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.
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.
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?!
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.
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 www.publichandicapper.com (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:
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.
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