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.

1 comment:

  1. Always enjoy your posts -- very insightful. My experience is that this would not have happened online as those hosts go out of their way to make sure the customer is informed and happy. The tracks -- not so much. And Churchill is the worst of the worst.
    Keep up the good work. Always appreciate the thoughts of a forward thinking punter.