Tuesday, January 27, 2009


And welcome to the inaugural post of my blog, Red Rock or Bust!

Today is Thursday, January 29, 2009. It is a mere 365 days, aka one year, until the 2010 National Handicapping Championship (NHC) is held at the Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas.

For those of you not familiar, the NHC brings together about 300 of the finest handicappers in the land for a shot at $1 million in prize money. It is an invitational tournament -- to earn a seat, you must qualify through one of the many "feeder"-type contests held throughout the year, at various tracks around the country or online. I liken it to the NCAA basketball tournament -- it's a long season, there are many different ways to get in, and when the time comes, it's where everyone wants to be.

I have a...er...um..."mixed" (to put it graciously) record so far in handicapping contests. I have probably entered 20 or so contests over the past five years, mostly at Monmouth Park, with buy-ins ranging from $50 to $300. I finished 10th one time a few years ago, my only prize-money placing. Several other times I've been on the leaderboard, once as high as 3rd of almost 200, only to crap out by day's end. The other times I finished off the board, either breaking evenish or (more often) going bust.

But I have confidence my day will come, for a few reasons:

1. I like longshots, I think I'm decent at finding live longshots, and I'm not afraid to play aggressively when I find them. This formula will bounce me out of most contests early, but on days when I'm on, it gives me a real chance.
2. While I see more than a few familiar faces on the NJ contest circuit, the names in the top 10 are almost always different. That tells me that even the best handicappers finish off the board in these contests much more frequently than they finish on the board. Good handicapping is important, but so are persistence and luck.
3. Recap articles often describe the contest winner as a frequent or semi-frequent player, but a first-time winner. So prior to winning, those folks were in the same classification I'm in now. Persistence pays off.
4. Ron Rippey of the Newark Star-Ledger not only qualified for the contest in 2006, but he WON the whole damn thing! He's been around for a long time and is an established and respected handicapper, but I find his published picks generally on the chalky and conservative side, with boring, odds-on "best bets". So if Rippey can win the NHC, it tells me there is no magic formula to break through other than solid handicapping, judicious risk taking, and a big ol' dollop of luck.

There are constraints to my quest to qualify for the NHC. First and foremost, antes. Unfortunately, contests can be expensive to enter, contests can be expensive to travel to (I can cheaply get to Monmouth, The Meadowlands, Belmont, and Aqueduct), and my discretionary funds are hardly unlimited. Internet qualifiers can be cheap or even free, but such contests are generally poor "lottery ticket" propositions, with maybe one NHC spot for 1,000+ contestants. So needless to say, I will have to pick my spots carefully.

Add it all up and I hope to make this a fun and interesting narrative of my attempts to qualify for the 2010 NHC. Wish me luck!