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.


  1. good luck. it's better than the lottery, BUT,the guys who win it every year are full time horseplayers. i know 2 of them and believe me , they have paid their dues. big time. amateurs have zero chance.
    better to put the same hours to use concentrating on one track and being happy to break even at year end.
    remember, "you can beat the juice(takeout)over time.

  2. @Anon -- I'm with you that full-time horseplayers have an advantage over weekend warriors, simply because any full-timer is almost certainly highly experienced and good, and because full-timers take more shots at these things (2 entries per contest, fly to out-of-town contests, etc.)

    But I disagree that amateurs have zero chance. I've had some modest success, and have been in sniffing distance of a couple big prizes that would have put frowns on the faces of the pros. As long as you're a decent handicapper who can ferret out a price once in a while and you consistently apply sound contest strategy, you're in with a chance in these things. Any Given Saturday, baby.

    Happy New Year.

  3. Terry, I agree with you. To say that only professional handicappers have a shot is like saying that people who study number patterns for MegaMillions are the only ones that can win. To be sure, one contestant hit a 102-1 shot to steamroll the field in a $30 Monmouth Contest over Memorial Day, which throws out the theory that being a professional wins out in these things. I find it equal parts good handicapping, good timing (i.e. knowing when to make a big call on a horse), good bankroll management and good luck.