the board," sending their backers in search of the tallest bridge from which to jump. (Disclaimer: I do not endorse literally jumping from bridges).

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I track show wagering in live-money contests.

It can be an extremely valuable tool not only for capital preservation (i.e. ensuring that you meet the minimum number of wagers needed to qualify for contest prizes and saving your money for a horse that perhaps you love later in the contest card) but also for capitalizing on "negative show pool" situations as eloquently described by America's Best Racing.

Such an opportunity arose on Saturday in the Ack Ack Handicap (Race 9) at Churchill Downs.

Runhappy, winner of the Breeders Cup Dirt Sprint, two other Grade 1 races and six straight during 2015, went off as the 3-to-10 favorite in his 2016 debut on Saturday.  The Ack Ack field included five others, but no horses close to Runhappy's level of accomplishment.

I spent 15-20 minutes studying that race and tracking the show pool on Runhappy. There was significantly more bet on Runhappy to show than for any other proposition, and so I perused the field for a horse that could hit the board in the event that it just wasn't Runhappy's day and he finished out of the money.

I landed on #6, Schivarelli, a hard knocker who won only as high as the allowance condition (several rungs below Grade 1) but had two decent races and a leading jockey at Churchill Downs.

Noticing on my 4NJBets app that show wagering was offered for that race, and in light of the Big M's contest brochure stating that win, place, AND show were the only contest options, I went to the betting terminal with a mind to wager $20 to show on Schivarelli.

The show option, however, did not appear on the terminal screen, and so I could not make my bet.

Sure enough, Runhappy tired in the stretch to finish in fourth place and Schivarelli finished third, netting an $18 return for each $2 wagered to show -- the highest payout among the top 3 finishers.

The Meadowlands' decision to eliminate the show option for that race, contrary to the contest brochure, cost me a probably $180 return on an intended $20 wager and has me thinking the NHC Tour, at the least, and the NTRA should investigate.

The Big M's NHC contest brochure amounted to false advertising.

Generally speaking, there are times where tracks announce beforehand that show betting is not an option, such as when a race has less than four runners. This happened on Saturday at Belmont Park, where Grade 1 turf juggernaut Flintshire was entered for a 4-horse Breeders Cup prep race.

Bettors know well in advance that show is not an option...and generally jump instead to place bets to guarantee their 5% return ($2.10 payout on a $2 base wager).

After the Runhappy debacle, I notified a contest consultant, who blamed Churchill Downs for cutting Big M bettors off from the show betting option.

This would not have surprised me in light of Churchill Downs being the most horseplayer-unfriendly track in America, but then I saw and showed the Big M rep a subsequent Belmont race where the key for show betting on the contest terminal (in an 8-horse field) was shut off, and therefore I am not sure of who's telling the truth and who is not.

I sense that someone behind the scenes disabled the keys (perhaps upper management or actuaries at the Meadowlands, IT folks by accident, managers of Churchill's simulcast feed), figuring most people do not bother with show wagers anyway; but here someone clearly made the wrong decision.

Sure enough in my bet just after missing out on Schivarelli I cashed on the place end of a $10 win-place wager on 17-to-1 Surprise Wedding at Gulfstream Park, who was very game and made up lots of ground to lose by less than a closing length.

Hypthothetically, let's say that Surprise Wedding won, and that I cashed a $20 show bet on Schivarelli...that would have put my bankroll at around $450 and in a good position to at least finish in the contest top 10 (i.e. for prize money) or make some big bets late on more-logical horses.

Instead, I had $89 with a few races remaining, which in the context of Saturday's contest winner amassing more than a $3,000 final bankroll is chump change.  I took 3-4 stabs on some mid- to long-odds horses who were not factors to win.

Even after adhering to my 24-hour cooling off period before publishing, I'm even angrier today with yesterday's event than I was on the ride home last night.

I'm all for honest mistakes, but am done with the Big M and refuse to spend hardearned money on competitions where the host site shifts the rules clearly laid out to contestants on the sign-up sheet.

The NHC Tour needs to be more discriminating and keep a much closer eye on its tournament hosts, and less so on overaggressive expansion and cannibalizing the circuit so that a couple hundred of regulars can play for more cash in Las Vegas at season's end.

At the same time Tour members need to hold contest hosts accoutable for their level of integrity.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Last Call for Free Shot at $10k Breeders Cup Betting Challenge Entry

Your chance of winning is 0.0002%, but anyone interested in competing in a handicapping tournament, DRF Tournaments is hosting a free shot at a $10,000 paid entry, plus travel, to the 2016 Breeders Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) at Santa Anita Park on November 4-5.

As of ~noon ET there were about 500 spots remaining in a pick-and-pray tournament capped at 5,000 entries (one per person), so if you're interested enter here.

For any NJ Horseplayer readers new to the handicapping concept theme, the premise of today's event is simple -- before 4:20 p.m. ET, select the winners of 7 races and cross your fingers.

You will make mythical $2 win-place wagers on these races and attempt to build the highest bankroll by contest's end.  Notional caps are 20-to-1 ($42) on the win end and 10-to-1 ($22) on place; so if the winning horse pays $100 to win and $50 to place at the track, best you can do for contest purposes is the $64 maximum score.

The prospect of beating 4,999 other players are meager, but at the very least one you can take advantage of free DRF past performances to break down races 7-10 from Saratoga and 1-3 at Del Mar in the hopes of accruing the largest bankroll by contest's end to lock in a sweet prize.  It seems that DRF Tournaments also added $50 consolation prizes (in account credit) for the second through twenty-first place finishers.

The BCBC is a live-bankroll tournament where players compete for an estimated $1 million prize pool.  The National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Tour, of which I am a member, gets more notoriety for its $2.5 million year-end tournament in Las Vegas, but the BCBC is hosted on what is North America's greatest racing weekend.  The races generally are tremendous and opportunities to score major winnings are abundant.  It's worthwhile at least taking a shot at today's free tourney.

If you do enter, the DRF Tournaments website is improving, but there are still a few aspects of the contest interface that lag others on the market.

You need to pick your top choice ("select primary pick") and alternate in case your primary is scratched from the race ("select alternate pick"), but be aware that your top choice will be negated if your backup selection is scratched and you will need to re-enter your top choice (and a new secondary selection, of course) manually.

That's exactly what happened to me this morning when my backup scratched from Race 8 at Saratoga, which is a significant quirk.  Had I not been paying attention, my top selection (12-to-1 Baby Bear's Soup) would have defaulted to a post-time favorite that I do not think will win.  This does not happen on other online contest sites; so regular players used to or need to be cautious in this regard.

Also, if unlike me you are not on the beach and you want to keep a live track of the leaderboard, in the few NHC-focused contests I have entered, updates tend to be clunky.  Prepare for slower response times than on rival sites.  It is easier just to check back at contest's end to avoid any frustration.

Otherwise, I appreciate the fact that the BCBC operators sponsored today's contest, where I am winging it a bit with the following selections.  Good luck to all who enter!

  • Saratoga 7, #6, Skylar's Pass (12-to-1): A first-time starter like most of the others entered but with some snappy works and out of The Factor, who I remember as a precocious sprinter.
  • Del Mar 1, #7, Tiz Jolie (6-to-1): Prefer the rider switch to one known to like the front end in a bottom-level race where the leader could wire the field.
  • Saratoga 8, #2, Baby Bear's Soup (12-to-1): Front-end type who seems to like one-turn races and dominated lesser last out but who ran against tougher in his first four lifetime races.
  • Del Mar 2, #6, Look Twice (7-to-2): Similar thesis to Baby Bear's Soup.
  • Saratoga 9, #12, Sugar Mags (15-to-1): Several prior races fit with today's field and sense Joel Rosario can get a clean trip and close into a quick pace, akin to my score on Saturday with 14-to-1 Irish Prayer in the Saratoga finale. 
  • Del Mar 3, #4, Friulian (10-to-1): Scratched from a deeper and tougher $80k optional claimer on Saturday for a softer spot here against only six others at the $62k allowance condition.
  • Saratoga 10, #7, Means Well (15-to-1): Colts Neck Stables is in walking distance to my house and I rarely like their horses when shipped to Saratoga, but the morning line is ludicrous for a horse who, although trying a turf sprint for the first time in 19 starts, I think will appreciate a distance cutback and a field rife with front-end speed that can melt down late; look for a late charge here to the wire to secure my $10,000 BCBC prize. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

My Man Sam Gets The Nod In The Travers

On the heels of calling the Haskell Invitational and Belmont Stakes winners, I'm making 20-to-1 My Man Sam the top selection in Saturday's $1.25 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

I was on the fence about using Creator again this time around, especially at a generous (and probably poorly calculated) 15-to-1 morning line, but side with a less-accomplished horse who has a world-class turf (but not dirt) trainer who is sending three horses to post in "the Midsummer Derby."

Chad Brown's other two runners, 12-to-1 Gift Box and 4-to-1 Connect, will gain greater attention from the racing experts, but for my money My Man Sam is an infinitely better value and has a legit chance of winning in a 13-horse field with several question marks in spite of Grade 1 stakes wins.

Here's my take on each of the runners (morning line odds in parenthesis), and similar to recent write-ups I will summarize I think horses in the field are capable of finishing.  I'll also list my plays.

#1, Arrogate (10-to-1) and #2 American Freedom (6-1): I list these as a package, since the two Baffert's trainees will run like a couple entry, as I see it.  I see a lot of parallels to Nyquist's bid in the Haskell Invitational, where from the rail he used his early gate speed to force the outside speed horses even wider into the first turn, which will burn most of them out at a mile and open the floodgates for horses with late kick to run on late, a la Ice Box in the 2015 Travers.

My gut tells me that Baffert views Arrogate as the better horse, and I think he's talented enough to finish second, and so he instructs American Freedom's jockey Rafael Bejarano to force the flow wide, which will give the lighter-raced Arrogate a clean rail run.  Arrogate is sort of the "hot" horse and perhaps a late developer, but I sense will succumb to the classier Travers field with second place being the ceiling.  At best, I both Bafferts are "underneath" plays.  Prognosis: 2nd, 3rd or 4th for Arrogate, 3rd or 4th for American Freedom.

#3, My Man Sam (20-to-1) is my top selection.  I will use him in win and place plays and wheel in the exacta, trifecta and superfecta.  The pedigree might suggest a one-turn horse, but this son of Trappe Shot is just beginning to mature.  Sam started well in the Kentucky Derby and made a decent middle move before running up on others' heels into the final turn and then flattening, then re-rallying (albeit far off the winners) in the stretch, but that was not a bad effort after the horse closed like a shot to finish second a month prior in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland.

Granted it was an allowance race, but Sam then made a nice sweeping move into soft fractions on July 23 at Saratoga and was eventually headed in the stretch against older competition to finish second that day, but I thought it was a far more mature and experienced-looking performance that sets the stage well to track the speed in the Travers and close into sharp fractions.  Maybe he fails to get up in time, but of the three Chad Browns to me he has the best shot on Saturday afternoon.

#4, Governor Malibu (12-to-1): Best shot will be to beat Sam to the rail and track the speed, but I've seen enough here to think he's a cut below Grade 1.  Malibu, for my money, looks like a grinder who may hit the board but does not offer win upside.  He's the 5-to-1 second choice on the odds board at, which I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.  Perhaps I'll be proven wrong, but this is a case of wishful thinking for a lot of folks.  Prognosis: 3rd or 4th at best.

#5, Forever d'Oro (30-to-1):  On my ride to a Long Beach Island weekend on Friday I was shocked to hear Monmouth Park's world-class handicapper Brad Thomas make this one a potential play, but to me this one's a complete pass.  Trainer Dallas Stewart pops once in a while in spots like this, but there's nothing here to suggest this son of Medaglia d'Oro wants dirt or can hit the board.  PASS.

#6, Anaximandros (50-to-1):  A completely overmatched entry who from the gate can do nothing more but get in the way of the speed horses to his outside.  PASS.

#7, Exaggerator (3-to-1):  TVG is offering a 5-to-1 guarantee on win bets on this horse, but I fail to see the value.  I loved this horse in the Haskell, but this one's proving that he loves the wet going, so dry conditions leave a question mark for the Travers.  For my money he's the classiest of the bunch, and a mile-and-a-quarter is no concern, but I'm using him strictly "underneath" as he's only 2-of-8 lifetime on fast dirt tracks and I think that, eventually, a grueling 3-year-old campaign catches up with him in the stretch.  Prognosis: makes a big late charge but flattens in the stretch to finish 2nd, behind My May Sam; will use in every "underneath" combination.

#8, Destin (10-to-1):  Similar to Governor Malibu, in my opinion.  Consummate hard-knocker who will find himself near the lead but start to back up late.  I'm sticking to my story that trainer Todd Pletcher is a master at finding soft and winnable spots for his horses, as was the case with Destin's two stakes victories at Tampa Bay Downs this winter. Since then he's 0-for-3, including an easy run in the Belmont where he got nosed late by Creator.  The Jim Dandy was another unimpressive performance.  Prognosis: 3rd or 4th at best.

#9, Gift Box (12-to-1) and, #10, Connect (4-to-1): I'm pairing the two other Chad Brown trainees here, since I think neither will hit the board.  This is a huge step up in class for the top two runners in the $100,000 Curlin Stakes on July 29, where only 7 runners competed.  I'd put them in the race flow around Destin and expect both to flatten.  PASS.

#11, Majesto (30-to-1): SCRATCHED; will not run in the Travers.

#12, Creator (15-to-1):  The morning line is simply awful, and Creator is trading at 6-to-1 on Public Handicapper.  That's a bit too short for my liking, but I would not talk you off betting this one as a winner of the Travers.  I was this close to making him my top selection and am willing to toss his stale effort in the Jim Dandy on July 30, where I think his slight hesitation at the top of the stretch was a bit underplayed in the postscript to Laoban's shocking win.  I could see him rolling late in the stretch and will use him, similar to Exaggerator, "underneath".  Prognosis: Top 3 finisher.

#13, Laoban (15-to-1):  I view the Jim Dandy score as a bit of an aberration and project he'll be greatly compromised by the wide post position.  Until he proves he can stalk a pace, I think Jose Ortiz has no option but to gun for the early lead and hope he can dictate tempo again.  Prognosis: Leads for about three-quarters of a mile in 1:09-1:10 and wilts.  PASS.

#14, Gun Runner (10-to-1):  Distance should not be a problem, but I just think he got some great "trips" in his graded stakes wins earlier this year and is a cut below the top here.  I might have used him with an inner draw in the Travers but the 13 hole is a bear and I am reluctant to use.  PASS.


Possible winners: 3, 7, 12
Underneath horses: 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 12
Pass: 5, 6, 9, 10, 11 (scratch), 13, 14


NJ Horseplayer's selections ($60 bankroll):

Race 8: $1 Pick 4 -- 6 over 1, 7, 8, 10, 11 over 6 over 3, 7, 12 = $15 total
(I will single Mohaymen in the Kings Bishop, as I think he's going to be a fabulous 1-turn horse at 7 furlongs to a mile distance, as well as Flintshire in Race 10).

Race 10: $2 daily double 6 (Flintshire) with 3, 12 = $4 total

Race 11:
$5 Win-Place: 3 (My Man Sam) = $10 total
$1 Exacta Key Box, 3 with 1, 7, 12 = $6 total
$1 Exacta Key Box 12 with 1, 3, 7 = $6 total
$0.50 Trifecta: 3, 12 over 1, 3, 7, 12 over 1, 2, 7, 8, 12 = $11 total
$0.10 Superfecta: 3, 12, over 3, 7, 12 over 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 12 over 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 12 = $8 total

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Perfect Conditions For An Exaggerator

Mother Nature was unkind to a business surely in need of some luck, but from a handicapping perspective the sloppy track offers an interesting puzzle for bettors of the 2016 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

In a quality 6-horse field that trumps the overall competitiveness of 2015's coronation of American Pharoah, one could make a case for all of Sunday's competitors for top prize in a race that caps back-to-back days of 3-year-old showcases; yesterday, maiden Laoban won the Jim Dandy at 27-to-1 over the likes of Belmont winner Creator and top-shelf horses Destin, Mohaymen and Governor Malibu, and so the division appears wide open.

Unfortunately I'll be watching from home -- not because of wimpiness over getting wet but because my son's got the nastiest of stomach viruses now on day 3 -- but Exaggerator is my selection, and I think I can get 3-to-1.

Exaggerator ranged from a generous 7-to-2 and 4-to-1 on the Public Handicapper odds board over a 6-hour sample through publishing time, which to me represents a steal for a Grade 1 winner who is 3 of 4 in the off going and should appreciate today's moist conditions.  

I envision a repeat scenario of the 2016 Preakness Stakes.

This time, favorite Nyquist draws further inside (he's in Post 1 for the Haskell), again prompting jockey Mario Gutierrez to gun for the lead and push anticipated pacesetters American Freedom and Awesome Slew into wide trips into the backstretch, which in my view compromises the chances of all three and sets the stage for Exaggerator to tuck in along the rail, save ground, and gobble up ground in the stretch for a $600,000 winner's share.

Here's my quick synopsis on all six competitors (morning line odds in parenthesis).

  1. Nyquist (6-5): Freshened after a very game and presumably taxing Preakness, where he finished third off a two-week turnaround from winning the Kentucky Derby.  The questions become whether he takes to the off going as in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, where he won in a wire-to-wire fashion on a damp track, or if Mario figures he's just got the best horse and is willing to cede the early lead to another pacesetter and stalk the leaders. 
  2. Sunny Ridge (20-1): Owned by Monmouth Park executive Dennis Drazin and a horse that I loved at the National Handicapping Championship in late January but who has not raced since a lackluster fourth in the Gotham Stakes in early March at Aqueduct.  I would have given this horse serious consideration if he had a race to prep for the Haskell, but even the long-shot player in me sees Sunny Ridge as merely an outlier, even considering an extremely game second-place finish to Exaggerator in a wet Delta Jackpot in late-2015.
  3. Awesome Slew (15-1): A horse with top local connections but who was merely so-so in two Grade 3 races and should be the longest shot on the board but will be an underlay (currently 11-to-1 on Public Handicapper) because of the bettors' respect for jockey Paco Lopez.  I project that Paco will roll the dice and gun for the lead, considering that this horse's two wins were sprints, but figure he'll maybe last for three-quarters before fading to last.
  4. Gun Runner (4-1): The "in" selection for about half of the public handicappers that I follow, but I see risk in the current 2-to-1 odds on Public Handicapper and would use this horse under Exaggerator and American Freedom in trifectas and superfectas.  Also, his third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby is a bit overplayed, in my view, and I just think he'll get squeezed by the competitors to either side, then be left with much ground to make up late. 
  5. American Freedom (3-1): Haskell killer Bob Baffert trains an upstart here who I think has a legitimate chance to win at an overlay.  American Freedom is a late bloomer who did not make his debut until April, but has two lower-level stakes wins already, including a really gutsy win in the Sir Barton Stakes (see below) that signals his courage could be an asset in the Haskell. 
  6. Exaggerator (5-2): Expect this one to come rolling late and win at a decent price.  On a dry track, I might have had a different opinion, but for my money the wet going is a huge plus.

The way I'd play it is Exaggerator over American Freedom and Nyquist in the exacta and trifecta, then include Gun Runner and Sunny Ridge in the third and fourth slots. Best of luck!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

2 Free NHC Seats, Tour Points Up For Grabs In Del Mar Online

"Cool As Ever" is appropriate branding for a free NHC-focused handicapping contest offered by Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and that gets underway with Friday's start of the prestigious summer meet.

NJ Horseplayer all about feeding
the Pokemon GO frenzy; $100 to
win on Pikachu & Ash
In 2014, I qualified for the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) through this contest by virtue of a second-place finish over 4,000-plus contestants, so I can attest to its value, especially for lower-budget players or those curious about playing the handicapping contest circuit but hesitant to take the cash bankroll plunge.

It's a free spin (Del Mar even provides past performances for each day's race), so there's no better time to sign up than now.

Registration closes on Friday.

Make no bones about it, this is a difficult contest to win, but at no out-of-pocket cost, it's one certainly worth playing, especially for NHC Tour members since Tour points are awarded to the Top 10% of finishers.  (On the latter, I picked up Tour points in 2015 via the (separate) November contest, so signing up here can only help those trying to qualify for the NHC by accruing Tour points.)

The premise is simple -- build the highest bankroll by Labor Day -- as are the rules:
  • Make at least 20 mythical win, place and/or show wagers of $100 (the daily bankroll). 
    • Del Mar selects one race per day, generally that afternoon's feature.
  • Enter selections before the post time listed on that day's contest race. 
  • The goal over the course of the 39-day meet is to make as high a profit as possible.
    • A successful $100 straight "win" play on opening day on a 10-to-1 shot would, for example, put you atop the leaderboard at $1,000 ($22 win mutual x $50 minus $100 bet).
    • A losing $100 wager puts you at -$100; 5 days of losing $100 bets = minus $500.
  • The win "cap" is 30-to-1 (i.e. $3,000 of notional winnings).
  • Starts Friday, July 15 and ends on Monday, Sept. 5.
  • Top 2 finishers get 2017 NHC seats plus a $1,000 travel and hotel stipend.
  • Top 50 finishers receive prizes (TBD),
  • NHC Tour points to the Top 10% finishers.

Keys To Success

Hitting some long-shots is a necessity.  In the year I finished second, my $7,575.00 bankroll was about $800 below the winner but $1,125 ahead of the third-place player.  Other season-ending leaders had $6,500 (2015) and $5,068 (2013) for the summer contest, and $7,870 in the 2015 fall contest -- extremely solid returns on investment. 

If you have the time to make your pick closest to post time, seek value.  In the 2014 contest, I hit "cap" horses (39-to-1 and 29-to-1), but these were generally totally dismissed by the betting public (contest odds and mythical payouts shift as they would with real-money wagers).  In one such win, Meinertzhageni was an 8-to-1 morning liner who drifted up to 29-to-1 at post time.

Remember that California bettors hammer the favorites.  If you do not watch the California circuit that much, be aware that your 5-to-2 morning line favorite from trainers Bob Baffert or Phil D'Amato will be bet down to 3-to-5 by post time.  See "seek value" just above.  Either play another horse where there's more value or just skip the race if you cannot make the case for a rival.  Recall that you need to "bet" just 20 races to qualify, so a one-day pass at least sustains your bankroll. 

Avoid "chasing."  Say you end this coming weekend 0-for-3 and tied for last at minus $300.  Your inclination might be to ditch rational handicapping and take fliers on bombs in hopes of hitting one at the 30-to-1 cap.  Remember that, with a $100 daily bankroll, you can make up a lot of ground on the field with back-to-back 5-to-1 and 8-to-1 winners that make sense to play.  Stay patient.

Stick to "win" bets.  The spreadsheet on my September 2014 season recap taught me that I left money on the table in splitting my $100 bankroll into $50 win and place rather than going full bore with $100 to win on each day's selection.  Now, if you're way ahead of the pack in late August and are looking to sustain bankroll, I would endorse the more-conservative strategy or sticking to the sidelines.  Otherwise, $100 win is the way to go to move more quickly up the leaderboard. 

Use the contest for practice.  The chances of a Top 2 finish are slim, so take advantage of the free past performances, access to free race video and replays (via to increase your contest handicapping and playing skills. 

Have fun, and see you at the finish line!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Creator In The Belmont; Key With Exaggerator, Suddenbreakingnews

Two horses can win the 2016 Belmont Stakes, in my opinion -- #11 Exaggerator (9-to-5) and #13 Creator (10-to-1).

Unlike the Preakness Stakes, where I identified the top three finishers but foolishly did not wager a trifecta box that paid $70+ for a $1 base wager, I will likely use those two with #4, Suddenbreakingnews, in Saturday's Belmont.

Creator is my top selection.

Photo credit:
You'll widely hear that closer-types generally rate poorly on the Big Sandy and it's difficult to make up lots of late ground on a deep track where recent winners have been within just a few lengths of the leaders, but I'm a bit of a contrarian.

For my money, the Belmont field just isn't strong outside my top two marks. 

As I see it, the pace will be relatively hot, and it begins from the middle of the starting gate with #6 Gettysburg and #7 Seeking the Soul, both at 30-to-1, rushing to the front.  

Todd Pletcher's two runners, #2 Destin (6-to-1) and #5 Stradivari (5-to-1), join the fray, and in my opinion neither is capable of getting the mile and a half and both are overhyped.  Destin beat lesser at Tampa Bay Downs this winter and Stradivari looked one-paced and barely held on for fourth against Lani in the Preakness, and Lani (#10) to me is way better value at 20-to-1 to at least hit the board.

Exaggerator will sit right behind, and I expect Creator to be slightly more forwardly placed than during his efforts in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby; the latter of which showed his mettle as he ran from 14 lengths off the pace to gun down a good field that included Suddenbreakingnews, who is 10-to-1 on Saturday with an interesting rider change to Mike Smith, two-time Belmont winner.  

Here are some bullet points on each runner, and I'll cap my analysis by listing runners I anticipate will finish either first through fourth.
  • #1, Governor Malibu (12-to-1): improving form, but inside draw, little gate speed, and a disinterest for passing foes on the gallop out tell me his ceiling is third or fourth at best only with a clean ground-saving trip.
  • #2, Destin (6-to-1): not a huge fan; should be well-placed, but the best horse he beat this year (Outwork) barely beat a maiden (Trojan Nation) in the Wood Memorial, and the third-place runner in the Tampa Derby (Star Hill) is 20-to-1 on the Belmont Stakes undercard.  Pass.
  • #3, Cherry Wine (8-to-1): backers note the second-place effort in the Preakness, but recall that last year's Preakness runner-up (Tale of Verve) did zilch after that race and, here, Cherry Wine's still a horse without a stakes win; best win was vs. optional claimers. Fourth is the ceiling.
  • #4, Suddenbreakingnews (10-to-1): interestingly gets jockey Mike Smith, who won the Belmont at double-digit odds in 2010 (Drosselmeyer) and 2013 (Palace Malice); only concern is that this horse has shown zero early speed in any of his 9 lifetime races.  Ceiling is second if Smith works out a good trip and can avoid trouble; should hit the board.
  • #5: Stradivari (5-to-1): Pletcher's second runner and not much different, in my view, than counterpart Destin; will press the pace but stamina is my concern. Pass.
  • #6: Gettysburg (30-to-1): Worth using "underneath" on trifecta and superfecta tickets; perhaps gets brave on the lead, and note that he broke his maiden at a mile-and-an-eighth...not Belmont-long, but video replays show some gutty front-end work;  Fourth, at best.
  • #7: Seeking the Soul (30-to-1): Pace-setter trying winners for the first time; reach. Pass.
  • #8: Forever d'Oro (30-to-1): Another trying winners for the first time; a bigger reach. Pass.
  • #9: Trojan Nation (30-to-1): At least #7 and #8 won a race; Trojan still a maiden. Pass.
  • #10: Lani (20-to-1): Quirky horse, but his late run and gallop out in the Preakness tell me this son of Tapit is still developing.  One that could come from way out of the clouds and hit the board; using third and fourth on my tickets.
  • #11: Exaggerator (9-to-5): A LOT going on here, especially with jockey Kent Desormeaux shuttling back to Belmont out of alcohol rehab specifically for this race.  That doesn't concern me, but the question becomes race tactic and whether this one's a mudder or can win big on a dry surface.  I sense that Exaggerator will sit within 4-5 lengths of the leaders down the backstretch and look to turn it on into the far turn and gut out a victory over the late-closing types.  Exaggerator's Delta Jackpot effort in November gives some clue of the trip I anticipate -- let the speed go for a bit, then turn on the jets and hope to have enough in the tank.  For my money, there's no middle ground; Exaggerator either finishes Top 2 or off the board, with Desormeaux using discretion on whether the horse feels energetic enough to win. If not, we're looking at a Big Brown-type underperformance and unhappy supporters. 
  • #12: Brody's Cause (20-to-1): Horse's two wins outside the maiden ranks were at Keeneland, so maybe a bit of horse-for-course angle at play here; otherwise do not like to see a horse get a 1-mile workout and then come back with a so-so sprint workout a week later (sort of my runners' philosophy where you use distance runs to get quicker at shorter lengths).  Will be running late; minor spoils, maybe third or fourth.
  • #13: Creator (10-to-1): Toss the Kentucky Derby, similar to Suddenbreakingnews; sense he's an improving three-year-old with lots of upside and some pedigree for the distance. As I see it, the key will be whether jockey Irad Ortiz gets out well and tracks Exaggerator at all, and whether he saves or wastes ground down the backstretch; expect stalking trip and strong close ala Arkansas Derby to win, or bust goes NJHorseplayer. 
With a $100 budget, I might simplify and go a three-horse trifecta box (4, 11, 13) and key 11 and 13 atop 4, 11 and 13 for the exacta, then play a small superfecta ticket with runners in the spots below; anything at the 10-to-1 morning line also makes Creator a win bet and daily double prospect.
  • 1 -- Exaggerator (11), Creator (13)
  • 2 -- Suddenbreakingnews (4), Exaggerator (11), Creator (13)
  • 3 -- Governor Malibu (1), Suddenbreakingnews (4), Lani (10), Brody's Cause (12), Creator (13)
  • 4 -- Governor Malibu (1), Cherry Wine (3), Suddenbreakingnews (4), Gettysburg (6), Lani (10), Brody's Cause (12), Creator (13)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Mom's On Strike in the Black-Eyed Susan, Nyquist in Preakness

"Value" is a term revered by many horseplayers and public handicappers, but even as a fan of long-shots sometimes the "free square" is the best value in multirace wagers.

Such was the case two weeks ago, where I keyed long-shot Shagaf in my Derby wagers but still came out ahead in hitting back-up Oaks-Derby double and Derby trifecta bets by using Nyquist as well.

The Black-Eyed Susan/Preakness double poses a similar scenario, where Nyquist appears to be a shoe-in to go for the Triple Crown in three weeks in the Belmont Stakes.

Save for Cherry Wine, the "new shooters" (non-Derby horses) are unappealing, and with Exaggerator 0-for-4 against Nyquist, he's an underneath horse on my tickets until proving otherwise.

Regardless of conditions, Nyquist is the classiest 3-year-old of the bunch and both can handle a wet track (Saturday's forecast for Pimlico is grim) and either win on or just off the pace.

Drawn inside the "need-the-lead" types, I sense Mario Gutierrez can use Nyquist's tactical speed to either place forwardly or force the outer flow even wider out on the track, similar to Victor Espinoza's astute ride in California Chrome's 2014 Preakness victory, and make it to the finish line first.

Nyquist will be a "single" for me in allocating a small bankroll to the Friday-Saturday card.

Photo courtesy of
Track Philosopher
In terms of playing the Black-Eyed Susan/Preakness double, I will make a $10 straight double, identifying Mom's On Strike (#14) as a very playable long-shot in the Black-Eyed Susan and pairing her with Nyquist (#3).

Contrary to my view that the Derby runners in Saturday's Preakness will maintain their form against middling rivals, I have doubts about the two Black-Eyed Susan favorites (based on first odds) winning -- Land Over Sea (#3, 2-to-1) and Go Maggie Go (#5, 5-to-2).

Cathryn Sophia exposed these horses in the Kentucky Oaks as a lesser cut, in my opinion, and the short turnaround (two weeks) between Grade 1 stakes races poses the potential that the odds maker's choices could fall flat on Friday afternoon (4:50 p.m. ET post time; NBCSN coverage starts 3 p.m.).

In a 14-horse (scheduled) field where two runners have yet to win a race and a third won twice exclusively by disqualification, the Black-Eyed Susan screams long-shot.

Mom's On Strike makes sense at 15-to-1

The primary concern is that Friday represents Mom's first race against winners -- the equivalent of winning your club pro championship in golf or tennis and next finding yourself in match play versus Jordan Spieth or Roger Federer.  The jump from "maiden" victory to Grade 2 stakes is huge, but video replays suggest this horse has a world of hope to pick up the pieces late on Friday.

And none of the opponents are of the caliber of Messrs. Spieth or Federer.

A lightly-raced filly, Mom's On Strike got her first victory in her second lifetime race at Oaklawn Park on April 16 and stalked a slow pace before wearing down the leader.  The speed figures were nothing to write home about, but her prior effort on debut at Fairgrounds on March 17 was far more impressive and telling, in my opinion.

Mom's On Strike ran third that afternoon against eight other non-winners in a six-furlong sprint, but she was bumped very hard a half-dozen times out of the gate and settled so far back before missing a second-place finish by a neck.

The winner of that race came back with a decent effort against a good allowance field at Keeneland, beaten by a horse from trainer Joe Sharp's barn; Sharp is the trainer of Mom's On Strike.

Generally I am not a big "gallop out" proponent, but the race replay gives a clear indication that the horse wanted to continue running, as evidenced on April 16, and could prove a late factor in a Black-Eyed Susan where I sense the pace will be modest and no one else jumps off the racing form.

To recap, here's where I'm likely to wager on the Black-Eyed Susan:

  • $10 Black-Eyed Susan-Preakness double: Mom's on Strike (14) with Nyquist (3)
  • Black-Eyed Susan exacta and trifecta box key: Mom's on Strike (14) with Dothraki Queen (2), Land Over Sea (3) and Go Maggie Go (5)
Consistent with my Derby handicapping, here's a list of positions where I think certain horses could finish first through fourth, but anticipate maybe just a small trifecta or superfecta wager and reserve judgement on Saturday's forecast before determining bankroll; my range is $50-$100 in total.
  • 1 -- Nyquist (3)
  • 2 -- Cherry Wine (1), Exaggerator (5)
  • 3 -- Cherry Wine (1), Exaggerator (5), Fellowship (10)
  • 4 -- Cherry Wine (1), Exaggerator (5), Lani (6), Collected (7), Fellowship (10)

Friday, May 6, 2016

Cathryn Sophia in the Oaks, Shagaf in the Derby

I know everyone has been waiting for the obscure blogger from Central New Jersey to post selections for the two big races this weekend.

Cathryn Sophia is a steal at a 9-2 morning line in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, to be run at a mile-and-an-eighth Friday at Churchill Downs at 5:49 p.m. 

Just about every "expert" that I follow and respect has panned Cathryn Sophia, saying she was exposed as a "one-turn" (sprint type) horse in the Ashland Stakes on April 9 at Keeneland, where she finished third by half a length.  

I, on the other hand, recognize that the Ashland was her first try in a race involving two turns (her first one-mile race was just one turn), and think she benefitted from the experience, both in terms of a slight check into turn one and that maybe she's averse to the whip; she seemed to shy a bit after jock Javier Castellano tapped her in the stretch as she appeared to flatten just a bit.   Her hand-ride and stalking tactics in previous starts suggests, in my view, that post 12 today is a benefit and she's simply the most talented filly in the field.

In my Oaks-Derby wagers, I will use Cathryn Sophia and Rachel's Valentina (#11, 7-to-2 morning line and the only other horse I think can win the Oaks), with three horses -- Shagaf, Nyquist and Gun Runner.

Shagaf (#16, 20-to-1 morning line) remains my top selection and betting key.  

Contrary to popular opinion about Shagaf as too slow (based on past "speed" figures) or inferior based on his Wood Memorial effort on April 9, my view is that trainer Chad Brown knew the horse had a Derby spot locked up after winning the Gotham Stakes in March and used the Wood to experiment with tactics.  

The replay validates this logic.  After a suspect start and getting hemmed in on the rail, jockey Irad Ortiz settled Shagaf about 10 lengths off the speedy front-runners in the backstretch, but it's easy to see the horse was moving easily, even in the face of kickback of mud, before Ortiz rode Shagaf up on the heels of others and had to put on the brakes,  Simply, the horse was asked to do too much throughout the race and simply wilted in the homestretch.

Any person who has competed in a road race knows, too, that it's hard to stop from a full head of steam and restart again on a dime. especially three-quarters of the way through the race.  My call is that Shagaf simply lost all momentum.  I am more confident in the horse, too, with jockey Joel Rosario aboard and am just as bullish on trainer Chad Brown as I was back in January when submitting my Derby futures wager on Shagaf.

In the Kentucky Derby, I love his draw; post #16 is to the inside of the auxiliary gate and finally provides Shagaf with a good stalking position off the early speed.  

Ignore the speed figures; this one has faced just about every scenario, even modest trouble in the Gotham, and so I think he is simply battle tested and has experienced adversity already, which is optimal in a 20-horse stampede.

I'm bullish on Shagaf and will use him with 3-to-1 favorite Nyquist, who also gets an advantageous post and is perceived as a need-the-lead type but showed in the Breeders Cup Juvenile he can stalk.  

I also like 10-to-1 Gun Runner a bit, if for no other reason than he's a proven stalker who should get a rail trip and run the least amount of ground, breaking from post #5 with zero speed to his inside and the "speed" horses flanked to his outside.

Rather than a "here's how I bet," here's a list of the positions where I think certain horses who could finish first through fourth.  I'll key Shagaf and use Nyquist as a backup and assume he finishes in the top two or well out of the money, then include closer types to round out the top four.
  • 1 -- Nyquist (13), Shagaf (16)
  • 2 -- Gun Runner (5), Nyquist (13), Shagaf (16) 
  • 3 -- Creator (3), Gun Runner (5), Exaggerator (11), Shagaf (16)
  • 4 -- Suddenbreakingnews (2), Creator (3), Mo Tom (4), Gun Runner (5), Exaggerator (11), Shagaf (16)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Churchill Being Churchill

The casino operator that, on the side, also happens to run thoroughbred racetracks and hosts the industry's most coveted stakes race, and whose stock has more than tripled in value since late 2011, apparently has nothing better to do than foster ill will during Kentucky Derby week.

Churchill Downs, fresh off record-high quarterly revenue and reversal to a $2.8 million profit, and about to unveil to customers on Derby weekend $18 million of renovations to its private suites, has prevented my ADW (TVG/4NJBets) from carrying the Churchill feed thus far this week.

In trying to watch replays on Tuesday night of that afternoon's card to observe potential track bias ahead of Saturday's Run for the Roses, I noticed race replays were unavailable on 4NJBets.

Apparently, the live feed from Churchill, as well as 4NJBets' use of the TVG2 live stream, also were blocked on Tuesday (and appear to be on Wednesday).

Upon contacting 4NJBets customer service, I received a vague "Churchill Downs has suspended our permission to live stream or provide race replays."

...or the Horseplayers
Strictly a guess, since Churchill's corporate news page is devoid of an announcement and I could not find media confirmation elsewhere, but it appears that racing fans, yet again with Churchill Downs, may be at the short end of a simulcast feed dispute.

Recall that, last summer, New York's OTBs dropped the Churchill simulcast feeds (covering other CDI-owned properties such as Arlington Park).  The Mid-Atlantic Cooperative has been at the center of similar disputes.  A few years back, I encouraged (successfully) Monmouth Park to ditch Churchill Downs from one of its spring handicapping contests as a result of a simulcast feud, arguing that MP should not support money going into Churchill's parimutuel pool.

Churchill Downs in its latest 10-Q filing with the SEC did not break out first-quarter revenue or profitability derived from its simulcast signal; and although I recognize the inherent leverage of that feed as a revenue source, it is increasingly obnoxious to cut off the signal to handicappers, especially during the week of its single biggest event.  (The company's 2015 annual report -- in a year where revenue surged 49% to $1.21 billion and net income approached $4 per share -- merely lists "simulcast and ADW receivables" of $14.8 million on its financial statements.) 

The assumption, then, is that simulcast revenue is chicken feed and a loss leader in the big picture.

Blocking the simulcast and replay feed to ADW customers is just another example of why, for the second straight year, I will exclusively wager on Saturday's Derby and no other race at Churchill Downs properties the other 364 days of the year.

The company can afford grandiose expansion of its flagship track for high-end Derby clientele and, most recently, $25 million expansion of a casino in Maine, but otherwise seems to care less about daily simulcast users, similar to its treatment of a Hall of Fame star at the 2014 Derby.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Honing In On A Tour Championship

As I languish toward the bottom of the NHC Tour standings in the wake of awful performances to start the 2016 handicapping contest campaign, my friend Eliot Honaker from NHC 16 is on fire thus far, locking up the maximum two berths to NHC 18 next January and just 630 points off the Tour points standings lead.

The winner of the year-end Tour points standings receives a $75,000 cash prize and automatic qualification into NHC 19 in January 2018; plus, Eliot already has a good jump on the field on the first-half standings prize of $10,000 cash or $10,000 entry into the Breeders Cup Betting Challenge that goes to the first- through fifth-place leaders as of July 31.

Even from the sidelines, I check in on live online handicapping contest competition to gauge how friends are faring in contest play, and on February 13 on I found "Eliot H" of Louisville, KY far atop the leaderboard of that afternoon's NHC qualifier and happily saw him cruise to victory.

Little did I know as my professional and personal schedule gave me no time for voyeuristic pursuits over the next five weeks that Eliot ran roughshod over competitors in three more online handicapping contests, finishing second in the March 19 event to lock up his second NHC 18 berth and picking up 3,000 points in two other online tournaments to tally 10,299 thus far.

Eliot came out guns ablaze after missing out on NHC 17, and so I wanted to catch up with him to discuss not only his recent success, but to glorify his pursuit of the Tour championship as a guy who's not a full-timer on the circuit, but rather a full-time job in sales for an investment firm and is married with two boys, ages 6 and 3.

Eliot & Sarah Honaker at
the '15 Travers
Perhaps there are some tidbits from our discussion below that other weekend players can find valuable.

NJ Horseplayer: Eliot, clearly you've taken no prisoners since missing out on NHC 17.  Is there something new in your diet...spiking your coffee or Kool Aid with something different this season?

EH: Nothing new in the diet, although I could use one. I have been more disciplined in my approach. Over the holidays I started watching videos of races each night for that day's races of Santa Anita, Aqueduct and Gulfstream. Also I started taking trip notes and using the notes function in DRF Formulator. Also, checking Trakus each night to incorporate in my trip notes.  Actually when you wrote your blog last year (A Front-Runner To Vegas) after you qualified you had a piece on how a friend of yours said you reached too much in some of your prior contests.  I was guilty of this as well and said to myself just pick logical winners and go with what you think will happen. This sorta woke me up, so thank you Bill!  I was upset I wasn't able to make it back to the NHC last year so I was dedicated to getting back!

NJ Horseplayer:  Take me back to Valentine's Eve.  I took a peak into that afternoon and saw you atop the leaderboard with 5 of 7 winners early, including a $29 winner.  You were far ahead of the pack from the jump.  What were the keys to wrapping up your first berth to NHC 18?

EH:  I got out to a great start and really stayed the course.  In the past I have reached for my B's and C selections too soon if I was behind, but getting off to a great start was vital to my confidence. When I got the tweet from you I knew I was close to clinching it.  I couldn't believe it and I was pumped to be going to back to Vegas!

NJ Horseplayer:  As if one berth wasn't enough, you picked up 3,000 more NHC Tour points in subsequent and DRFBets contests, then a second NHC 18 berth with a second-place finish on again on March 19, but with a slightly different tactic, yes?  A near-capper in the 10th contest race and a shorter price in the finale...

EH:  I thought, well, I am clearly playing well, so I should play as much as I can, so I played in the weekend tournaments.  In the NHCQualify tournament for my second seat, I really like the new race flow feature in the DRF PPs, and it helped me take a closer look at the capper horse that day (Emotional Drive, Santa Anita Race 7).  It drifted up to 25 or 26-1, but I loved that horse and it won rather easily. I looked over at my wife and said, "damn, I may have another seat."  I really liked Cupid in the Rebel and even though he was a short price, I went with gut (I had a trip note and a good Trakus # on him in his prior race so I went with him.  I don't think my wife knew I could get another seat.
NJ Horseplayer: Now that you're atop the NHC Tour Leaderboard, how do you anticipate mapping out the duration of what's still a long handicapping contest season and your pursuit of the Tour points crown?

EH:  Unfortunately as I write this I fell to 2nd place.  Is your Blog like the Sports Illustrated cover curse?  I need to work on some live events and will play in the Keeneland Big One Gamble in April. I really look forward to it, but it will be a huge challenge as I expect to see the heavyweights and professionals there.  There a few other local live ones at Kentucky Downs and Indiana Grande that I may play in as well.  I love the contests, so I will play as much as I can.  I am just having a lot of fun and enjoying the ride!

NJ Horseplayer:  I still view the NHC as a rather insular theme, where a lot of track regulars still have no idea about the benefits of the circuit or membership; but have you been bombarded with more "press" or been asked to advocate more as a result of your resounding success in the early stages of this season? 

EH:  I have been on the DRF players podcast and really enjoyed it and love Pete's (Fornatale, of write-ups on a weekly basis.  I am all for promoting the contests as I think there are still a lot of handicappers that don't know much about it.
NJ Horseplayer: What type of handicapper do you consider yourself -- pace-focused, turf, sprint over route?

EH: I guess I am a hybrid, I have really tried to focus #1 on pace and I love Turf races and have had some big scores on them at Gulfstream and at SA (hit a 5K Pick 4 at SA a few weeks back) in the last few weeks. I love handicapping, as it is like solving a different puzzle every time you look at race. 

NJ Horseplayer:  As a guy like me with a full-time career and family, how do you go about rationing your time to be able to prepare for handicapping contests? 

EH:  Great question.  When the kids go to bed I print my forms and get to work.  It is tough and it will be tougher now that family will be getting more active with the weather getting nicer outside.

NJ Horseplayer:  And any new elements of your contest preparation that you wish to share? I know you've mentioned to me in sidebar a greater use of video replays, for instance. 

EH:  As mentioned prior, the notes function in Formulator has helped me tremendously, as has Trakus.  Another thing I did over the break was watch the Dan Illman DRF DVD on trip handicapping so I could watch replays and what to look for and this helped a lot. 

NJ Horseplayer:  In your view, what's been the single-most gratifying part of your success this season, and now that you've already locked up two NHC berths, will your dabble in new tactics or tracks, or tweak your preparation in any way? 
Accustomed to the winner's
circle (with Keen Ice); is an
NHC 18 win in the offing?!

EH:  Having 2 NHC berths before the end of the first quarter is a huge relief and makes me crave even more success. I consider myself a student of the game and will always try to learn about ways to improve my game and continue to soak up as much as I can.

NJ Horseplayer:  In closing, tell my readers about your experience as a horse owner. You were part of a pretty significant win last season if I recall and have a big prospect on the trail this season, yes?

EH:  I have been blessed to dabble in being a small partner in Donegal Racing and my first partnership experience was being a part owner of Keen Ice.  Living in Louisville and having a very small piece of a horse in the Kentucky Derby (finishing 7th) was an absolute dream come true. Getting to do the walk over from the barn to the paddock before the Derby was surreal. My wife and I were lucky enough (also) to attend the Travers, where arguably the greatest upset in horse racing history occurred when Keen Ice defeated AP (American Pharoah).  I love all aspects of it from the stable updates to attending the sales at Keeneland, it's truly a unique and rewarding experience!