Sunday, April 17, 2011

Orleans or Bust?

Naah, I won't be changing the name of my blog to this one either, though I did participate in a handicapping contest at the Meadowlands yesterday that qualified the winner for the 2012 Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. And damned if I didn't almost win it (I think).

After a nightmare NJ Transit trip from South Orange to Secaucus that involved a 1:20 delay and an evacuation to a "rescue" train, I arrived at the Big M at about half past two (thanks to William H. at NJHorseplayer dot com for signing me in). I won't bore you with a race-by-race recap but instead I'll pick up the action starting right before the Blue Grass at Keeneland, when I was down to $33 (from an initial $100), my only win having been a few bucks back on the chalky Aikenite in the Commonwealth.

I figured it was time to go all-in so I put $23W and $10P on Brilliant Speed. I can't claim I loved the horse on my own; instead, I got the idea from Dave P., a friend and former colleague who is a heavy race-replay watcher and whose handicapping opinions I respect. Dave P. liked Queen'splatekitten best in the Blue Grass, with Brilliant Speed and Sensational Slam as other horses of interest; to my credit (or, luckily), I tossed QPK because of the far outside post, and didn't like Sensational Slam, landing me on Brilliant Speed.

Brilliant Speed rallied from last to win a three-horse photo, jacking my bankroll up to $576 and putting me in 3rd place.

After a couple quick (and probably overly rambunctious) losing bets, I was down to $476 and in 4th or 5th or somesuch, and Oaklawn was the only contest track still going. I didn't touch the Arkansas Derby, leaving the OP finale as the day's last race, a three-turn dirt marathon for cheapie horses.

I took a very long look at 11-1 Muhaaseb but ultimately opined that the Asmussen chalk General Partner was a standout and plunked down $250W. 6-5 (7-5 when I bet) is a crummy absolute price in a full field, but I just thought General Partner was the race's most likely winner by a substantial margin. Anyway, the horse had a very decent trip, rallied around the 3rd turn and drew clear in the stretch, only to be collared late by a longshot I didn't like at all. I finished with $226 bankroll, good for 7th place and $399 prize money.

A General Partner victory would have won me $300, giving me a final bankroll of $776. Of course I can't be sure who everyone else bet on that last race so this exercise is conjecture, but based on the lack of movement I saw in the bankrolls of the top 5 players right before the last race (when my bankroll had dropped by the outlay of my pending bet), I suspect most or all of my rivals either didn't bet the last race or bet a smaller amount, so $776 could well have taken down the whole thing.

So while my $425 net profit on the day was nothing to write home about, it will fund a future event or two, and yesterday was a good contest experience. I would guess that 6-5 Asmussen horses with 2 1/2-length leads in the stretch win probably 80-90% of the time -- I was just on the wrong end of the percentages.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lady Luck, Why Dost Thou Abandoneth Me (or Something)?

I reverted back to my losing ways in today's Simulcast Series Challenge Finals at Monmouth Park, racking up an 0-for-9 and finishing tied for last with a $0 finishing bankroll. The not-so-happy (and somewhat abbreviated) recap:

Bet #1, 2Tam, $20W Joshua Jet Fuel, 7-1. Finished 8th of 9, comment line of "no factor" says it all. Starting bankroll of $200 down to $180.

Bet #2, 3Tam, $20W Miss Ten Oaks, 6-1. "Trailed" comment line says it all. Bankroll: $160.

Bet #3, 5Tam, $20W Turbo Compressor, 9-2. There was a decent little odds bounce here, as my horse started at about 7-5 before drifting up to a price that I thought offered decent relative value to an overbet 4-5 favorite.

This horse was definitely live, but unfortunately it was the first (and worst) of three bum rides I got over the course of the afternoon, as apprentice Jose Alvarez got absolutely owned by Paco Lopez. Running second on the backstretch, Alvarez should have locked into the 2-path, but instead he let Lopez (on the chalk) come up from the inside and seize the 2-path, which resulted in my horse being fanned wide on the turn and then, predictably, losing the stretch duel. *%#@! Bankroll: $140.

Bet #4: 6Tam, $20W Wild Mia, 2-1. The absolute price was low but I thought there was some relative juice here versus the 2-5 chalk. Leandro Goncalves is a big gun at Tampa but I question his decision to not go to the lead in this paceless affair, instead getting boxed in and then fanned wide (again by P. Lopez) and falling a length short of the chalk. Bankroll: $120.

The arrival of NJHorseplayer dot com (and son) around this time was a welcome change of pace to the afternoon, though unfortunately even a ceremonial granting of a lucky penny by NJHorseplayer dot com Jr. would not change my luck on this day.

Bet #5: 7Tam, $20W Be My Candy, 7-1. Finished 4th, "failed to sustain bid." Bankroll: $100. I don't really remember this bet well, oddly enough -- maybe NJ Horseplayer dot com was distracting me with his inane yammering about the latest Dancing With the Stars. At any rate, this is beginning to suck.

Bet #6: 8Tam, $20W I'm Steppin' It Up, 10-1. "Rider broke awkwardly" and then never got involved, finished 8th of 11. Bankroll: $80.

Bet #7: 8Aqu, $20W Justin Phillip, 5-1. Ran an OK 3rd but was no real threat. Bankroll: $60. Really getting back on my heels here.

Bet #8: 9Aqu, $20W Laysh Laysh Laysh, 6-1. I thought this closer in a speedy field had an upset chance, but when he missed the break that was all she wrote. Bankroll: $40.

Bet #9: 11Tam, $40W Royal Hill, 10-1. I wanted to get back into contention in a meaningful way so I went all-in. I hated the even-money favorite in here and damned if Royal Hill wasn't live, stalking the speed and then drawing alongside or even ahead at the top of the lane, only to be outfinished, a neck short.

This was the last of the day's bad rides as I saw it, as Ricardo Feliciano (I'm not familiar with the guy but he showed an OK win %) had some kind of weird bobbing and intermittent whipping down the stretch, while it seemed Pablo Morales (on the 13-1 winner) was knuckling down with more of a straight drive. Admittedly I've never ridden a horse in a race so I can't say I know exactly how it works, but I have seen enough races in my lifetime to assert with some confidence that Morales got more out of his horse in the stretch than Feliciano got with his, and that may well have been the difference in the outcome. But alas, bankroll: $0. I stuck around a few more minutes to watch Uncle Mo get beat and I was out the door.

Analysis: It just wasn't my day, really. Despite going o-for-9 I think my handicapping was actually reasonable overall, as I had a few seconds with OK prices, plus a couple other seconds on horses I almost bet. And my contest strategy was OK too, though given I didn't have any winners on this day, strategy wasn't very relevant.
It was really luck that eluded me, as 5 of my 9 losing bets featured either a bad (or at least questionable) ride or a bad start. If even a couple of those don't happen, my day could have had a different complexion.
But, c'est la vie. In a bigger-picture sense, I cannot complain about luck. After all, I have now lost 42 of my last 46 live-contest races, spread out over five contest days dating back almost five months, yet I am ahead approx. $5K net over that time. How? Simply by virtue (or simply by dumb luck) of having my four winning bets occur on the same day. That, my friends, is a friendly random distribution.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pre-SSC Finals Ponderings

I'm quite looking forward to Saturday's Simulcast Series Invitational at Monmouth Park. Specs are 45 players, $200 live bankroll, and MP throws in $5K in total prize money to be divvied up among the top 5 finishers; most importantly, the top 2 finishers qualify for the 2012 DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship.

This will be my second consecutive trip to the invitational thingamabob. My experience last year was a wild one, in which I was down to my last bet and halfway out the door before I came roaring back with a 40-1 horse who I genuinely liked; I flattened out after that, though that sure wasn't for lack of trying as my wager in the last contest race was the biggest bet I ever made in my life, $500W on some 4-1 shot at Keeneland who didn't run a jump. I can only hope to have as good an at-the-buzzer look at the basket this Saturday.

I'm always pondering contest strategy, and while I'm fond of my default strategy (like a basketball team facing a tough opponent on the road, I scratch and claw to try to stay in the game until the last 2 minutes, when anything can happen), I would be a fool to not acknowledge that front-runners win contests too. In fact, just three weeks ago Ken Orchard took Simulcast Series Challenge #3 by virtue of an early bet; similarly, the guy in last year's final had like $2,400 by like 2:30 p.m. and went on to win.

What does this mean for me? Well, I think I have to be flexible and adjust on the fly if need be, rather than slavishly following my come-from behind strategy. If I'm ga-ga over some 10-1 shot at 2 p.m., I gotta consider staking my day on it, as the worst outcome would be winning a small bet on such a 10-1 shot early and then proceeding to lose on other horses I like less. I guess the real trick/difficulty/challenge here is properly identifying whether or not I am ga-ga about a given horse (easier said than done of course) -- one of the many points of nuance, analysis and decision-making that make handicapping contests so much fun.

In closing I would like to shout out kudos to Monmouth Park for another well-run winter contest series. I've been playing in these things for 5-6 years now and they're always well-run affairs, the venue is comfortable and the tenor is competitive yet fun. My one quibble has to do with post-event reporting, as Monmouth doesn't post the winners from a Saturday contest until Wednesday, which is really lame-o-rama in this day and age, and only the top 10 finishers are posted. NYRA posts full standings for its contests by 7 or 8 p.m. on the same day, i.e. a couple hours after the last race is official. I think Monmouth should do the same.

Enough complaining, onto Saturday...