Saturday, November 28, 2009

Last hurrah for '09

I partook in some handicapping contest action this weekend for the first time in a while, and for the last time of 2009. I had my moments, but it is now official: my sorry ass will not be in Las Vegas in late January for the 2010 National Handicapping Championship.

I tried the "free" (for NHC Tour members) online contest on Friday. I didn't really have the energy, time, or motivation to come in cold and adequately handicap races from Woodbine, Churchill, Fair Grounds, and Hawthorne, so I just took stabs, hoping I might get very very very lucky and win an NHC seat. Predictably, I didn't -- I finished with one winner, a bankroll of $6 or somesuch, and a bottom-decile placing.

More seriously, I then tried the contest at Monmouth Park on Saturday. $100 entry fee, $100 bankroll, top 3 finishers qualify for 2010 HWS (not NHC). Races from Aqueduct, Calder, and Woodbine. I focused on Aqueduct being that I don't follow Calder or Woodbine worth a hoot.

Of course the best way to win a handicapping contest is to pick winners, but beyond that my strategy was to be more patient than I have been in previous contests, and hope to still be in contention late in the afternoon. Kind of like a basketball coach might say when his team is on the road against a tough opponent: let's do what we can to stay in the game and have a chance to win in the last two minutes.

I started slowly and about halfway through the Aqueduct card, my bankroll was also halfway through, at $50. But I then strung together three consecutive winners: $10W on Buddy's Saint (chalky, but at least it got me on the board), $15W on Flashing (I liked her better at the 5-1 she was when I bet her rather than the 3-1 at post time, but what can you do), and $40W on Kodiak Kowboy (not half bad at 3-1, I thought). So after the Cigar Mile, my bankroll had increased to $240 and I was in 16th place (of 167).

I then took my big shot in the Aqueduct finale, a state-bred allowance race. I was between Fortissi More at 6-1 and Key Victory at 9-1 - landed on the latter mostly because of the price differential. Key Victory isn't the fastest horse in the world, but I thought he looked decent enough for this so-so field and could improve first-out off the trainer change to Bruce Brown. I slapped down $100 to win, which would have put me in the top 3 easily, and maybe on top.

Key Victory got a fine stalking trip and at one point around the far turn I liked my chances, but alas, the speed fought him off and he weakened late to finish third. @%#* me! That was that. I was down to $140 and back to 23rd place or somesuch. I then proceeded to blow most of that on stabs in the last couple races at Calder and Woodbine. Phooey! What looked so promising at 4 p.m. turned into crapola by 5:30.

I can't say I have a lot to regret in my post-contest autopsy, at least as far as going for the prize. I put myself in a position to win the damn thing late in the day. I took a big shot, the kind of shot that wins contests. And I liked the horse I took the shot with. But sometimes it just don't work out - in basketball parlance, you get an good look at a three-point shot for the win and it rims out. C'est la vie.

I can't decide if I should regret blowing my last $140 on stabs from Calder and Woodbine. Clearly, walking out with $140 after taking my shot would have been much better than walking out with 25c, as I did. But on the other hand, if you're alive that late in the day, you have to try to make a splash. I'm sure lots of contests have been won with lucky picks, as mine would have been, and the absolute worst outcome would have been missing a contest win or placing because you want to save your last few bucks. If you're in a contest, you should be in it to win it.