Monday, June 27, 2011

Stalled Out

A funny thing happened to me on my way to winning the handicapping contest at Belmont Park this past weekend -- I stalled out and finished in 88th place.

I had a decent day on Saturday, ending the day in 60th of 248. I had 2 winners from 11 bets (9 notional 'single' $20 wagers plus one 'double' $40), both at Belmont -- Enniskillen, a 10-1 closer in the cheapie 5th race with some kid Irad Ortiz Jr. (who gave a damn good ride), and then Bishop of Nola in the 8th at 3.45-1. The latter was 4-1 when I bet it, kinda was marginal value ticking down to 3-1 but I stuck with it; nothing great, but as they say a short price is better than a long face.

Otherwise I was close a few times early in the day with decent prices. For example, Good Chemistry, an 8-1 shot in the Churchill 4th stalked and assumed the lead in early stretch, I thot he was a sure winner, but the damn speed came back and beat him by 3/4 length. Had he won I would have been around 20th place after Saturday. Later in the afternoon I was feeling more confident about my horses, but oddly enough that's when they were up the track for the most part.

One Saturday miss to kick myself about was Chief Grey Cloud, the 8-1 winner in the Monmouth finale -- I absolutely, positively would have bet it, but I was out of bullets by then. In hindsight, I should have looked at the day's cards more holistically and saved a bullet for that one, but I didn't.

So anyway going into Sunday I was in with a shot. The top quartile is creditable enough, though I was certainly realistic enough to acknowledge there was plenty of work to do to punch into the top 20 (or 10).

Sunday started out shittily (is that a word?). I liked Duty in Saigon in the Monmouth opener and Wascally Rabbit in the Belmont opener, which were going off 10 minutes apart. I bet Duty in Saigon 7-1, only to see him get cut off and nearly go down heading into the turn. I didn't bet Wascally Rabbit, mostly because I didn't want to be down two bullets so quickly; predictably, he wins and pays $10.60. Insert F-bomb here.

Next I bet Three Day Rush in the Churchill 3rd. I was dismayed to see him go off at 2-1, down from 7-2 when I bet him a few minutes earlier. I was further dismayed to see him lose a photo to a bomber, but heartened somewhat when that bomber was DQ'd. A $6 winner ain't gonna win me no contests, but it did get me to like 44th on the leaderboard with seven bullets left, and I was feeling decently about my chances.

However here's where it all went wrong.

I bet It'sagoodtendollars at 12-1 in the Monmouth 4th. This was a speculative play for sure, as I didn't love him, but the race was wide-open with a very vulnerable favorite so I landed on him as my alternative. He had an uneventful inside trip and ran OK but just didn't fire. The chalk lost but I didn't like the winner, 9-2 Lighthouse Sound.

Next I tried Winloc's John Lee, a 13-1 first-time starter, in the Belmont 5th. It was a very nondescript field and trainer Mike Miceli had won the 3rd race, so I thought it was worth a shot. But alas, he just ran an even and non-threatening fourth.

Onto the Churchill 6th, where I took a shot with Consulate at 10-1. He had just middling form, what caught my eye was that he dropped from a 10-1 ML to 3-1 early in the wagering, before drifting back up to his ML. I was expecting a stalking or mid-pack trip, but he "lunged" at the break and was last early; he made a run to get into striking distance at the top of the lane, but not surprisingly flattened out and finished 6th. OK, getting back on my heels here.

My next move was a ballsy one, putting my double (notional $40W) on Narbona Pass at 14-1 in the Monmouth 7th. He showed mostly crummy form and was a plodder, but I liked two things: (1) the Mth main track was different this weekend from earlier in the meet, as a few from-the-clouds closers had won or finished second; and (2) trainer Joe Pierce had won a race on Saturday. I expected Narbona Pass to be faaaaaaar back early, but apparently the instructions were to keep in the race from the start, as jockey Francisco Maysonett rode him pretty much the whole way. he did rally a bit for 3rd, somewhat validating my handicapping rationale, but it was a loss of my double bullet nevertheless. Given that there is no all-in option in this contest, things felt done for me at this point even though I had four bullets left.

This 'doneness' was confirmed after Makeminechocolate didn't run a step at 9-2 in the Belmont 7th. With just 3 bullets left, I bet the Belmont 8th, 9th, and 10th and ran to catch the 4:27 LIRR to Penn Station. Good thing, as all horses lost -- having to wait around until 6:27 (the next train) would have sucked.

So there you are, and there you have it. No real big regrets or shoulda/woulda/couldas. The key sequence for me was the four mid-afternoon Sunday bets spanning It'sagoodtendollars to Narbona Pass: I was in contention at the start of this sequence, I liked some horses, it was time to take on some risk, and I did so. Nothing came through, which sealed my fate as an also-ran.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Swing, and a Miss

We'll pick up the action from today's Monmouth/Woodbine Handicapping Contest at about 5:45 p.m.: after a 'meh' handicapping day in which I had only one 3-1 winner at Monmouth from eight bets, my initial bankroll of $100 was down to $30 and I was ready to go home, so I put down a win-or-go-home bet: $30W on Heavenly Pride in the Woodbine 10th. She wins by a neck at 4.60-1, putting me back in the ball game with a $168 bankroll. I followed that with a $40W$20P bet on Mint Maker in the 11th at Monmouth; he finishes 2nd to the chalk at 22-1, pushing my bankroll up to $236 and about 20th in the contest.

But the fat lady could have started warming up right then. I couldn't pull the trigger on anything in 11WO, which was just as well because I never would have had the 31-1 bomber Paidrag. (Apparently at least one of my rivals did, as the leading bankroll went from ~$1K to ~$4K after that race.) This left only the Monmouth finale, a grim bottom-of-the-barrel heat, to make or break my day.

I went all-in (that's right, $236W) on Mo's Mini Skirt, a first-time starter that took a little early money before drifting up to 5-1. She showed some early speed but weakened to finish 4th, so I was out the door with $0.

Putting aside the merits of Mo's Mini Skirt specifically (of which there were precious few), that last-race situation I found myself in re-raised a question I continue to struggle with as a handicapping contest player: is there ever a time when you should fold 'em and go home with a couple hundred bucks? Or do you keep swinging until the bell rings, whether or not you like a horse, on the premise that late-contest swings don't grow on trees and must be seized?

I lean towards the latter, and my track record supports this -- I can't remember the last contest I went home with unused bullets. But is this the right strategy? Something about putting down $236, or more than 10x my average bet earlier in the contest, while holding my nose in that finale today struck me as absurd -- it just flies in the face of ROI principles that would dictate picking your spots. Would it have been wiser to tuck the $236 in my wallet to deploy for another day?

I don't think there's an easy answer in this debate -- if I walk away and my erstwhile selection loses, I made a great call, but if he wins, I'm a dunce. And vice versa if I go for it. Vexing, but also part of the beauty of handicapping contests, in my view.