Sunday, April 6, 2014

Luck Ran Dry

As I kinda thought might happen, I busted in yesterday's Simulcast Series Challenge #4, ending my modest two-contest winning streak (well not *winning* winning, but coming out a few bucks ahead and earning seats in the SSC final).

I went 0-10 on the day, which is crummy but not as bad as it coulda been -- I cashed out my $681.30 from SSC3 when I first arrived so I was feeling a bit flush, and I briefly considered buying two entries. I'm glad I didn't.

Whereas breaks went my way in SSCs 2 and 3, yesterday just wasn't my day. A series of early near-misses, each on horses right about 7-1, pretty much doomed me: Storm Off, who finished 2nd after missing the break in 4.5-furlong Keeneland baby-race opener (comment was "unprepared start" -- WTF Corey Lanerie?); I'm a Southern Diva, who lost by a 1/2 length in Tam2; Bluegrass Jam, who fell a neck and a head short in Tam3; and then Tricky Hat, who fell a neck short in Kee5.

I still had probably $40-$50 around midafternoon but the day just never had a good 'feel' for me. You have to have at least some breaks and close stuff go your way to make noise in these contests, so when I had four instances *not* going my way within the afternoon's first two hours, I heard the fat lady warming up.

Things indeed went downhill from there, as up-the-track finishes replaced close calls, and I started reaching for prices. My final bet of the afternoon was in the Wood, $10W on Schivarelli. He ran well to finish 4th at 16-1, but that dashed any hopes I had of making an improbable late run. The winner, Wicked Strong, was plenty playable at 9-1 and I may well have went with him if I had more bankroll, but at that point I was looking for double-digit prices. Probably didn't matter, as I can't say I would have had any winners in the few contest races after the Wood.

Anyway, I didn't get a 3rd seat to the April 26 contest but I sure as heck can't complain with 2. I'll have to work up some strategy between now and then.      

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Luck o' the Irish

Monmouth Park food is hardly magically delicious -- but I got friggin lucky in SSC3
I'm as likely as the next guy to moan about bad trips, tough beats, capricious stewards and the countless other vagaries that can befall a horseplayer.

But sometimes things just go your way. Exhibit A of plain ol' dumb luck was my experience at yesterday's Simulcast Series Challenge 3 at Monmouth Park.

I finished 7th of 298 contestants with a $681 bankroll. That plus $447 in prize money netted out to a +$900-and-change day, plus a second seat in next month's SSC Invitational.

I have only Bruno's workout reports to thank, really. My handicapping for this SSC series has been a three-legged stool of sorts: (listed in no particular order) Bruno's workout reports for the Gulfstream card; my own proprietary (patent pending) trainer-recency angle, which I find tends to work best at Tampa; and old-fashioned perusal of DRF past performances. But yesterday, the second two legs were essentially no-shows, leaving me with Bruno, who thankfully killed it with good skinny on Hot and Spicy, who won GP3 at 13-1 (I had $10W, $5P) , and Little Daddy, who won GP8 at 16-1 ($10W).

Fast forward to 5:45 pm, when there were two races left. I had a $274.50 bankroll after winning on H&S and LD but losing on 10 other bets, spanning six of the $10 variety, plus 2 $15s, 1 $20, and 1 $40 (Gamay Noir in Tam9).

I liked Centre Court in GP10 based largely on Bruno's info. I wasn't crazy about the 3-1 price but I figured it was just good enough. So I slapped down $174W, figuring if she lost I would have a Ben for a spec play in the finale.

Centre Court got an okayish trip before being fanned 7 wide into the stretch while making her move. She got the lead and barely, barely held on in a photo finish that was about as close as it could be without it being a dead heat. (Unfortunately the photo went the wrong way for not one but two contest brethren.)

In the last race I went $100W on 6-1 Gratitude, who opened up a too-long lead and burned out and finished 4th. The 6-1 Pletcher/Castellano winner was very playable but I probably liked it 3rd best, c'est la vie. I would have loved to bang up into the top 5 where the real money is, but I was more than happy staying in 8th.

So that was that, at the time I figured I had a reasonably (but not especially) lucky day with some good handicapping. After a lovely home-cooked meal of corned beef and cabbage with the NJHorseplayer clan, I headed north to Essex County.

It was only when I was home and reviewing stuff from the day that I realized just how lucky I was. The startling revelation was that Centre Court broke through the gate before the race. I TOTES missed that, as I guess I was chatting or somesuch. I'm a big believer in canceling bets when pre-race shenanigans happen, whether it be significant reluctance to load, or a jockey toss, or a gate break-through. Stuff like that just expends physical and mental energy needed for the race (someone who goes by o_crunk tweeted "Cheers to Centre Court for winning after breaking thru gate. Unscientific study of horses breaking thru gate last 24 mos - 22/402 $0.52 ROI"). And Centre Court's trainer even said post-race that his horses never run well after breaking through the gate.

So, I should have caught the gate break-through, and I should have ran up to cancel the bet. But because I missed it, the bet stood, and the bet won. I was essentially rewarded for not paying attention.

Now THAT is lucky.              


Friday, February 21, 2014


I had a good day this past Sunday at Monmouth Park's Simulcast Series Challenge #2. I goosed my $100 starting bankroll into $332 by day's end, good for a $132 net profit, 15th place (of 274 entrants), and a berth in April's SSC Invitational, which qualifies 2 of 80 for the NHC.

It was a good day (for a change), not a great day.

I went 5-for-15 in my wagers, and while I had no bombs to speak of (there weren't really any on the day), each was reasonably priced. My often-trusty trainer-recency angle helped land me on Bico Blanco, who paid $17.40 in Calder's 5th race; Quelch, who $11.80 in Tampa 6; and Chief Redneck, who paid $8.60 to place in Tampa 10. Bruno's workout report pointed me to Straight Town, who paid $19.60 in Gulfstream 9, and just some straightforward handicapping of a turf-route-to-dirt-sprint led me to Cowgirl Spirit, who paid $14.40 in Tampa 3.

My winners were spaced out so I was banging around the lower end of the 25-person leaderboard for most of the afternoon. My first 12 bets were of the $10W variety, before I hung a little fire with a $20WP bet on Chief Redneck. My luck was pretty decent, as aside from a missed break or two I saw generally clean trips, and Quelch actually finished 2nd but was the beneficiary of a disqualification that could have gone either way. (Unfortunately the DQ hurt my neighbor Paul Zerbst, who co-owned Onto Luck, the 1995 Cherry Hill Mile runner-up.)    

So heading into the last contest race, I had $342 and was in 15th place, a few hundred bucks or so away from getting paid (top 10 finish), and at some risk of falling out of the top 20. What to do? GP11 was a 13-horse field of maiden turfers, so it was wide wide open. I didn't have any real conviction, but of course when I looked I found some interesting stuff. Among others I liked Cinnamon Spice, a first-time starter trained by Chad Brown who went off at 16-1, as well as Lusaka, a seemingly safer Pletcher-Velazquez debuter who went off at about half those odds.

I typically go for broke in last-race situations, so my first inclination was to put down $150, or maybe even my whole bankroll of wax, on Cinn Spice or Lusaka. But I thought long and hard about it, and I did want to stay in the top 20, so I backed off. I ended up putting just $10P on Cinn Spice, kind of a weird bet but I guess I was thinking if he placed it would give me a few shekels. Cinn Spice ran decently but could manage only a non-threatening 3rd, and Lusaka did nothing.

You don't often root against your horse, but looking back maybe I should have, as the worst outcome probably would have been Cinn Spice winning at a $35.40 mutuel, which would have meant I missed an opportunity to win a contest by going conservative and turtling. But luckily things worked out okay, and I was happy to get out of there on the plus side, with an invitational berth in my back pocket, and without any haunting regret.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

'Meh' Start to 2014

I tried my hand at the Monmouth Park Simulcast Series Challenge #1 yesterday, with no real luck. I tied for last place with a $0 final bankroll.

The high (and low) lights:

-I had two winners, Didn't Take It ($12.60, GP6) and Long to Win ($13.80, Tam7). Both $10W. They got my bankroll up to about $120 something and $140 something, the latter being the days high-water mark.
-I never did make it onto the leaderboard which showed the top 25 of approx. 190 playas -- I'm guessing I topped out around 35th or 40th or something, not that it matters.
-I had tough-beat second-place finishes with Tie Dye (7-1, GP7), and Somali Lemonade (12-1, GP9). One of these two was a $20W bet, I forget which one but I think it was the latter. Hitting one or both of these could have changed the dynamic for me.
-the one notable my-fault miss was Beauties Honor, who paid $19.60 in Tam2. I totally "woulda" played that horse based on my trusty trainer-regency angle, but I had arrived at my seat not long before the race and I was still settling in and BSing with NJHorseplayer. *Thankfully* this miss happened early and given later results it most likely wouldn't have mattered if I had started the day with a $96 score. But it's still annoying and worth some self-flagellation, as there are plenty of exogenous factors that make these contests plenty tough, I don't need human error to make it more of an uphill climb.
-I had $102 at about 5 pm , with 4 contest races left. Not a great position, but it was some ammo to try to do something. But, I didn't really like anything the rest of the way and my stabs (Left Foot Slewie in tam10, Lucky Black in GP11) predictably didn't pan out.
-In my opinion you have to be lucky *and* good on any given day to make noise in these contests. I was reasonably good (but not great) on the handicapping / decision-making end, and while I wasn't
massively unlucky by any means, I wasn't especially lucky either. Middling ratings for both skill and luck ain't gonna do it.
-back in action at SSC #2 in six weeks. Also this year I'm hoping to blog more , yikes I only blogged 5 times last year.

Friday, September 20, 2013


Inspired by NJHorseplayer's recent post, I thought I'd slap up a few words to update my legions of readers. (Though perhaps some have gone elsewhere to read handicapping-contest nonsense in the 100 days since I last blogged. I may not be able to make this a paid subscription site after all.)

My recent play in handicapping contests can be summed up in one word: blech.

 When last sighted in cyberspace (June 11 blog post), I was touting my prowess in online feeders -- specifically, my 3-for-17 record in $26 HorseTourneys contests that award $240 credit to the top 10%. 3/17 was pretty killer outperformance versus 1/10.

But since then is where the 'blech' comes in -- I guess I shouldn't have bragged because I've gone 0/11 since, watering down my outperformance to a marginal 3/28, just a smidge better than a 3/30 record that would randomly be expected. And I'm 0/3 in the $240 events.

In my defense, I do the dinky contests largely for fun and as a low-cost way to scratch the itch. I generally do little or no preparation, and I've even been known to nod off intra-contest, lying on the couch with iPad on chest. But still, I've been following this game for long enough that I should have some decent value-added insights even on the fly, so I can't really use a lack of preparation as an excuse.

I've also dabbled in a couple DerbyWars contests -- feeders to their own bigger $ events or NHC qualifiers. Had a close-but-no-cigar or two, but no luck.

Nothing to write home about with live stuff recently. I was in contention with some ammo late in the Monmouth July contest, but the shots I took (three ~$80 win bets, as I recall) missed the mark. I finished mid-packish at Belmont in June, and NJHorseplayer's $4 final bankroll last weekend beat me by $4.

So with the year about 3/4 done, I haven't come close to qualifying for the NHC, and I have 0 NHC Tour points. As Dean Wormer said to Mr. Blutarski, "0.0."

But, no worries. I've been around long enough to know that fortunes change quickly, and an ice-cold stretch can give way to a hot streak in the blink of an eye. I'm not saying that'll happen for me, but I'll take a few more swings the rest of the year (some online stuff and probably Aqueduct live in November) and let the chips fall where they may.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

NHC: A Journey, Not a Destination

I read somewhere fairly that a high percentage of blog posts start with an apology for not blogging recently. I don't want to be a cliche and do that; instead I'll leave my opening to the presented factoid, and leave it to the reader to decide whether that constitutes an apology.

Despite my dormancy (at least on the blog -- I've been reasonably active on twitter), I'm still hangin' around (as the Counting Crows song goes) on the fringes of the NHC Tour scene.

Live contests have been slow, which is more a function of a lack of local offerings than anything else. I played all three legs of the NJHorseplayer-dominated Monmouth Park Simulcast Series Challenge earlier this year, with no luck (or skill, really). The calendar does pick up going forward, as I'm signed up for the Belmont contest June 22-23 (which I've come to realize is a serious freaking weekend of contest play), and then I'll most likely do Monmouth on July 7.

I have had some modest success online, specifically with feeders. I 'won' a $26, 37-player event this past Sunday, earning $240 in site credit. It was the 3rd $240 credit I've won this year out of 14 tries (I'm 2-for-11 on $26s and 1-for-3 on $52s), giving me a notional return on investment of +63%! Top that, bitches.

But unfortunately, I crapped out in the two $240 NHC qualifiers I played so far, so while my little feeder fun builds some confidence, at the same time it doesn't really count for much if my qualifying attempts continue to go for naught.

My one real change as an NHC Tour member this year is that I'm no longer paying attention to NHC points. I'm off that hamster wheel. Last year at around this time I found myself (kind of accidentally) around 50th in point standings, so I payed attention for most of the rest of the year, hoping to stay in the top 100 and back into an NHC seat. But that turned out to be a bit of a money pit, as I played a bunch of full-freight buy-in online qualifiers trying to chase points, which ultimately proved futile. This year, I'm not doing any full-freight buy-ins -- I find the dinky feeders to be fun enough and they sufficiently scratch the itch at a much lower price, and I still have NHC-qualifying hopes.

So if I win points I win points, but I'm not gonna care about points until maaaaaayybe the last week of the contest season and I'm sitting in 150th or something, then I'll relent and pull the trigger on a full-freight buy-in or two. But until then, I'll leave the points chase to the NHC Tour heavy hitters.    


Sunday, March 31, 2013

36 Minutes of Fame

Andy Warhol said everybody will be famous for 15 minutes. I exceeded that by 21 minutes yesterday, so I guess I can't be too depressed about my off-the-board finish at yesterday's SSC #3 at Monmouth Park.

 You see, I snuck onto the leaderboard after the Florida Derby (12GP), which went off at 6:24, and stayed there until after 13GP, which went off at 7:00. I was 25th on the 25-person board.

How did it all happen?

Well I lost my first 5 bets and my $100 starting bankroll was down to $50 when I put $10W on 8-1 Regalo Mia in GP9. That win -- my first in three contests this year, mind you -- put me at about $140 and back in the game.

I then lost a couple bets before slapping down $50W on Orb in the Florida Derby. He won nicely at almost 3-1, so I was living large with $252 and on the board with one race left. That's all I ask of these contests, to be in it with a shot late.

Alas, it wasn't to be. In the Gulfstream finale I liked 1 Transgression and 9 Town Flirt (in that order) going into the day, but I switched to 9, largely because trainer George Weaver won a race earlier on the card. I went pretty much all in, $200W and $52P.

But my (oftentimes) trusty trainer-recency angle didn't come through for me yesterday, as while Town Flirt ran well, she could only manage 2nd to -- who else -- Transgression.

I cashed out $140.40 on the day thanks to the place bet, better than $0 of course, but it was still a very empty fold of 20s. I 'woulda' probably landed in the top 5 if Town Flirt won at 9-2, also 'woulda' been way up there had I went with Transgression.

It's tempting to lament and beat myself up over switching from 1 to 9, but I'm not gonna go there. I made the best decision I could using all the information I had available at the time of the race. Every handicapper marks up PPs the night before, but I don't think anyone can argue that early picks should be set in stone.

Overall yesterday was pretty good for me in terms of what I could control -- process, strategy and risk management. This is in sharp contrast to SSCs #1 and #2, when I was pretty much abysmal in those areas. It's unfortunate that good process, strategy and risk management didn't produce a good end result, but c'est la vie. Happens sometimes.

So that's a wrap. This is the second year in a row I didn't qualify for the SSC invitational, after doing so in '10 and '11. Poor job me, but great job Monmouth park in pulling off the series with record numbers.

I will offer a bit of advice to the 58 non-NJHorseplayer entrants in the 60-entrant invitational. You cannot stop NJHorseplayer. You can only hope to contain him.