Friday, February 27, 2009

Big Day Tomorrow

Tomorrow I plan to try my luck at the Simulcast Series Challenge #3 at Monmouth Park. I will also be participating in the NHC Tour online contest.

My focus will be on the Monmouth contest, with the goal of finishing in the top 10 of an estimated field of 200 (being that this is the last SSC of the season, the previous SSC attracted more than 200 players, and tomorrow's weather is supposed to be decent, I suspect more than 200 will show). This would qualify me for a 30-person invitational contest in April, where the top 2 finishers go to Vegas next January.

I will make picks in advance for the online contest, possibly revising here and there over the course of the day if I'm able to, but I'm not putting many eggs into this basket. Only the top 2 qualify, out of a guesstimated field of 800ish. 2-of-800 is much less attractive than 10-of-200, so the latter proposition is where I'll devote my mental energy.

I won't get into specific horses, not for any competitive reason or anything, but rather because I haven't really reviewed the races yet. After a couple recent early flush-outs, I am thinking I may try to be a little more patient earlier in the contest, so I have a better chance of still being kicking around late in the afternoon.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A $125 T-Shirt?

After exhaustive analysis and deliberation, as well as consultations with family, friends, financial and spiritual advisors, and my apartment-building maintenance man, I went ahead and plunked down $125 to join the NHC Tour. At the very least, I figure how legit is a blog about trying to make it to the NHC if the blogger isn't on the NHC tour?

Aside from the considerations I outlined in my previous post, I'm thinking that even if I don't get anywhere on the NHC tour, membership can end up saving me money. This is because on the five free-contest days over the course of the year, I will be able to not go to the track in person and still catch some Saturday racing action. Being that my in-person track trips are more likely to put a hole in, rather than stuff, my wallet, even 1 or 2 non-trips can save me back more than the $125 tour outlay.

And plus, membership gets me a NHC Tour T-shirt, which I wasn't aware of until I signed up. Howza bout that!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

NHC Tour: To Join or Not to Join

So I'm thinking of joining the 2009 NHC Tour.

I'm definitely intent on making it out to Vegas next January (heck, I have a blog dedicated to the quest), so the decision could appear to be a no-brainer. But as I've previously indicated, discretionary funds are not unlimited, so I want to carefully vet each dollar spent for what chance it gives me to qualify. In other words, if there's a $100 contest in my backyard that qualifies 3 of 100, sign me up; if there's a $400 contest across the country that qualifies 1 of 300, I'll pass.

It costs $125 to join the NHC Tour. As I see it, the primary benefit is the five online contests free to Tour members over the course of the year, which offer a total of nine spots to Vegas. The NTRA's Fritz Widaman told me there were about 800 or 900 (he said one or the other, I just forget which) in the Tour last year, and he expects 1,000 or so this year. So, $125 for a chance to be one of 9 qualifiers out of 1,000 isn't bad, as far as contest probabilities go.

Tour members also earn points based on contest placings, and it looks like the top six in the final standings also go to Vegas in 2010. I personally don't see much value to this qualifying route, though, as it clearly favors more regular players with deeper bankrolls. Final points are determined based on a player's top-five finishes, not just cumulative points, but still, you're much more likely to show a strong top five if you played in 30 contests rather than 10.

There's also a $2 million bonus awarded if the NHC winner is an NHC Tour member. This is kind of an abstract concept to someone who's scratching and clawing just to get in the tourney, let alone win it....but still, wouldn't that be a pisser if missed out on the two mil because I was too cheap to buck up $125?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

2nd Monmouth Winter Contest In the Books

Good news: I didn't lose in last Saturday's Simulcast Series Challenge #2 at Monmouth Park. But the bad news is: I didn't win, either. My neutrality is explained by a previous commitment that precluded my attendance.

So I have no post-contest sob story to offer up, nor can I regale my loyal readership with a proud and dramatic tale of victory.

But I always look forward to seeing the results, as there are usually some insights to be gleaned. As the Monmouth Park link shows, Jim Wasserson of Washington Crossing, PA beat 212 rivals with a final bankroll of $920. Ricky Zimmer finished second with $682.90.

A couple observations:

1. I am surprised that Monmouth attracted 213 players in these tough economic times. Usually these winter contests seem to get 160-180 or thereabouts -- I'd have figured if anything Saturday's number would be lower, with presumably fewer people willing to ante up $200. I guess the strong attendance is a testament to the growing popularity of handicapping contests generally, and Monmouth's continued capable management of their contests specifically. In fact, I daresay that in this era of declining attendance, field size, and caliber of horseflesh at the Oceanport Oval, the handicapping contest program is the track's one growth area.

2. I am not surprised at the $920 and $682.90 1-2 finishers, which are quite low bankrolls by historical contest standards. With a full field of 213, usually you need at least $1,500 to have a shot at winning, and I've seen $2K-$4K winners. I think prices tell the tale as to why nobody cracked four figures.

Aqueduct, which I suspect is the most-bet track in the contest, was ridiculously chalky on Saturday -- aside from the $16.40 first-race winner, the other 8 winners paid between $2.90 and $6.50. Tampa was not much better -- one 54-1 bomb came in, but 8 of the other 10 winners paid less than $9. Gulfstream had several prices in the $16-$20 range, but apparently no more than a few contest participants put more than one of them together with any firepower.

Risk taking is what wins handicapping contests, but when chalk rules the day like it (mostly) did on Saturday, risk taking is punished.

At any rate, I am looking forward to the Simulcast Series Challenge #3 on February 28 at Monmouth. I imagine it will be a large field given last week's attendance and the fact that this will be the last qualifier for the invitational contest in April.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Will I Have to Make the Bed?

Station Casinos is reportedly considering filing for bankruptcy. I'm reportedly considering whether to be troubled by this news, as Station Casinos just so happens to own the Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas, where I plan to stay on January 28-29, 2010, as I compete for the National Handicapping Championship. Rather than a comfy stay as a pampered guest in the lap of luxury, I am picturing stained sheets, threadbare carpets with cigarette burns, and day-old room-service leftovers festering in the hallway.

But realistically, a bankruptcy filing would be a capital-structure reorganization to get Station Casinos out from under its massive debt load and should not have any meaningful impact on the day-to-day operations of the facility. In the service industry, any competent management team knows that cutbacks are dangerous and can quickly lead to a no-return downward spiral in revenue. Who knows, the potential bankruptcy is supposed to be a "prepackaged" arrangement, which typically moves quicker than an out-of-the-blue filing, so Station Casinos may well have already emerged from bankruptcy come next January.

So while my fears of the Red Rock deteriorating into a roach motel were stated tongue-in-cheek, the turn of events goes to show how times have changed. As the Wall Street Journal reported, just a couple years ago Station Casinos sought to "carry out ambitious expansion plans to upgrade its profile from middling casinos for Las Vegas locals, to luxury properties that lured out-of-towners." Surely, landing the NHC was part of those expansion plans -- wonder if either side will have qualms about renewing the deal when the time comes.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Early-season musings

Due to a previous commitment, I will not be participating in the handicapping contest at Monmouth Park this Saturday. I wish I could make it, especially as this is one of only three pre-qualifiers (top 10 of ~200 move on) for an April invitational contest that sends the top 2 of 30 to the 2010 NHC at the Red Rock. But c'est la vie, there will be other qualifying opportunities, I only hope that I can look at the results on Saturday evening and not get the sinking feeling that I may have missed something big.

I did take a crack at the Jan. 17 pre-qualifier at Monmouth, with no luck (I realize this is old news by now, but being as this blog didn't exist then, I figure it's worth a quick recap). I had $30W on an 8-1 horse on the Tampa turf that led all the way before being caught late by a 17-1 shot, which would have put me in the early-afternoon top 5, but nothing doing beyond that -- 4 losing bets and I was out the door.

I was amazed several days later when I read that the contest winner was down to his last $10 before parlaying 7-1 and 23-1 winners in the final two races at Gulfstream. I usually feel hopelessly behind the eight-ball when my $100 bankroll is down to $30 or $40 (at which time the leader may have $400 or somesuch). If I have $10 left, I'm pretty much putting on my jacket. Indeed, Nick Fazzolari's win was no mean feat: by my back-of-the-envelope calculations, the odds of hitting back-to-back 7-1 and 23-1 winners are approximately 1 in 192 (1/8 x 1/24).

Just goes to show that you always have a puncher's chance in handicapping contests, or at least those with no max bet.