Thursday, April 24, 2014

5.26 Percent

I'll be competing in Monmouth Park's Simulcast Series Challenge Invitational on Saturday, luckily with two entries. Nicole Lince of Monmouth Park told me of the 80 entries signed on for Saturday, 76 are NHC Tour members -- the top 2 finishers who are NHC Tour members qualify for Vegas, so that puts my chances at 2 * (2/76), or 5.26%.

The good news is, 1/19 is a heckuva lot better than the ~1/60 shot that you get in most online contests, and there's no entry fee -- each entry is $200 live bankroll only. The not-so-good news is, the chance is still slim city, as there's almost a 95% chance that come Saturday evening, I'll be telling my sob story to anyone within earshot.

I'm happy to have two entries, but in general it's really not my thing and I can't recall ever playing two entries in the decade+ I've been playing contests. I understand a double entry gives you a better chance, but in my opinion there are some factors pertaining to strategy and decision making that complicate things. So when the cost is double but both the chance of winning and the enjoyment increase by less than double, flying solo is an easy decision for this budget-conscious contest player.

That means Sat. will be uncharted territory in terms of how I play the two entries.

I was first thinking I'd play one entry normally (i.e. methodical, mostly minimum $20 bets with only moderate risk-taking through early and mid-afternoon, hoping to be in with a chance late in the day)

and the other entry with some kind of risky hell-bent-for-leather strategy, say perhaps $200W on an 8-1 shot or something, or maybe play only $100 or $50 bets on this ticket. This way I'd have some chance to hit a big score early and be in front, but if I lost (most likely scenario), I'd still have the other entry to play as usual.

But while this strategy holds some appeal, and if I had a third entry I absolutely would play one like this, I'm now leaning toward a more conservative approach. This is certainly subject to change, but I'm thinking I'll play both entries in the same methodical, slow-early, hopefully-fast-late fashion. I'll play the same horse on both entries maybe a few times (i.e. my strongest calls); play more tepid calls on one entry only (though I'm not sure which one -- this to me is the biggest strategic challenge in having two entries); and in the instances when say I dislike a chalk but I can't decide between two alternatives, I'll play one on each entry.    

Assuming a best-case scenario of a few wins over the course of the afternoon, this strategy can have me in contention late in the day on both tickets, allowing me to swing on both.

Of course I'll need to have a very good handicapping day with at least a few decent-priced winners to have a shot at finishing in the top 2, but I'm thinking with the approach I outlined, I'll have at least some margin for error. If a couple of my core plays come in I can still win even if a key decision or two doesn't go my way, whereas with one entry, there's that much less margin for error.

With the risk-on approach of big early bets, my chances are certainly increased versus having only one entry, but they're increased in more of a random or lucky sense rather than a sound strategic sense. (If that makes any sense.)

Anyway, just some musings a day and a half before Saturday's first post.    

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Luck o' the Irish

Monmouth Park food is hardly magically delicious -- but I got friggin lucky in SSC3
I'm as likely as the next guy to moan about bad trips, tough beats, capricious stewards and the countless other vagaries that can befall a horseplayer.

But sometimes things just go your way. Exhibit A of plain ol' dumb luck was my experience at yesterday's Simulcast Series Challenge 3 at Monmouth Park.

I finished 7th of 298 contestants with a $681 bankroll. That plus $447 in prize money netted out to a +$900-and-change day, plus a second seat in next month's SSC Invitational.

I have only Bruno's workout reports to thank, really. My handicapping for this SSC series has been a three-legged stool of sorts: (listed in no particular order) Bruno's workout reports for the Gulfstream card; my own proprietary (patent pending) trainer-recency angle, which I find tends to work best at Tampa; and old-fashioned perusal of DRF past performances. But yesterday, the second two legs were essentially no-shows, leaving me with Bruno, who thankfully killed it with good skinny on Hot and Spicy, who won GP3 at 13-1 (I had $10W, $5P) , and Little Daddy, who won GP8 at 16-1 ($10W).

Fast forward to 5:45 pm, when there were two races left. I had a $274.50 bankroll after winning on H&S and LD but losing on 10 other bets, spanning six of the $10 variety, plus 2 $15s, 1 $20, and 1 $40 (Gamay Noir in Tam9).

I liked Centre Court in GP10 based largely on Bruno's info. I wasn't crazy about the 3-1 price but I figured it was just good enough. So I slapped down $174W, figuring if she lost I would have a Ben for a spec play in the finale.

Centre Court got an okayish trip before being fanned 7 wide into the stretch while making her move. She got the lead and barely, barely held on in a photo finish that was about as close as it could be without it being a dead heat. (Unfortunately the photo went the wrong way for not one but two contest brethren.)

In the last race I went $100W on 6-1 Gratitude, who opened up a too-long lead and burned out and finished 4th. The 6-1 Pletcher/Castellano winner was very playable but I probably liked it 3rd best, c'est la vie. I would have loved to bang up into the top 5 where the real money is, but I was more than happy staying in 8th.

So that was that, at the time I figured I had a reasonably (but not especially) lucky day with some good handicapping. After a lovely home-cooked meal of corned beef and cabbage with the NJHorseplayer clan, I headed north to Essex County.

It was only when I was home and reviewing stuff from the day that I realized just how lucky I was. The startling revelation was that Centre Court broke through the gate before the race. I TOTES missed that, as I guess I was chatting or somesuch. I'm a big believer in canceling bets when pre-race shenanigans happen, whether it be significant reluctance to load, or a jockey toss, or a gate break-through. Stuff like that just expends physical and mental energy needed for the race (someone who goes by o_crunk tweeted "Cheers to Centre Court for winning after breaking thru gate. Unscientific study of horses breaking thru gate last 24 mos - 22/402 $0.52 ROI"). And Centre Court's trainer even said post-race that his horses never run well after breaking through the gate.

So, I should have caught the gate break-through, and I should have ran up to cancel the bet. But because I missed it, the bet stood, and the bet won. I was essentially rewarded for not paying attention.

Now THAT is lucky.              


Friday, February 21, 2014


I had a good day this past Sunday at Monmouth Park's Simulcast Series Challenge #2. I goosed my $100 starting bankroll into $332 by day's end, good for a $132 net profit, 15th place (of 274 entrants), and a berth in April's SSC Invitational, which qualifies 2 of 80 for the NHC.

It was a good day (for a change), not a great day.

I went 5-for-15 in my wagers, and while I had no bombs to speak of (there weren't really any on the day), each was reasonably priced. My often-trusty trainer-recency angle helped land me on Bico Blanco, who paid $17.40 in Calder's 5th race; Quelch, who $11.80 in Tampa 6; and Chief Redneck, who paid $8.60 to place in Tampa 10. Bruno's workout report pointed me to Straight Town, who paid $19.60 in Gulfstream 9, and just some straightforward handicapping of a turf-route-to-dirt-sprint led me to Cowgirl Spirit, who paid $14.40 in Tampa 3.

My winners were spaced out so I was banging around the lower end of the 25-person leaderboard for most of the afternoon. My first 12 bets were of the $10W variety, before I hung a little fire with a $20WP bet on Chief Redneck. My luck was pretty decent, as aside from a missed break or two I saw generally clean trips, and Quelch actually finished 2nd but was the beneficiary of a disqualification that could have gone either way. (Unfortunately the DQ hurt my neighbor Paul Zerbst, who co-owned Onto Luck, the 1995 Cherry Hill Mile runner-up.)    

So heading into the last contest race, I had $342 and was in 15th place, a few hundred bucks or so away from getting paid (top 10 finish), and at some risk of falling out of the top 20. What to do? GP11 was a 13-horse field of maiden turfers, so it was wide wide open. I didn't have any real conviction, but of course when I looked I found some interesting stuff. Among others I liked Cinnamon Spice, a first-time starter trained by Chad Brown who went off at 16-1, as well as Lusaka, a seemingly safer Pletcher-Velazquez debuter who went off at about half those odds.

I typically go for broke in last-race situations, so my first inclination was to put down $150, or maybe even my whole bankroll of wax, on Cinn Spice or Lusaka. But I thought long and hard about it, and I did want to stay in the top 20, so I backed off. I ended up putting just $10P on Cinn Spice, kind of a weird bet but I guess I was thinking if he placed it would give me a few shekels. Cinn Spice ran decently but could manage only a non-threatening 3rd, and Lusaka did nothing.

You don't often root against your horse, but looking back maybe I should have, as the worst outcome probably would have been Cinn Spice winning at a $35.40 mutuel, which would have meant I missed an opportunity to win a contest by going conservative and turtling. But luckily things worked out okay, and I was happy to get out of there on the plus side, with an invitational berth in my back pocket, and without any haunting regret.