Thursday, December 30, 2010

Early Musings on 2011 NHC Tour

I just signed up for the new (and improved?) 2011 NHC Tour. It will be my third year on the tour -- over the past two years I forked over a combined $200 and got back only one t-shirt. Yes, it was an expensive t-shirt.

I'm hoping the third time's a charm as far as qualifying for the National Handicapping Championship -- I definitely came the closest I've ever been in 2010, so perhaps a little better luck in '11 will put me over the hump.

The 2011 tour has been goosed -- the pot for the January 2012 event will increase to $2 million including a $1 million winner's share, up from $1.1 million and $500K for next month's contest. The field will rise to 500 contestants from 321, and the cost of joining the NHC Tour has been reduced from $100 to $45.

In a big-picture sense, I like to see the NTRA Tour expansion because it shows that the handicapping contest circuit is alive and well, even as the horse racing industry struggles mightily. This is no surprise to this NJ-based contest player: Monmouth Park contests have been consistently well-attended for years amid growing questions about that track's very survival, and the two NYRA events I played this summer sold out, with the full contest room and lines at the buffet providing a marked contrast to the tumbleweed blowing around the rest of the track.

However, more is not always better. I find that about 200 players in a handicapping contest is a sweet spot -- it's enough to make it interesting, very challenging, and potentially very lucrative, yet there aren't so many people that it feels like this funny commercial. And overall, the NHC Tour in recent years just felt like the right difficulty level in terms of making it to the Big Dance -- plenty challenging for full-timers, and super difficult for just a semi-regular weekend player like myself.

Going from 321 to 500 players is a huge increase, more than 50% in fact -- certainly it improves my chances to sneak in, and I hope the bigger NHC Tour is a success, but I also hope that the powers that be realize they may be fixing something that was not broken.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Another Year, Another Bust

Despite a fair amount of attempts and some close calls, once again I did not qualify for the DRF/NTRA Handicapping Championship (cue the violins). So I will not be at the Red Rock in Las Vegas on the weekend of Jan. 28-29; being that this blog is named Red Rock or Bust, I must therefore declare an official state of bust.

I apologize for being a lazy @$&*! and not blogging much this year (that's an understatement). I have no excuse. But I will offer a brief 2010 recap here and I hope to be more active in 2011.

While I did not qualify for NHC, I did have a decent year on the contest circuit. The highlight was definitely placing 5th of 219 in a February handicapping contest at Monmouth Park, which got me to the April invitational, earned me some pin money for subsequent qualifying attempts, and restored faith in my ability to compete in these things.

I got a run for my money in the April invitational, when I was actually on my way to Las Vegas as of 5:30 p.m. -- the problem was that there were still about 45 minutes and 4 contest races left (I faded). Similarly, I was on my way to Vegas as of about 4:50 p.m. on the day of Monmouth's big contest in August, but again I couldn't close the deal.

Another highlight was taking my show on the road (outside NJ, that is) for the first time -- I participated in NYRA contests at Belmont in June and Aqueduct in November. I finished in mid-pack in both events; did better in the AQU affair, where I shoulda woulda coulda made some noise if a couple photos went my way (including a 24-1 capper at Churchill Downs who lost by a head).

All told I think I played nine live contests this year: four early in the year at Monmouth, three during Monmouth's live meet, plus the two NYRA affairs. I generated a very small net profit: +~ $1,700 in the Feb. contest and ~$200 in two other contests, minus the entry fees of the others. I did fail to qualify for NHC, but I can never complain about breaking even or better and having a lot of fun in the process.

Big picture, I still can't say conclusively that I'm any better than other contest players. I figger I'm played in about 35-40 contests over the past seven years approximately, and I've placed in the top 10 twice. Using a roughly average contest field size of 200, that means an average player has a 1-in-20 chance of placing in the top 10, which is about what I've shown. But I've yet to qualify for the NHC, which is the ultimate prize -- I'll trade a couple dozen off-the-board contest finishes over a few down years for one shot at NHC glory anytime.

At any rate, what's in store for 2011? Who knows. If I'm still above ground and solvent, I'll most likely be taking semi-regular shots to qualify for the 2012 NHC, starting with a Jan. 15 event at Monmouth Park. There are changes afoot for the Big Dance, including a bigger pot, a significantly expanded field and a different dues structure for the NHC Tour. Regarding the blog, I hope to be more active, and may also collaborate in some manner with bitter NHC Tour rival William H.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mid-pack finish

I tried my luck at the Belmont Park handicapping contest this past weekend. Fairly serious stuff -- two days, $400 ante, top 3 qualify for Vegas. $40K to the winner, pretty good prizes for the top 10, but then just $600-$700 for 11-20, and everyone from 21st place on down (out of 221 contestants) busts completely. So, this contest is not for the very casual player nor for the faint of heart.

Long story short, I schlepped out from Essex County NJ to Long Island in the heat both days. It was a fun time and a good experience overall but I managed only a midpack finish -- one 5-1 winner (from 10 bets) on Saturday, one 6-1 winner (also from 10 bets) on Sunday. I was in 115th place after Saturday and finished in 116th place (how's that for consistent)! It was a thoroughly midpack finish, my comment line would probably be something like "evenly" or "no threat".

My best shot on Sunday was Farmer Jones,a 13-1 second time starter at Monmouth who had taken early money in his debut then acted up in the gate and didn't do anything. I put my big bet ($40) on him, he had a nice trip and came running late to overtake the 2-5 Pletcher chalk...but the only problem was that a 10-1 speed horse in front of me had forgotten to stop, so my horse only got second.

Had I won that (it was 3 lengths, not close, but still a nice pick) I would have finished in about 15th. Say I got Farmer Jones plus another 5-1 winner, I'm in the top 10; Farmer Jones plus another 5-1 winner plus a 6-1 winner, and I'm in the top 5. Now I know all that mumbo jumbo plus $2.75 gets me a transfer from Hoboken to New York on New Jersey Transit, I'm not saying I should have taken down the contest. Rather, my point is that there's not all that much difference between going 2-for-20 in bets (which I did, and got me home with lint in my pockets) versus going 5-for-20 (which could have earned me a nice check and sent me to Vegas).

At any rate, I live to fight another day.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Back in Action

After a two+ month hiatus from the handicapping contest scene I made my storied return yesterday at Monmouth Park, entering a $100 ($40 entry fee, $60 bankroll, top finisher qualifies for Vegas) event.

I started out strong with a $10W bet on Elite Class in the 3rd at Monmouth, who won to the tune of $24. At this point I was living large and loving life in fifth place with a $170 bankroll, but then as (too) often happens to me in these damn things, the wheels came off the bus. I didn't pick another winner all day (0-for-8), and finished in a multi-way tie for last place with a $0 bankroll.

My biggest shot was Close to the Edge in the turf sprint, I put $40W and $15P, horse went off at 34-1. He had lots of run late but this is the Monmouth turf course (speed highway) we're talking about here, so while his late run was pretty, it was too little too late and he only finished 4th (moved up to 3rd on a DQ), a length and a half back or so. Quite possibly on a fair-playing turf course, Close to the Edge wins, maybe at 20-1 (assuming he was overlooked yesterday partly due to the turf speed bias that everybody knows about by now), but that's just speculation. I also liked Bella d'Oro at 16-1 in the 7th race, but she had some sort of equipment problem coming out of the gate which finished her. I will definitely look for that horse next time.

I wheel right back this weekend in the Belmont contest, yes this Jersey player finally signed up for an out-of-town affair. It should be interesting at the very least.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ky Derby: a look ahead

So I hear there's some horse race or something or other coming up a week from Saturday?

No but seriously, I have liked Eskendereya since last fall (ahead of the curve as usual), but I will bet against him on May 1. I expect him to be way overbet (I guesstimate he'll go off at 9-5 in a 20-horse field), so there will be plenty of value elsewhere. I doubt I'll be betting to win, but in multi-race exotics I'll consider using Awesome Act, Stately Victor, and Rule, among others.

I'll be out in Phoenix for work next Thu-Sun and I should be free Sat. afternoon so I am planning to go to Turf Paradise to catch some live racing ($3500 AZ-bred claimers, anyone?) and for Kentucky Derby betting. I've never been to AZ so I am quite looking forward to it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Opportunity missed!

I liked Stately Victor yesterday. I didn't blog about it on here, unfortunately, but in e-mails sent to a friend (with the subject line stately victor) last Thursday April 8, I wrote:

"I may like him a bunch in the Bluegrass. No ML yet but I'm guessing he'll be reasonably priced as well, perhaps 6-1 ish."

Then I followed up with:

"geez I see stately is listed at 30-1. Guess I should look a little closer."

When he asked why I liked him, I replied:

"trips, mostly. That race he had from the 14 post last fall was a total throwout and he actually didn't run that bad. The GP turf was speed-favoring for much of the meet, at least what I saw, so I'm willing to give him passes for his recent races. So I just think his chances are nowhere near as bad as they look from the PPs -- Obviously he's gonna need to step up big-time on his figs, but as an early -year 3yo and with a surface change, its not entirely implausible."

So when my one highlighted horse going into a big contest day wins at 40-to freaking-1, uhhh...I probably should win the contest. But alas, I didn't. Here's my story, it's sad but true:

I couldn't pick my nose all afternoon. Lost 9 consecutive $20 bets. Mostly Kee, some GP and Aqu. No bombers, odds were mostly in 8/5 to 6/1 range, maybe a couple 7/1 to 10/1. Had a range of results -- a few I thought might win as late as deep stretch , a few were reasonably in the mix, and a few ran crummy. On the 25-person leaderboard I was mostly low 20s, then actually fell off the leaderboard (meaning bottom 5) - it was that kind of day. Meanwhile someone had apparently played >$100 on a 23-1 debut winner at Kee and was pretty much locked into first all day with about 2800-2900, so the race was essentially for second.

So with my $200 bankroll 90% depleted, I put my last $20 on Stately Victor, shocked that he was 40-1 (earlier in the day I had projected he'd go off 16-18 ish to one, 30-1 ML be damned), and lo and behold he wins going away and I vault from off the leaderboard into 2nd place with $822 in one fell swoop. Incredible. But it wasn't by much, there were probably 5-6 guys within $150 of me, 4-5 contest races left, and I had a big target on my back.
And alas, I went right back to my losing ways, dropped two more $20 bets, and I'm at $782 and in like 7th or 8th place, before the last contest race , the Kee finale. I say what the hell and go hell-bent for leather, put $500 W on the 1 horse (who was 9-2 when I bet him a few mins. to post, went off at 7-2) in an audacious attempt to take down the whole thing. The horse never really ran a lick tho, and I cashed out $282, up $82 on the day, a booby prize if there ever was one. Funny I'm almost certain that $500 was the most I've ever bet in a race, but it felt like monopoly money, the time between 530 (bluegrass) and 615 (last contest race) was so fast and furious, just a blur.

So that's my long and sordid tale. I'm kicking myself for not setting aside more than $20 for Stately Victor, obviously. I didn't stick around to see the final leaderboard, I guesstimate 2nd place finished with 1200-1400 ish, so even just $40W on Stately Victor could have punched my ticket for Vegas next January.

As far as losing the 9 pre- Bluegrass bets, there are shoulda woulda couldas of course, a couple of which are gonna linger in my cranium: (1) in a GP maiden race late in the afternoon, there was a 2-1 fave and two 5-2 shots, I didn't like the fave and pretty much decided on one of the 5/2 shots, though kind of inexplicably I changed course between my seat and the bettting machine and went with the other 5/2 shot, and of course my originally selected 5/2 shot wins. That was the difference between having $70 left for the Bluegrass and having $20 left. (2) there were two longshots I was intrigued by in GP turf races: Highland Cat (12-1) in the 3rd and Scorion (30-1) in the 5th. Both finished 2nd to the chalks, paying $9.40 and $20.60 to place, respectively, but I had talked myself out of both and laid off those races. I'm not a big fan of place betting but there is a "place" for it (pun intended) in certain situations, and arguably, one or both of situations qualified. Even one $10WP bet on Highland Cat or Scorion could have meant more money for Stately Victor.

Oh well. Onward and upward I guess.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Am I back? Maybe

OK it's obvious that RedRockorBust hasn't been the most frequently updated blog in the blogosphere in recent months. I kind of faded out toward the second half of last year simply because I wasn't really playing in any contests. I've played a few this year, but been very very busy with work so I haven't had the time or motivation to give the blog much attention. I'm thinking I will now get it going again, at least once in a while.

Anyway, here is a quick an' dirty update on my 2010 contest playing.

I participated in all three contests in Monmouth Park's Simulcast Series Challenge -- January 16, February 14, and February 27. The main goal was to finish in the top 10 in at least one of the contests, in order to qualify for the 30-person invitational contest on April 11 (from which the top 2 finishers qualify for the DRF/NTRA contest in Vegas in January 2011).

The Jan. 16 contest was a big shoulda-woulda-coulda for me, as I came close to betting on a 30-1 winner at Tampa, which probably would have been enough to put me in the top 10 even with just a small bet. But I switched to another horse shortly before post time, and that was that. Cashed out $6.50 from a starting bankroll of $100.

The Feb. 14 affair was a bit of a bust, as I never really was in contention. Had a brief thrill when a 18-1 shot made the lead in the stretch in the Gulfstream feature, but she couldn't hold on. Turned my $100 into $0.

But I finally broke through on Feb. 27. I had a couple smallish winners early in the afternoon -- $10W on 3-1 and 6-1 winners -- that kept me in the hunt, then I turned it on late at Gulfstream. I had $10W on a 10-1 winner in the one stakes, then $100W on Amen Hallelujah at 2-1 (loved the relative value on that horse versus the way-overbet Bickersons, and sure enough she ran like a 1-2 shot rather than 2-1). I then lost a bet or two and was at $361/13th place heading into the final GP race -- hung a little fire and played $140W on First National, a 5-1 Pitts/Maragh winner in the off-the-turf finale, and he came running late to get past a drifting-out longshot by 3/4 of a length. Finished 5th of 219 with a $1,089 bankroll -- usually that fig is enough to win these contests, but I guess the blues were running that day so to speak, I ain't complaining.

Now onto tomorrow.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Not to brag or anything, but...

...I'm a pretty big deal.

Actually I think is more accurately categorized under "even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while".

Either way, Saturday should be interesting.