Monday, July 27, 2009


Man it has been a bad stretch for me in Monmouth's 'Survival at the Shore' contest, as I have dropped about 50 places in the standings since my last blog post and now stand in 242nd place. I'm very lucky to be still surviving though, as I had skin-of-my-teeth $3.60 and $4 days last Thursday and Friday before putting up a goose egg on Sunday, saved from elimination only by Talike Me's 2nd-place finish in a three-horse field. So despite how poorly my selections have been, I get the additional life preserver by virtue of surviving through yesterday, and I still have a puncher's chance.

I also took a crack at's free online contest on Saturday. I had a respectable showing, with chalky winners Sydney Road in Belmont's 7th ($4.50, $3.20) and Unbridled's Story in DelMar's 3rd ($5.20, $3.60), plus place payoffs with Coaching (6Crc, $5.40), Lexi's Bay (4AP, $7.20), Ten's Salty Sally (2DMR, $18), and Dumbledore (8AP, $5.20). Six placers out of 12 contest races is not bad, but my total $52.30 bankroll only got me 677th place (I'm not sure what the field size was, but I imagine it was north of 2,000). As I have said, winning a free online contest is a bit of a lottery-ticket proposition given the huge number of competitors, so you have to have an insane day to finish in the top 3. Respectable just don't cut it.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Last week was a tough one for me in Monmouth Park's 'Survival at the Shore" contest, as shit-ass $4.80 and $2.60 days on Thursday and Friday set the stage for an 0-fer on Saturday, when Mike's Kong, The Cognac Kid, and Our Girl Friday all failed to hit the board. So the good news is that I'm one of 319 remaining survivors. The bad news is that I'm making no progress in the standings, as 189th place and still ~$300 behind leader "ontherail" are not comfortable places to be with August drawing near.

But I'll keep plugging away. Losing the life preserver on Saturday means I'm "naked" this week, so I'm history if I have another day like Saturday. I need to be extra careful, avoid trying to be cute and hope to still be standing on Sunday night when the next (and final) life preserver is awarded.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What's Next?

With 2009 more than halfway over and my ticket to the 2010 National Handicapping Championship remaining just a figment of my imagination, I thought I'd look ahead and map out a tentative contest plan for the rest of the year. After all, despite my current paucity of discretionary income, I really need to take at least one more legitimate shot at making it to Vegas in January.

For starters, I will try my luck in's contest on July 25, as well as the NHC Tour event on August 29. However, both of these are free, online contests, so I'd put them in the same category as my ongoing quixotic quest to qualify via Monmouth Park's 'Survival at the Shore' free online contest -- that is, lots of entries and not much better than a lottery-ticket chance of winning.

As far as real, in-person, money contests, I'm thinking perhaps I will take a crack at the Philadelphia contest in October or the Aqueduct affair in November. I would normally do Monmouth's late-August contest, and they are sending six to Vegas, but this year they jacked up the ante to $600. Barring a big score between now and then, that will be a bit out of my comfort zone.

So I'm that's where I'm at -- (1) keep with the free online contests and hope I get lucky; (2) try one more real money contest; and (3) try more than one real money contest if funds allow. I'm kind of hunting big game with a popgun here, but maybe I will surprise myself.

And of course, I am always on the lookout for the latest and greatest horse betting system and Breeders' Cup odds.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Qualifier Q&A: Rich Nilsen

(This is the third of an ongoing RedRockorBust series profiling qualifiers for the 2010 National Handicapping Championship.)

Rich Nilsen, 38, qualified for the 2010 National Handicapping Championship courtesy of finishing 3rd in a Keeneland contest in April. Nilsen, of Lexington, Kentucky, spoke to RedRockorBust in a July 10 telephone interview.

RedRockorBust: You qualified for the 2010 NHC at Keeneland in the spring. Tell me about the day.
Rich Nilsen: It was pouring rain all day, just a miserable day. It was an unusual day and a disappointing card by Keeneland standards. This was a real money contest, sometimes in these contests you grind it out with a slow and methodical approach, and dive in when you have a good feel. But I didn't think there were any solid show bets on the entire card, so I thought I had to attack each race individually -- think to myself, "how can I take this $200 and make a profit?"

I liked a few horses Julien Leparoux rode, and he had a couple double-digit winners. But one of my key races was in the middle of the card, a horse named Final Count was exiting a key race at Gulfstream that was won by eventual stakes runner Afirmatif. There had been a few horses who came out of that race and ran well. Final Count was well-beaten by Afirmatif, he came in 10th, 14 3/4 lengths back, but he had legitimate excuses. So I thought there were a lot of positive factors. I played him to win and in exactas and trifectas, and he won at 17-1 with Rene Douglas aboard.

I kept cashing all day and was in 6th place heading into the last race. I figured I needed to make about $1,000 to break into the top 3 and qualify. In the last race, the horses I liked best ran 1-2. I had the exacta and trifecta. Leparoux rode the winner, a horse named Cross Village, he was 5-1 on the morning line but he went off at 13-1. I made a couple thousand dollars on the race, and ended up with about $5,200 from a starting bankroll of $1,800. I finished 4th, but one of the top 3 finishers had already qualified, so I got the spot.

RRB: What is your history in handicapping contests? Have you made it to the NHC before?
RN: I've been playing contests for more than 10 years. I have qualified for the NHC seven times. I finished 8th in the 2001 event after being a co-leader on the first day. That was my best performance -- $9,000 in total winnings. Other years I've finished mid-pack or up the track.

RRB: How long have you been playing the horses?
RN: I started playing horses in New York around age 7 when my dad used to take me. I watched the Harvey Pack show as a teenager. I then decided to go to the University of Louisville for their equine business degree. I have worked in the industry ever since, serving as director of marketing for, and previously for the account wagering sites BrisBET and I am currently the tournament director at both and

RRB: Will you approach the 2010 NHC any differently than your previous Vegas experiences?
RN: I'm going to try to treat it more like any other contest. I have "overthunk" the NHC in the past, putting too much time into it while trying to do too much. I'm not going to kill myself in the days leading up to the NHC event or at the event itself. A few years ago I would try to handicap every race at every track. I couldn't bear to think that maybe a $40 horse would come in at The Fair Grounds and I didn't have it because I didn't look at the race! But I think it's an impossible task to handicap every race at every track. I'll just watch how the tracks are playing, be familiar with who the hot jockeys and trainers are at each track, and hope that the cards I'm dealt are the types of races I excel at.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I made some more progress in the 'Survival' contest, ending the week in 201st place with a $575.50 bankroll.  There were a few tricky days last week, and a fair amount of the 412 remaining contestants lost their life preservers.  I didn't, so for now I ain't complainin'.

So I continue to make good progress but as I've been saying, I have a lot of work to do.  I'm $270 behind the leader, and the closer we get to the end, the more I will have to sacrifice the safety of the chalk and go for prices.      

Coming up next: Q&A with 2010 NHC qualifier Rich Nilsen.      

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I had another solid week in the 'Survival' contest, highlighted by a $46.50 day on Saturday ($41.60 from Corredor's Song) and the near-loss of my life preserver on Sunday (thankfully winner Laureate Conductor went off as the slight favorite in the Choice Stakes, rather than last-place finisher Final Count). I currently stand in 260th place with a $498.80 bankroll.

We still have two months' of racing to go, but I am starting to feel a bit antsy about whether I can ever catch up to the leader ("ontherail"), who is more than $300 ahead of me with a bankroll $804.50, and has not one but TWO life preservers. Surviving every day is great, but to have any realistic chance I will need to bring home some longshots AND have lots of people fall by the wayside on one or more days where the chalk fails. So we'll see what happens, one neat thing about this game is that things can turn on a dime -- the current third-place contestant ("brandypuppy") was just eliminated on Sunday.

Separately, I will not be participating in the Monmouth Park/Canterbury Challenge this Saturday, despite the allure of possibly winning one of three spots to the 2010 NHC. For one, I don't follow Canterbury one iota, and bigger than that, the $400 ante is a little too rich for my blood in these recessionary times.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


I was pleasantly surprised to learn that by virtue of surviving in Monmouth Park's 'Survival at the Shore' contest through Sunday June 28, I was awarded a bonus life preserver. To sum up my current situation, I am in 465th place, though about 130 people ahead of me are dead so I'm around 365th among 496 survivors; my bankroll of $403.10 is a full $300 behind the leader; and I'm one of about 400 survivors with one life preserver, with the other 96 or so having an enviable two.


-The bonus life preserver will extend my time in the contest, but obviously it will not help my chances vis a vis everyone else.
-The extended time (however long it lasts) promises to be funner, because ~500 people feels much more like a real contest than 5,200+.
-I reread the rules and I learned that this contest is not a true 'survival' contest, because the highest bankroll wins even if the highest bankroll is that of an eliminated player. In other words, say the contest is down to Player X and and Player Y: Player X has $1,000 and is eliminated on August 1o, while Player Y survives until August 20 and finishes with $975. If I understand the rules correctly, Player X wins even though Player Y was the real survivor.
-Nobody will be eliminated today, but I need another day or two where favorites lose and I have a decent pick or two. While I have outlasted more than 90% of the original contest signer-uppers, I won't consider this interesting in terms of having a viable chance to win until survivors are down to 200.
-I spend way too much time looking at and analyzing this contest.