Wednesday, December 31, 2014

So I'm Free Jan. 23-25

It seems I'll go to work in NYC as usual on Fri Jan. 23, and putter around near home in South Orange, NJ on Sat. Jan. 24 and Sun Jan. 25, rather than being in Las Vegas for the 2015 National Handicapping Championship. I'll watch from afar as NJHorseplayer pulls off the improbable NHC victory.
My Vegas itinerary
My fate was sealed last Saturday, when North Slope didn't run a lick in the Gulfstream finale. I had plunked down my last $418 ($300W and $118P) on that 6-1 shot (a prime contender in a 13-horse field), and most likely I would be going to Vegas, if only it weren't for those pesky eight horses who finished in front of him.    
Here's how NTRA summarized my year: 
Terence Flanagan 1400 T1029
NHC Tour Free Online Challenge
3/22/2014 O 50
NHC Tour Free Online Challenge
4/13/2014 O 50
Monmouth Park
4/27/2014 T 150
Monmouth Park
5/31/2014 T 150
NHC Tour Free Online Challenge
5/31/2014 O 50
Belmont Handicapping Challenge
6/21/2014 T 150
Monmouth Park 
7/6/2014 T 150
Sovereign Stable
8/16/2014 O 50
Monmouth Park
8/23/2014 T 150
Monmouth Park
9/18/2014 T 150
11/16/2014 T 150
Monmouth Park
12/27/2014 T 150
So alas, another year of not qualifying for the NHC. And another year with no significant contest scores -- my $6K 2nd place finish at a Monmouth contest in early 2011 is pretty far back in the rear-view mirror.  
That said, my 2014 contesting wasn't all bad. 
A few highlights:
1. Winning two entries into the Simulcast Series Challenge Invitational at Monmouth, by virtue of 15th-place and 7th-place finishes in SSCs 2 and 3 respectively. I won a few bucks and some glory -- not bad for a one-entry-per-contest guy like myself.
2. Some mild success in DerbyWars -- nothing to write home about but I qualified for a couple big games via low-ante feeders. 
3. The 12/27 contest at Monmouth. Granted it's a reach -- and a sure sign that I didn't make any noise this year -- to call losing $200 and finishing tied for last a highlight. But, I nailed two longshots (22-1 and 42-1), I was in 7th place with $638 late in the day, and I took some good swings to try to get over the hump. So while the product stunk, the process was sound, and if I keep doing this I'll get there one day.   
4. Holding the line and not spending one thin dime on any contest that is tied to an NHC seat for which the contest operator is charged $7500. This means as a matter of principle, I do not play NHC-feeding contests on DerbyWars, HorseTourneys, or NHCQualify. I'm sure those contest operators can live without the grand or so I used to spend annually on such contests, but this is my way of voting with my wallet. 
So all in all I had fun, I had a few cheap thrills, and my losses were measured and quite reasonable for pursuing a hobby.     
I expect 2015 will be a similar contest schedule to 2014 -- NJ and NY brick-and-mortar contests, plus some cash DerbyWars games to scratch the itch between live events. It all starts on Jan. 10 at Monmouth Park.   
Happy New Year to all!   

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Empty at Belmont

All my Belmont contest winners

I played Belmont's handicapping contest this past weekend. It was my ninth NYRA contest since 2010, my ninth off-the-board finish, and my first double bagel.

I was pretty sick late last week (like, bronchitis or walking ammonia or something), so I was thinking of not even going. Brett Tessler of NYRA told me if I cancelled by 8 pm Thursday I could get a refund -- I thought long and hard about doing so, but I figured I'd gut it out and probably feel better as my antibiotics kicked on over the weekend.

Anyway Saturday started badly when I seriously considered International Star in the Belmont opener but just didn't pull the trigger. He won easily at 9-1. It was all downhill from there, with most of my losses being of the not-even-close variety. Bruno DeJulio's workout reports didn't help, Brad Thomas' insights didn't help, and my own feeble attempt at handicapping between nose blows didn't help. I went 0-8 on track, then left my final two bets (including double) to catch the 4:41 train and watch the races from home. Different viewing venue, same result, as my two final bets (both Thomas calls) finished up the track and distanced, respectively.

Overall Saturday was a bit pricier than average over the three tracks (Bel-Mth-CD), I reckon. And with 270+ players, of course people had the prices, so top bankrolls were plenty healthy at the end of Saturday. On the other hand my $0 bankroll was more sickly than I was, and realistically my ceiling was a top 25 finish perhaps, and even that would entail a huge day on Sunday.

And that wasn't to be. Sunday was much better for me in terms of closeness on bets -- I didn't lose any tough photos, but I had several big prices hit the board. Most notable was my double-bet Forgotten Prayers, who finished 2nd in 3Mth at 31-1 -- this would have been capped at 15-1, but still would have been huge for me. What little hope I had early Sunday dissipated as 0-1 turned into 0-4 and then 0-7, at which point I was done.

I got stupid lucky on the way out the door when I won $266 (bet $40W on Jazzy Alexis at Woodbine, who was freaking 10-1 when they loaded into gate but somehow went off at only 6-1) on a total hunch play based on a glance at the screen, especially as I very rarely bet anything outside contests. It was funny and somehow fitting that after a weekend of failing to pick a winner via straightforward analysis and tapping expert sources, I hit a winner and make back more than half of the weekend's expenses based on the equivalent of a Psychic Friends Network call.

So that's that. Congrats to Eric Moomey (or Moomy -- it's spelled both ways in the NYRA wrap), the Coxes who absolutely killed it, Noro Healy and everyone else who cashed. Also, kudos to the NYRA who always puts on a good contest with great value.

As for me, by late Sunday I had defrayed my weekend's costs by $266 and my health was improving, so I was actually in a decent mood for having been blanked in the contest. Overall I'm running about even on the year, maybe net $200 on the plus side, and having some fun doing it, so I can't complain (but I still will).

I'll probably do Monmouth July 6.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

5.26 Percent

I'll be competing in Monmouth Park's Simulcast Series Challenge Invitational on Saturday, luckily with two entries. Nicole Lince of Monmouth Park told me of the 80 entries signed on for Saturday, 76 are NHC Tour members -- the top 2 finishers who are NHC Tour members qualify for Vegas, so that puts my chances at 2 * (2/76), or 5.26%.

The good news is, 1/19 is a heckuva lot better than the ~1/60 shot that you get in most online contests, and there's no entry fee -- each entry is $200 live bankroll only. The not-so-good news is, the chance is still slim city, as there's almost a 95% chance that come Saturday evening, I'll be telling my sob story to anyone within earshot.

I'm happy to have two entries, but in general it's really not my thing and I can't recall ever playing two entries in the decade+ I've been playing contests. I understand a double entry gives you a better chance, but in my opinion there are some factors pertaining to strategy and decision making that complicate things. So when the cost is double but both the chance of winning and the enjoyment increase by less than double, flying solo is an easy decision for this budget-conscious contest player.

That means Sat. will be uncharted territory in terms of how I play the two entries.

I was first thinking I'd play one entry normally (i.e. methodical, mostly minimum $20 bets with only moderate risk-taking through early and mid-afternoon, hoping to be in with a chance late in the day)

and the other entry with some kind of risky hell-bent-for-leather strategy, say perhaps $200W on an 8-1 shot or something, or maybe play only $100 or $50 bets on this ticket. This way I'd have some chance to hit a big score early and be in front, but if I lost (most likely scenario), I'd still have the other entry to play as usual.

But while this strategy holds some appeal, and if I had a third entry I absolutely would play one like this, I'm now leaning toward a more conservative approach. This is certainly subject to change, but I'm thinking I'll play both entries in the same methodical, slow-early, hopefully-fast-late fashion. I'll play the same horse on both entries maybe a few times (i.e. my strongest calls); play more tepid calls on one entry only (though I'm not sure which one -- this to me is the biggest strategic challenge in having two entries); and in the instances when say I dislike a chalk but I can't decide between two alternatives, I'll play one on each entry.    

Assuming a best-case scenario of a few wins over the course of the afternoon, this strategy can have me in contention late in the day on both tickets, allowing me to swing on both.

Of course I'll need to have a very good handicapping day with at least a few decent-priced winners to have a shot at finishing in the top 2, but I'm thinking with the approach I outlined, I'll have at least some margin for error. If a couple of my core plays come in I can still win even if a key decision or two doesn't go my way, whereas with one entry, there's that much less margin for error.

With the risk-on approach of big early bets, my chances are certainly increased versus having only one entry, but they're increased in more of a random or lucky sense rather than a sound strategic sense. (If that makes any sense.)

Anyway, just some musings a day and a half before Saturday's first post.    

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Luck Ran Dry

As I kinda thought might happen, I busted in yesterday's Simulcast Series Challenge #4, ending my modest two-contest winning streak (well not *winning* winning, but coming out a few bucks ahead and earning seats in the SSC final).

I went 0-10 on the day, which is crummy but not as bad as it coulda been -- I cashed out my $681.30 from SSC3 when I first arrived so I was feeling a bit flush, and I briefly considered buying two entries. I'm glad I didn't.

Whereas breaks went my way in SSCs 2 and 3, yesterday just wasn't my day. A series of early near-misses, each on horses right about 7-1, pretty much doomed me: Storm Off, who finished 2nd after missing the break in 4.5-furlong Keeneland baby-race opener (comment was "unprepared start" -- WTF Corey Lanerie?); I'm a Southern Diva, who lost by a 1/2 length in Tam2; Bluegrass Jam, who fell a neck and a head short in Tam3; and then Tricky Hat, who fell a neck short in Kee5.

I still had probably $40-$50 around midafternoon but the day just never had a good 'feel' for me. You have to have at least some breaks and close stuff go your way to make noise in these contests, so when I had four instances *not* going my way within the afternoon's first two hours, I heard the fat lady warming up.

Things indeed went downhill from there, as up-the-track finishes replaced close calls, and I started reaching for prices. My final bet of the afternoon was in the Wood, $10W on Schivarelli. He ran well to finish 4th at 16-1, but that dashed any hopes I had of making an improbable late run. The winner, Wicked Strong, was plenty playable at 9-1 and I may well have went with him if I had more bankroll, but at that point I was looking for double-digit prices. Probably didn't matter, as I can't say I would have had any winners in the few contest races after the Wood.

Anyway, I didn't get a 3rd seat to the April 26 contest but I sure as heck can't complain with 2. I'll have to work up some strategy between now and then.      

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Luck o' the Irish

Monmouth Park food is hardly magically delicious -- but I got friggin lucky in SSC3
I'm as likely as the next guy to moan about bad trips, tough beats, capricious stewards and the countless other vagaries that can befall a horseplayer.

But sometimes things just go your way. Exhibit A of plain ol' dumb luck was my experience at yesterday's Simulcast Series Challenge 3 at Monmouth Park.

I finished 7th of 298 contestants with a $681 bankroll. That plus $447 in prize money netted out to a +$900-and-change day, plus a second seat in next month's SSC Invitational.

I have only Bruno's workout reports to thank, really. My handicapping for this SSC series has been a three-legged stool of sorts: (listed in no particular order) Bruno's workout reports for the Gulfstream card; my own proprietary (patent pending) trainer-recency angle, which I find tends to work best at Tampa; and old-fashioned perusal of DRF past performances. But yesterday, the second two legs were essentially no-shows, leaving me with Bruno, who thankfully killed it with good skinny on Hot and Spicy, who won GP3 at 13-1 (I had $10W, $5P) , and Little Daddy, who won GP8 at 16-1 ($10W).

Fast forward to 5:45 pm, when there were two races left. I had a $274.50 bankroll after winning on H&S and LD but losing on 10 other bets, spanning six of the $10 variety, plus 2 $15s, 1 $20, and 1 $40 (Gamay Noir in Tam9).

I liked Centre Court in GP10 based largely on Bruno's info. I wasn't crazy about the 3-1 price but I figured it was just good enough. So I slapped down $174W, figuring if she lost I would have a Ben for a spec play in the finale.

Centre Court got an okayish trip before being fanned 7 wide into the stretch while making her move. She got the lead and barely, barely held on in a photo finish that was about as close as it could be without it being a dead heat. (Unfortunately the photo went the wrong way for not one but two contest brethren.)

In the last race I went $100W on 6-1 Gratitude, who opened up a too-long lead and burned out and finished 4th. The 6-1 Pletcher/Castellano winner was very playable but I probably liked it 3rd best, c'est la vie. I would have loved to bang up into the top 5 where the real money is, but I was more than happy staying in 8th.

So that was that, at the time I figured I had a reasonably (but not especially) lucky day with some good handicapping. After a lovely home-cooked meal of corned beef and cabbage with the NJHorseplayer clan, I headed north to Essex County.

It was only when I was home and reviewing stuff from the day that I realized just how lucky I was. The startling revelation was that Centre Court broke through the gate before the race. I TOTES missed that, as I guess I was chatting or somesuch. I'm a big believer in canceling bets when pre-race shenanigans happen, whether it be significant reluctance to load, or a jockey toss, or a gate break-through. Stuff like that just expends physical and mental energy needed for the race (someone who goes by o_crunk tweeted "Cheers to Centre Court for winning after breaking thru gate. Unscientific study of horses breaking thru gate last 24 mos - 22/402 $0.52 ROI"). And Centre Court's trainer even said post-race that his horses never run well after breaking through the gate.

So, I should have caught the gate break-through, and I should have ran up to cancel the bet. But because I missed it, the bet stood, and the bet won. I was essentially rewarded for not paying attention.

Now THAT is lucky.              


Friday, February 21, 2014


I had a good day this past Sunday at Monmouth Park's Simulcast Series Challenge #2. I goosed my $100 starting bankroll into $332 by day's end, good for a $132 net profit, 15th place (of 274 entrants), and a berth in April's SSC Invitational, which qualifies 2 of 80 for the NHC.

It was a good day (for a change), not a great day.

I went 5-for-15 in my wagers, and while I had no bombs to speak of (there weren't really any on the day), each was reasonably priced. My often-trusty trainer-recency angle helped land me on Bico Blanco, who paid $17.40 in Calder's 5th race; Quelch, who $11.80 in Tampa 6; and Chief Redneck, who paid $8.60 to place in Tampa 10. Bruno's workout report pointed me to Straight Town, who paid $19.60 in Gulfstream 9, and just some straightforward handicapping of a turf-route-to-dirt-sprint led me to Cowgirl Spirit, who paid $14.40 in Tampa 3.

My winners were spaced out so I was banging around the lower end of the 25-person leaderboard for most of the afternoon. My first 12 bets were of the $10W variety, before I hung a little fire with a $20WP bet on Chief Redneck. My luck was pretty decent, as aside from a missed break or two I saw generally clean trips, and Quelch actually finished 2nd but was the beneficiary of a disqualification that could have gone either way. (Unfortunately the DQ hurt my neighbor Paul Zerbst, who co-owned Onto Luck, the 1995 Cherry Hill Mile runner-up.)    

So heading into the last contest race, I had $342 and was in 15th place, a few hundred bucks or so away from getting paid (top 10 finish), and at some risk of falling out of the top 20. What to do? GP11 was a 13-horse field of maiden turfers, so it was wide wide open. I didn't have any real conviction, but of course when I looked I found some interesting stuff. Among others I liked Cinnamon Spice, a first-time starter trained by Chad Brown who went off at 16-1, as well as Lusaka, a seemingly safer Pletcher-Velazquez debuter who went off at about half those odds.

I typically go for broke in last-race situations, so my first inclination was to put down $150, or maybe even my whole bankroll of wax, on Cinn Spice or Lusaka. But I thought long and hard about it, and I did want to stay in the top 20, so I backed off. I ended up putting just $10P on Cinn Spice, kind of a weird bet but I guess I was thinking if he placed it would give me a few shekels. Cinn Spice ran decently but could manage only a non-threatening 3rd, and Lusaka did nothing.

You don't often root against your horse, but looking back maybe I should have, as the worst outcome probably would have been Cinn Spice winning at a $35.40 mutuel, which would have meant I missed an opportunity to win a contest by going conservative and turtling. But luckily things worked out okay, and I was happy to get out of there on the plus side, with an invitational berth in my back pocket, and without any haunting regret.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

'Meh' Start to 2014

I tried my hand at the Monmouth Park Simulcast Series Challenge #1 yesterday, with no real luck. I tied for last place with a $0 final bankroll.

The high (and low) lights:

-I had two winners, Didn't Take It ($12.60, GP6) and Long to Win ($13.80, Tam7). Both $10W. They got my bankroll up to about $120 something and $140 something, the latter being the days high-water mark.
-I never did make it onto the leaderboard which showed the top 25 of approx. 190 playas -- I'm guessing I topped out around 35th or 40th or something, not that it matters.
-I had tough-beat second-place finishes with Tie Dye (7-1, GP7), and Somali Lemonade (12-1, GP9). One of these two was a $20W bet, I forget which one but I think it was the latter. Hitting one or both of these could have changed the dynamic for me.
-the one notable my-fault miss was Beauties Honor, who paid $19.60 in Tam2. I totally "woulda" played that horse based on my trusty trainer-regency angle, but I had arrived at my seat not long before the race and I was still settling in and BSing with NJHorseplayer. *Thankfully* this miss happened early and given later results it most likely wouldn't have mattered if I had started the day with a $96 score. But it's still annoying and worth some self-flagellation, as there are plenty of exogenous factors that make these contests plenty tough, I don't need human error to make it more of an uphill climb.
-I had $102 at about 5 pm , with 4 contest races left. Not a great position, but it was some ammo to try to do something. But, I didn't really like anything the rest of the way and my stabs (Left Foot Slewie in tam10, Lucky Black in GP11) predictably didn't pan out.
-In my opinion you have to be lucky *and* good on any given day to make noise in these contests. I was reasonably good (but not great) on the handicapping / decision-making end, and while I wasn't
massively unlucky by any means, I wasn't especially lucky either. Middling ratings for both skill and luck ain't gonna do it.
-back in action at SSC #2 in six weeks. Also this year I'm hoping to blog more , yikes I only blogged 5 times last year.