Monday, September 19, 2011

Late Collapse Dooms Red Rock or Bust

I finished with $0.40 in the Monmouth-Woodbine handicapping contest at Monmouth last Sunday (9/18). I went from rags to riches, then back to rags in what turned out to be a topsy-turvy late afternoon, but the bottom line was a very disappointing finish.

I won't bore you with the full blow-by-blow recap, rather I'll fast-forward to the Woodbine Mile, the penultimate race on the WO card. My starting bankroll of $100 was down to $52 going into the race, as I had had just one smallish winner before that. It was late in the day and I didn't see much that I liked afterwards, so I decided it was time for a win-or-go-home bet. I put $52W on Turallure, and lo and behold if he didn't storm from 11th place with 1/4 mile to go to win. I actually had given up on the horse at the top of the stretch (as did his trainer, according to the DRF recap of the race) and I was watching the leaders' late duel; it wasn't until after the wire that NJ Horseplayer dot com remarked that the 8 had won did I realize my afternoon wasn't done yet.

The Turallure win got me to $387.40 and like 4th place. After a losing $10 bet, it was down to two races, the Woodbine finale then the Monmouth finale. With $377.40, just a few hundred bucks from cracking the top 2, I was right in the striking position I wanted to be.

I didn't have much of an opinion in either contest race left. At Woodbine, I was mildly intrigued by price plays Captain Crow and Raynham, but I ended up putting $100W on the 6-5 chalk Control. My reasoning was, I thought Control was the most likely winner of the race -- he wasn't gonna win me the contest, but if he won it would have hurt a lot of longshot players and put me in a much better position heading into the last contest race.

But Control didn;t pick up his feet really, and to add insult to injury, Captain Crow (9-1) and Raynham (11-1) finished 2-1.

So I was down to $277.40 and around 10th place, with one race left -- the Monmouth finale, a $10K tomato-can maiden claimer. At first I liked Call Me Sweetheart at the 9-2 price he was at early in the wagering, but then I went off him when he dropped to 5-2 (eventually 2-1) and switched to my second choice, Praymore (who went off at 5-2). I put $177W and $100P on Praymore, goes to the lead but tires to finish 6th, while Call me Sweetheart wins. F'in A, I'm done.

My post-contest autopsy was a bit more painful than usual, as I concluded that my post-Turallure decisions were highly questionable.

For one, the $100W bet on the 6-5 chalk at Woodbine was a shitty bet, in retrospect. I'm not saying that I 'shoulda' bet either the 11-1 winner or the 9-1 second choice with any vigor, as I wasn't crazy about either one, but the right bet was probably $5WP, maybe $10WP on one of those two. Not betting the race was not an option b/c I needed to bet to make my five-race WO minimum, but that 6-5 POS was just no value at all.

Secondly, a pretty-strong case can be made that I erred in going off eventual winner in the Monmouth finale. I went off Call Me Sweetheart because he was 5-2 (eventually 2-1), only to land on Praymore -- who went off at 2.60-1. I'm not sure what value differential I was seeing, because there really wasn't one. Also, from a handicapping perspective, dirt races were being won all day by 3-4 wide movers, and Praymore broke from the rail. I missed that angle.

So in sum it was a good contest in that I was in contention with a real chance late in the day, which (as anyone who reads this blog knows) is all I ask.
It was bad because I think I may have screwed up with my late decisions, which sticks in my craw.

I will add that I felt a bit better after seeing the 838.90 and 833.50 top finishing bankrolls. Had I played my $177W, $100P winner in the Mth finale, I would have finished with 721.40; had I only bet $10 rather than $100 in the WO finale AND hit the Monmouth finale, I would have finished with $811.40. Third place money and glory would have been nice and all, but I can't lament missing that too much. The only way I would have won is if I had made a small bet on one of the longshots I mildly liked in the WO finale that finished 1-2, AND had the Monmouth winner. That's not an entirely implausible scenario, but it is a double if, which starts to detach from reality and veer down a very hypothetical road.

One last observation I have relates to an question that I continue to struggle with in these contests: when you're in it late and looking at a race (or races) in which you don't really have an opinion, do you go all in or do you pick up your ball and go home? (I don't think there's any real in-between answer.)

My working answer is to go all in, as I believe that opportunities to take down a contest don't come around very often, and you have to take a shot when they do. Also, the real odds go way up in late-day situations if you add in the prospective prize money and value of NHC berth to whatever you'd collect from the bet(s) itself -- Praymore in the Mth finale was more like 8-1 for me rather than 5-2, factoring in the $1,332 prize money I 'woulda' won by finishing in 3rd place.

But at the same time, there is something to be said for quitting with a few hundred bucks and deploying that cash to fight another day...

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