Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gulfstream Contest Autopsy

I'm back in one piece from the Gulfstream handicapping contest last weekend, with a dented wallet the only casualty. I only did it because I was going to Miami for work Sunday night through Tuesday, and when I saw GP's contest was Saturday and Sunday and confirmed the corporate room block started Saturday, I said why not go a day early and check it out. I'm not a serious or good enough handicapping contest player to fly all over for events like some guys do, but when transpo and room are covered, that changes the economics of the proposition.

So after a 6 a.m. Newark-to-Fort Lauderdale flight via JetBlue and a rental-car pickup, I arrived at GP very early, around 10:30 a.m. I had been to Gulfstream just once before, in January 1989, when it was only a racetrack. Thanks (or curses?) to a renovation from about six years ago, the facility is now a casino, retail complex, dining mecca, etc...oh, and a racetrack too. OK that's a bit of an exaggeration as the track does have more prominence than some racinos I've visited (e.g. Delaware Park), but horse racing is not exactly the only game in Hallandale anymore.

On to the contest itself. Specs were $400 ante including $200 live bankroll, mandatory 10 $5WP bets both Saturday and Sunday, odds capped at 20-1 for a winner and 10-1 for place. Top 3 qualify for NHC, top 10 win money.

I broke sharply when Sovereign Default won Saturday's 1Aqu at 4-1. After a few non-bets where the chalk won at all three tracks (GP, Aqu, and Tam), I was actually in first place of the 126 contestants, as I had the same bankroll as a couple rivals but I had more bets remaining. Things got even better about 1:46 into GP3, when 7.70-1 Eternal Star was coming on strongest in deep stretch and looked like a sure winner. However, he had to take up a few jumps before the wire of the race, which was timed in 1:48:88, and finished in 5th. Damn that would have been a great start.

Little did I know that was my high-water mark of the two-day contest.

There wasn't much in the way of prices at any of the tracks for about 3/4 of Saturday, so I was able to hang around on the fringe of contention (around 21st to 27th place) for most of the afternoon, helped by my only other winner of the contest, Whipsaw City ($8.20, $4.40) in GP7. That price was definitely lower than I look for in these contests and about rock-bottom for what I'd bite on, but sometimes you have to take what the tracks are giving you.

GP9 was a contest-changer. Pat Riley says an NBA playoff series doesn't start until a road team wins a game; I think a handicapping contest doesn't really start until a big price comes in. 31-1 Arch Support was that price. He was on my radar and quite possibly my second choice, but I liked 9-1 Musical Rain a bunch in that race, and he didn't lift a hoof. At least a half-dozen of my contest rivals had Arch Support, so there started to be some separation on the leaderboard.

Things got worse for me shortly afterwards when 29-1 Distant Sky won the Aqueduct finale. I didn't like the horse at all, but at least a few others did, judging by the hooting and hollering. I was able to add a few bucks to the bankroll with a 5-1 placer in the Tam finale, but that was kind of a fart in the wind given the prices that others were reeling in.

So after Saturday I was in about 50th place, not out of it by any means but I knew I'd need some prices on Sunday to have any chance of making the top 10, let alone the top 3. But at the same time, I didn't want to just stab at longshots from the opening bell, I wanted to at least give myself a chance to methodically ascend the standings with a series of reasonably-priced winners.
I did have a work conference that kicked off Sunday evening, and I made up my mind that I was only gonna stay late on Sunday if I had a real chance to finish in the top 3. In other words it was win early or go home.

That plan started to unravel when 6-1 Adela's Song loomed boldly in GP1 but hung like a chandelier and finished 4th. I then went long with 26-1 BJ's Gibson in Tam4 -- he led for 3/4 of the one-mile turf race but faded to 5th. Other prices just didn't pan out, I won't bore you with the details but they tended to be on the pricey (double-digit) side with some close calls. As I was expending bullets, prices were coming in, so I found myself sliding down the cliff by my fingernails.

After making 9 of my 10 Sunday bets, I cut my losses a tad and cashed out $97. Losing $303 was better than losing $400 of course but still a disappointing outcome.

I have no major regrets or shoulda-woulda-couldas from this event. I did totally miss a playable 15-1 winner in 7Tam on Sunday (just mental fatigue I guess), but by that point it didn't matter much, I highly doubt it would have propelled me into the top 10 even temporarily. I also probably would have liked Tapitsfly, the 5-1 winner of the Sunday GP feature, but that only mattered if I had had more winners earlier. I was close enough to keep things interesting for a while, but ultimately it just wasn't my weekend.

Few general observations:
Overall I thought Gulfstream put on a good contest -- comfortable seating, good sight lines, helpful staff, etc. My main complaint is the lack of any digital updates, as there was nothing on the website on Saturday night, and even more surprisingly, still nothing, and it's now Thursday morning. in today's information age, they can definitely do better.

Few other quibbles were an over-air conditioned room on Saturday, bad coffee, and one very annoying woman who sat a few people down from me and stomped her feet during every stretch run. By Sunday I wanted to pummel her with my Daily Racing Form.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I had read this before yesterday's contest at Monmouth...I'd have stomped my feet all afternoon.