Thursday, December 30, 2010

Early Musings on 2011 NHC Tour

I just signed up for the new (and improved?) 2011 NHC Tour. It will be my third year on the tour -- over the past two years I forked over a combined $200 and got back only one t-shirt. Yes, it was an expensive t-shirt.

I'm hoping the third time's a charm as far as qualifying for the National Handicapping Championship -- I definitely came the closest I've ever been in 2010, so perhaps a little better luck in '11 will put me over the hump.

The 2011 tour has been goosed -- the pot for the January 2012 event will increase to $2 million including a $1 million winner's share, up from $1.1 million and $500K for next month's contest. The field will rise to 500 contestants from 321, and the cost of joining the NHC Tour has been reduced from $100 to $45.

In a big-picture sense, I like to see the NTRA Tour expansion because it shows that the handicapping contest circuit is alive and well, even as the horse racing industry struggles mightily. This is no surprise to this NJ-based contest player: Monmouth Park contests have been consistently well-attended for years amid growing questions about that track's very survival, and the two NYRA events I played this summer sold out, with the full contest room and lines at the buffet providing a marked contrast to the tumbleweed blowing around the rest of the track.

However, more is not always better. I find that about 200 players in a handicapping contest is a sweet spot -- it's enough to make it interesting, very challenging, and potentially very lucrative, yet there aren't so many people that it feels like this funny commercial. And overall, the NHC Tour in recent years just felt like the right difficulty level in terms of making it to the Big Dance -- plenty challenging for full-timers, and super difficult for just a semi-regular weekend player like myself.

Going from 321 to 500 players is a huge increase, more than 50% in fact -- certainly it improves my chances to sneak in, and I hope the bigger NHC Tour is a success, but I also hope that the powers that be realize they may be fixing something that was not broken.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Another Year, Another Bust

Despite a fair amount of attempts and some close calls, once again I did not qualify for the DRF/NTRA Handicapping Championship (cue the violins). So I will not be at the Red Rock in Las Vegas on the weekend of Jan. 28-29; being that this blog is named Red Rock or Bust, I must therefore declare an official state of bust.

I apologize for being a lazy @$&*! and not blogging much this year (that's an understatement). I have no excuse. But I will offer a brief 2010 recap here and I hope to be more active in 2011.

While I did not qualify for NHC, I did have a decent year on the contest circuit. The highlight was definitely placing 5th of 219 in a February handicapping contest at Monmouth Park, which got me to the April invitational, earned me some pin money for subsequent qualifying attempts, and restored faith in my ability to compete in these things.

I got a run for my money in the April invitational, when I was actually on my way to Las Vegas as of 5:30 p.m. -- the problem was that there were still about 45 minutes and 4 contest races left (I faded). Similarly, I was on my way to Vegas as of about 4:50 p.m. on the day of Monmouth's big contest in August, but again I couldn't close the deal.

Another highlight was taking my show on the road (outside NJ, that is) for the first time -- I participated in NYRA contests at Belmont in June and Aqueduct in November. I finished in mid-pack in both events; did better in the AQU affair, where I shoulda woulda coulda made some noise if a couple photos went my way (including a 24-1 capper at Churchill Downs who lost by a head).

All told I think I played nine live contests this year: four early in the year at Monmouth, three during Monmouth's live meet, plus the two NYRA affairs. I generated a very small net profit: +~ $1,700 in the Feb. contest and ~$200 in two other contests, minus the entry fees of the others. I did fail to qualify for NHC, but I can never complain about breaking even or better and having a lot of fun in the process.

Big picture, I still can't say conclusively that I'm any better than other contest players. I figger I'm played in about 35-40 contests over the past seven years approximately, and I've placed in the top 10 twice. Using a roughly average contest field size of 200, that means an average player has a 1-in-20 chance of placing in the top 10, which is about what I've shown. But I've yet to qualify for the NHC, which is the ultimate prize -- I'll trade a couple dozen off-the-board contest finishes over a few down years for one shot at NHC glory anytime.

At any rate, what's in store for 2011? Who knows. If I'm still above ground and solvent, I'll most likely be taking semi-regular shots to qualify for the 2012 NHC, starting with a Jan. 15 event at Monmouth Park. There are changes afoot for the Big Dance, including a bigger pot, a significantly expanded field and a different dues structure for the NHC Tour. Regarding the blog, I hope to be more active, and may also collaborate in some manner with bitter NHC Tour rival William H.

Happy Holidays!