Friday, September 20, 2013


Inspired by NJHorseplayer's recent post, I thought I'd slap up a few words to update my legions of readers. (Though perhaps some have gone elsewhere to read handicapping-contest nonsense in the 100 days since I last blogged. I may not be able to make this a paid subscription site after all.)

My recent play in handicapping contests can be summed up in one word: blech.

 When last sighted in cyberspace (June 11 blog post), I was touting my prowess in online feeders -- specifically, my 3-for-17 record in $26 HorseTourneys contests that award $240 credit to the top 10%. 3/17 was pretty killer outperformance versus 1/10.

But since then is where the 'blech' comes in -- I guess I shouldn't have bragged because I've gone 0/11 since, watering down my outperformance to a marginal 3/28, just a smidge better than a 3/30 record that would randomly be expected. And I'm 0/3 in the $240 events.

In my defense, I do the dinky contests largely for fun and as a low-cost way to scratch the itch. I generally do little or no preparation, and I've even been known to nod off intra-contest, lying on the couch with iPad on chest. But still, I've been following this game for long enough that I should have some decent value-added insights even on the fly, so I can't really use a lack of preparation as an excuse.

I've also dabbled in a couple DerbyWars contests -- feeders to their own bigger $ events or NHC qualifiers. Had a close-but-no-cigar or two, but no luck.

Nothing to write home about with live stuff recently. I was in contention with some ammo late in the Monmouth July contest, but the shots I took (three ~$80 win bets, as I recall) missed the mark. I finished mid-packish at Belmont in June, and NJHorseplayer's $4 final bankroll last weekend beat me by $4.

So with the year about 3/4 done, I haven't come close to qualifying for the NHC, and I have 0 NHC Tour points. As Dean Wormer said to Mr. Blutarski, "0.0."

But, no worries. I've been around long enough to know that fortunes change quickly, and an ice-cold stretch can give way to a hot streak in the blink of an eye. I'm not saying that'll happen for me, but I'll take a few more swings the rest of the year (some online stuff and probably Aqueduct live in November) and let the chips fall where they may.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

NHC: A Journey, Not a Destination

I read somewhere fairly that a high percentage of blog posts start with an apology for not blogging recently. I don't want to be a cliche and do that; instead I'll leave my opening to the presented factoid, and leave it to the reader to decide whether that constitutes an apology.

Despite my dormancy (at least on the blog -- I've been reasonably active on twitter), I'm still hangin' around (as the Counting Crows song goes) on the fringes of the NHC Tour scene.

Live contests have been slow, which is more a function of a lack of local offerings than anything else. I played all three legs of the NJHorseplayer-dominated Monmouth Park Simulcast Series Challenge earlier this year, with no luck (or skill, really). The calendar does pick up going forward, as I'm signed up for the Belmont contest June 22-23 (which I've come to realize is a serious freaking weekend of contest play), and then I'll most likely do Monmouth on July 7.

I have had some modest success online, specifically with feeders. I 'won' a $26, 37-player event this past Sunday, earning $240 in site credit. It was the 3rd $240 credit I've won this year out of 14 tries (I'm 2-for-11 on $26s and 1-for-3 on $52s), giving me a notional return on investment of +63%! Top that, bitches.

But unfortunately, I crapped out in the two $240 NHC qualifiers I played so far, so while my little feeder fun builds some confidence, at the same time it doesn't really count for much if my qualifying attempts continue to go for naught.

My one real change as an NHC Tour member this year is that I'm no longer paying attention to NHC points. I'm off that hamster wheel. Last year at around this time I found myself (kind of accidentally) around 50th in point standings, so I payed attention for most of the rest of the year, hoping to stay in the top 100 and back into an NHC seat. But that turned out to be a bit of a money pit, as I played a bunch of full-freight buy-in online qualifiers trying to chase points, which ultimately proved futile. This year, I'm not doing any full-freight buy-ins -- I find the dinky feeders to be fun enough and they sufficiently scratch the itch at a much lower price, and I still have NHC-qualifying hopes.

So if I win points I win points, but I'm not gonna care about points until maaaaaayybe the last week of the contest season and I'm sitting in 150th or something, then I'll relent and pull the trigger on a full-freight buy-in or two. But until then, I'll leave the points chase to the NHC Tour heavy hitters.    


Sunday, March 31, 2013

36 Minutes of Fame

Andy Warhol said everybody will be famous for 15 minutes. I exceeded that by 21 minutes yesterday, so I guess I can't be too depressed about my off-the-board finish at yesterday's SSC #3 at Monmouth Park.

 You see, I snuck onto the leaderboard after the Florida Derby (12GP), which went off at 6:24, and stayed there until after 13GP, which went off at 7:00. I was 25th on the 25-person board.

How did it all happen?

Well I lost my first 5 bets and my $100 starting bankroll was down to $50 when I put $10W on 8-1 Regalo Mia in GP9. That win -- my first in three contests this year, mind you -- put me at about $140 and back in the game.

I then lost a couple bets before slapping down $50W on Orb in the Florida Derby. He won nicely at almost 3-1, so I was living large with $252 and on the board with one race left. That's all I ask of these contests, to be in it with a shot late.

Alas, it wasn't to be. In the Gulfstream finale I liked 1 Transgression and 9 Town Flirt (in that order) going into the day, but I switched to 9, largely because trainer George Weaver won a race earlier on the card. I went pretty much all in, $200W and $52P.

But my (oftentimes) trusty trainer-recency angle didn't come through for me yesterday, as while Town Flirt ran well, she could only manage 2nd to -- who else -- Transgression.

I cashed out $140.40 on the day thanks to the place bet, better than $0 of course, but it was still a very empty fold of 20s. I 'woulda' probably landed in the top 5 if Town Flirt won at 9-2, also 'woulda' been way up there had I went with Transgression.

It's tempting to lament and beat myself up over switching from 1 to 9, but I'm not gonna go there. I made the best decision I could using all the information I had available at the time of the race. Every handicapper marks up PPs the night before, but I don't think anyone can argue that early picks should be set in stone.

Overall yesterday was pretty good for me in terms of what I could control -- process, strategy and risk management. This is in sharp contrast to SSCs #1 and #2, when I was pretty much abysmal in those areas. It's unfortunate that good process, strategy and risk management didn't produce a good end result, but c'est la vie. Happens sometimes.

So that's a wrap. This is the second year in a row I didn't qualify for the SSC invitational, after doing so in '10 and '11. Poor job me, but great job Monmouth park in pulling off the series with record numbers.

I will offer a bit of advice to the 58 non-NJHorseplayer entrants in the 60-entrant invitational. You cannot stop NJHorseplayer. You can only hope to contain him.  


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Rock Bottom?

I hope so.

Before I recap my experience at yesterday's Monmouth Park's Simulcast Series Challenge #2, allow me to congratulate NJHorseplayer for finishing 18th of 287 and qualifying for the SSC Invitational in April. He nailed a couple impressive prices, one at Gulfstream and one and Tampa, and it was a well-deserved top-20 placing.

Onto my day.

I did some prep work this time unlike SSC#1 four weeks ago, when I went in ice cold off the bench and it showed. I probably did about 6 hours of reading PPs, watching replays, and doing other research between Thursday and Saturday morning.

It didn't translate into an improved result, but it should have were it not for a couple critical tactical errors in my contest strategy.

Starting with a $100 bankroll, my plays were:

1. GP1, $5WP Smokin Ali, 14-1. I thought the odds-on chalk was crap and this one had an upset chance. He ran okay but managed only 5th. No regrets on this one, you have to take risks and sometimes it doesn't work out. Bankroll down to $90.

2. Aqu3, $10W Your Time is Up, 5-1. Looked like a nice first-time starter and she took some early money -- went to the lead but tired badly. Down to $80.

3. Aqu5, $10W All of the Above, 6-1. Kind of a last-minute play here based on what I thought was decent pace-pressing form, a good appearance in the post parade, and an over-bet favorite. However as Andy Serling tweeted during the race, "How is All of the Above last early????" Down to $70.

4. GP6, $10W Saint of Saints, 8-1. Ran a modestly threatening 4th -- similar to my GP1 play on Smokin Ali it was a decent spec play and I have no problem with the bet in retrospect. Down to $60.

5. Aqu8, $10W Street Lord, 22-1. This first-time starter was a trainer-recency play, as Charlton Baker had won Aqu6. Alas, he had some trouble at the break -- my first of three bad breaks in a very unlucky day -- and didn't really do anything. In retrospect this wasn't the worst bet I ever made but it was kind of questionable/'reachy', especially as I respected the chalk who won. Down to $50.

6. GP7, $10W Exclusive Strike, 5-1. Ran a creditable but not-good-enough 2nd. I'd make this same bet again. Down to $40.

7. GP8, $10W Dyker Beach, 5-1. Equibase: "Clipped heels after st". Eff me. Down to $30.

8. GP10, $20W10P Ore Pass, 31-1. Equibase: "ORE PASS bumped with TRANSPARENT leaving the starting gate, got caught in and amongst rivals and right in the thick of the bumping incident that occurred shortly after the field was sent on its way, was taken hold off after being bumped again, went on for a couple of jumps then clipped the heels of ESCAPEFROMREALITY, raced at or near the back of the pack thereafter, swung five wide into the stretch..."

Then the kicker: "...and had no rally."


So I was done, out the door, thinking it was a really bad, "one of those" days. In the late-winter twilight I remarked to NJHorseplayer that my day couldn't have been any worse than SSC#1, it could only have been the same, and that's what it was.

I was wrong.

It was worse.

When I got home I scanned the results of the races that went off after I left and I saw that not one, not two, but three of the horses I liked came in, two square prices and a bomb.

Clearly Now, who I liked based on workout reports, paid $16 in GP10. Razzleberry (jockey change) paid $16.20 in GP11. And to make my day totally absurd, Countess Emma (trainer recency) won Tam 11 and paid $67.20(!).

Now I'm not saying I liked those three horses any more than earlier plays. If I did, I would have made a point to have some bullets left for the end, even if it meant betting chalk to show.

But really I didn't like them any less than earlier plays, either. So I should have had some money left for those last races, and I screwed up by being tapped.

I won't lament any of the bets I made. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

But there were two tactical blunders I made that I blame for my empty pockets at 5:05 pm.

The first was not betting Readtheprospectus. Really there was no reason I shouldn't have. A $9.70 winner at 2:15 pm won't win any contests, but putting a +38.50 in the ledger would have been a nice break from losing, and it should have kept me in the game longer.

My second error was trying to be a hero and betting my last $30 on Ore Pass in the Gotham. At 30-1, a $10 bet would have been more than sufficient to get me back in contention.

If I work a little revisionist history and right those two wrongs, I could have had $58.50 after the Gotham rather than $0. Even with just one wrong righted I could have had $38.50 or $20. Who knows how I would have played the remaining races, which spanned three I probably wouldn't have won in addition to the three I probably would have won, but given the prices, I totally should have finished in the Top 20 with at least a few hundred bucks.

It's pointless to cry over spilt milk and rehash specific shit (which I guess I've been doing for this whole post), but more broadly I have noticed a flaw in my contesting that is worth me thinking about.

When I get down a bunch I get disgusted, annoyed and just want to leave, often before I'm truly out of it. In other words I give up too easily, which crowds out rational thinking to a certain extent.

For example, rather than going win-or-go-home with Ore Pass yesterday, I should have stepped back and assessed my situation and the remaining races coolly and analytically, with the goal of mapping out a reasonable path back to contention. Instead I tried to land a wild haymaker. Stupid.

This poor late-day contesting also manifested itself once last year at Belmont when I inexplicably bet a 7-2 horse with my last bet, which would have done nothing for me, rather than try to dope out a decent price that could have landed me in the top 20. 

Oh well, live and learn I guess. 


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What Up Wit the NHC? Q&A with NTRA's Keith Chamblin

(Photo forthcoming)
The Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship will be held in Las Vegas later this month. I won't be there for the umpteenth consecutive year due to tough luck, bad breaks, a limited budget, and general ineptitude (not necessarily in that order), but I wanted to get an update on the state of the NHC and the NHC Tour. Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of the NTRA, was kind enough to answer my questions via e-mail.

Red Rock or Bust: Assess the current state of the NHC Tour.
Keith Chamblin: Overall, the Tour is strong. Prize money offered from the NTRA doubled from 2011 to 2012 to $250,000. Bonuses were added to reward multiple winners. Some 1,000 players earned points in 2012. Nearly 4,500 players competed. Based on research and feedback from players and participating host sites, the Tour absolutely has led to increased participation in the NHC. I wish we had even greater participation by fans and racetracks, but overall we feel that the NHC Tour has been a very positive addition to the NHC landscape since it was instituted in 2008.

RRoB: How has the 2012 NHC Tour season (not counting the Jan. 2012 NHC itself) compared with 2011 and also previous years in terms of interest, number of contests, revenue, etc?
KC: We instituted a number of changes to the Tour in 2012. Total prize money was more than doubled to nearly $300,000. The Tour calendar was divided into two seasons. Significant bonuses were instituted for players who win more than one tournament. A tiered points system was instituted to encourage on-track tournament play. We’re still analyzing the numbers, but it’s fair to say that participation is up, the number of contests is up, total prize money is up, and revenue is up vs. 2011. 

RRoB: How is the Jan. 2013 NHC shaping up? What will be new/different compared with last year's event?
KC: The biggest change at this year’s NHC is the addition of a “Best Bet” wager, whereby one mandatory play each day will count double. We think this will introduce a unique variable that will add another layer of excitement to the NHC.

RRoB: What are the challenges/opportunities involved with getting broader media coverage of the event?
KC: The challenges and opportunities involved with obtaining broader media coverage of the NHC are similar to the challenges we face in obtaining broader coverage of thoroughbred racing in general. We have a great sport with beautiful equine athletes and a passionate fan base, but we are a niche sport compared to sports like baseball, football and basketball. That makes it difficult to attract mainstream media coverage. However, we are making strides. The NHC has been featured in Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, USA Today, the Washington Post and many other high-profile outlets over the years. We expect to add to that list this year. In some respects, we have better luck with mainstream media coverage than we do with coverage inside our industry. I’d like to see us celebrate the horseplayer more than we currently do.

RRoB: What changes/improvements (if any) are planned for the NHC Tour?
KC: Stay tuned. We are considering a number of changes that we will be announcing in the near future.

RRoB: Are you considering increasing the number of players who qualify via NHC Tour points, to make that more meaningful? Currently it's the Top 100 but the vast majority of the top 100 already qualified via a contest. 
KCPossibly. Several years ago, there were no players who qualified based on their year-end points totals on the leader board. Now, the top 100 players are guaranteed entry into the NHC regardless of whether they win a spot in a tournament. This year, eight people qualified based on finishing in the top 100.

RRoBThere has been some criticism among players that the NHC Tour favors the most regular (and better-funded) players, not necessarily the best players. How do you respond to this?
KC: Great question. There will be plenty of regulars and plenty of casual fans at the NHC. Almost by definition, a “tour” (be it in golf, tennis, handicapping or any type) is going to favor those who make the commitment to “travel” on it. There is no question that there is a core group of players who play frequently. They also contribute a large amount of revenue to the NHC prize pool. However, with the expansion of online play, the addition of more free tournaments, and the emphasis we’ve placed on trying to maintain and grow on-track tournaments, there is a wide menu of tournament offerings for a variety of players. Plus, only the top six tournament scores count toward Tour points. We like to think that there are ample opportunities for players of any budget and commitment level.

RRoB: There has been some criticism among players regarding a perceived lack of transparency on the part of the NHC Tour with regard to its finances. Specifically, online qualifying contests have comparatively high effective 'take' rates and some say it's not clear where all the money goes. How do you respond to this?
KC: Some online and on-track tournaments have a higher take-out than others. Some have zero takeout. Players can make choices on which tournaments they wish to play in much the same way they decide which races or tracks they like to bet on when they play the horses. For each spot sold to an onsite location/tourney, a total of $3,333 goes toward the NHC and NHC Tour prize pool. The number is closer to $6,500 for online tournaments. There also are variances between what NTRA members and non-members pay. In principle, we like low- or zero-takeout qualifiers better, but plenty of players have told us they’d prefer to absorb more takeout in an online tournament in exchange for the added convenience and reduced travel expense.  Obviously the market ultimately dictates a tournament’s popularity. If players see no value in a tournament, they won’t play it.

RRoB: Will NTRA lobby for New Jersey-based players to be able to play venues such as TwinSpires, rather than be captive to the state ADW?
KC: We only get involved in state legislative advocacy efforts if we are invited in by the tracks and horsemen in that specific jurisdiction.

RRoBPlease mention anything else that I didn't specifically ask about that is pertinent to this conversation.

KC: We truly appreciate the players’ support of the NHC and NHC Tour over the past 13 years, and we are continuously impressed by the people who qualify for the NHC each year. Nothing could more quickly dispel the tired, old stereotype of the “degenerate horseplayer” than to have someone spend a half hour at the NHC. Ultimately it is the players who will determine the future level of success for this event, and so we take very seriously what they have to say. We strive to give them a pleasant and fun experience during the year as they attempt to qualify, and a really stimulating experience when they play for the big money in Las Vegas. It’s impossible to please everyone, but it is incumbent upon us to ensure that we are pleasing most.