Los Alamitos Racing Association to Offer 3 NHC Seats this Saturday

NTRA NHC logoPress Release

The Los Alamitos Racing Association will offer a cash prize, three seats to the 2018 National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas and more with a live money handicapping contest Saturday, Sept. 23.

In addition to the berths in the NHC, there will be also be five spots available for the Autumn Handicapping Contest at Santa Anita (Oct. 6-8) as well as three to next year’s NTRA Last Chance Horseplayers Championship Qualifier in Las Vegas.

Cost to enter the Los Alamitos Fall Qualifier is $500. Of that amount, $100 will be placed in the contest prize pool with the remaining funds going towards a live-money wagering card.

Contestants must enter prior to 2 p.m. – post time for the first race – Sept. 16. Players can begin entering the contest once track gates open at 9:30 a.m. that morning and participants can purchase a maximum of two entries.

Tournament races will include the entire card at Los Alamitos with permitted wagers including win, place, show and exactas. Each entry must bet at least $100 on four races, but there is no wagering limit.

The player with the highest bankroll at the end of the day will be declared the winner and the player with the second highest bankroll will be the runner-up.

The winner will receive 50% of the prize pool, which will be capped at $10,000. The remaining payoffs: 20% (2nd place), 15% (3rd place), 10% (4th place) and 5% (5th place).

Players can sign up for the handicapping contest at losalamitos.com as well as review complete contest rules. For any further questions, contact larace@losalamitos.com or by telephone at 714-820-2690.

Tournament Veteran Lam Captures Laurel Champions Handicapping Tournament

Press Release

Phillip Lam of Fresh Meadow, N.Y. finished with a bankroll balance of $4,359.70 to capture the fall session of the Maryland Jockey Club’s Champions Handicapping Tournament held Saturday at Laurel Park.

Lam earned $3,030 in prize money ended with a comfortable margin over runner-up Gwyn Houston of Fallston, Md., who ended the day with a bankroll balance of $3,106.80 and took home $2,020 in prize money.

The tournament was open to players for $300, which covered a $100 entry fee and $200 bankroll. In addition to prize money, the top four finishers qualified for automatic berths to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC), Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) or The BIG ONE.

A total of 201 entries were accepted from 139 players for the tournament, held for the first year in Laurel’s newly refurbished second-floor sports bar. There were no mandatory races during the contest but a $20 minimum wager on races from Laurel, Gulfstream Park, Saratoga Race Course, Monmouth Park and Woodbine.

Given his choice of four tournament berths, Lam selected the BCBC to be held Nov. 3-4 at Del Mar while Houston selected a berth in The BIG ONE Sept. 23-24 at Laurel Park.

Third place went to Michael Webb of Westminster, Md., who finished with a balance of $2,395.40 and earned $1,010 and an NHC berth. Jason Jubb of Pasadena, Md. was fourth with a balance of $2,248 and earned $606.

Since Jubb is not a member of the NHC Tour, fifth-place finisher Joseph McKay of Gaithersburg, Md. earned the final NHC berth. He ended with a balance of $1,594.50 and prize money of $606.

Rounding out the top 10 finishers were David Hertz with a tournament balance of $1,450, Roger Kurrus ($1,358), Barry Howard ($1,192), David Stone ($1,089.50) and Jeffrey Harryman ($1,000). Each player earned $606 in prize money.

The spring session of the MJC Champions Handicapping Tournament was won by Thomas Camann of Providence, R.I., who chose a berth in the BCBC. Other winners from the spring tournament were Frederick Cipriano (BIG ONE), Hewett Andrews (NHC) and Steven Scalco (NHC).

A First Time Starter at the Wynn Handicapping Challenge

“Here were two tournament veterans wanting in on my action.  A far cry from just wanting to avoid embarrassing myself. “

By Justin Dew

A social media friend of mine pointed out to me that when one’s name is misspelled publically, it’s thought to be a sign of good luck.  Perhaps that’s what led to my 7th place finish in the Wynn Handicapping Challenge.  Or perhaps it was “Misspelled Name’s Luck” better known cousin, Beginner’s Luck.  Regardless, my experience in my first ever $2 Win/Place format tournament with an actual cash prize on the line has brought me to the conclusion that I am going to be taking part in these events for a long time to come.

The 2016 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge was my first handicapping tournament of any kind, and since then I have participated in several online qualifiers.  But the 2017 Wynn Handicapping Challenge was the first time I had ever competed for real money, other than the live money BCBC.  I am typically not a big goal setter, so I aimed low for the Wynn event: don’t embarrass yourself.  With $64 in mythical wagers each of two days, I would have been perfectly happy earning a score of $128.10 and looking at my lost $2,000 entry fee as an investment in my education.  Seriously.  My expectations were that low.  Especially after trying and failing to qualify for the event online four times at an additional cost of about $800.

I downloaded the Saratoga and Del Mar past performances on Thursday before my flight from Orlando to Las Vegas, but other than a cursory glance to get a feel for what the respective cards had in store, I didn’t do one second of handicapping before the event.  Not one second.  I am a huge believer in avoiding paralysis through analysis, and my limited experience in online qualifies has shown me how frustrating it can be to warm up to a horse at 12-1 on the morning line, see that horse open at 6-1, find another horse at better odds, and then watch the first horse win at 10-1.  So I knew I didn’t want to make any emotional commitments to any horse before I had a chance to see the tote board.  And with more than 30 minutes between races at Saratoga, I knew I’d have plenty of time to handicap.  So I essentially went in blind.

Me and my iPad arrived at the Wynn Sportbook about an hour before the Friday opener at the Spa.  There was no assigned seat for me since I had just registered that morning.  I was placed at a small table with two other guys who would become friends by the end of the weekend.  We will call them Scott and Brian since I neglected to get their permission to use their real names for this little story.  Scott and Brian were playing as a partnership.  I had seen Scott’s name on tournament leaderboards before.

With 30 selections over two days, I’ll spare you a breakdown of each horse I used and stick to the highlights.  After running last and second last with my first two plays, I used my one daily $4 Win and Place wager in the 3rd from Saratoga [Wynn rules allow one ‘double bet’ each day].  I wish I had kept the PPs from both days so I could tell you why I picked the horse, but I didn’t.  Anyway, Hardened won and paid $18.80 and $7.90.  Since I “fired my big bullet,” that horse was worth $53.40 to me.  After only three races, I knew I was near the top of the leaderboard, which I wouldn’t be able to actually see until the end of the day, per Wynn rules.  The Saratoga card would end with me only scoring on one other horse: Petrov, who paid $7.60 and $4.40.

In the 4th at Del Mar, Into Rissa (if I remember correctly) was moving into state-bred company from open maiden special weights company at about 12-1.  She ran 2nd and paid $10.20 to place.  I had used a short-priced winner earlier on the card and then blanked from there.  So I scored with four of 15 picks and had a Day 1 score of $85.80, good for 16th place out of 241 contestants.  When the Day 1 results were posted, I was identified at J. Drew.  My social media friends had a field day.

I approached Day 2 pretty much the same way.  Minimal prep and low expectations.  And I struck early and hard.  After initially planning to skip the first three races, I ended up playing them and making a move that would make me a contender for the victory.  In the 2nd race at Saratoga, an Al Stall Churchill shipper caught my eye, so I fired my $4 bullet and he won at 6-1.  Behavioral Bias paid $15.60 and $6.60, times two.  And in the very next day, me and my tablemates Scott and Brian both used 9-1 winner Estrechada.  Javiar Castellano had now won two in a row for me, and I was up to $74.00 for the day and $159.80 for the tournament.  The table celebrated together.

It was after the next race, the 4th from Saratoga, that things got interesting.  Scott and Brian used a Mott first-timer named Trumpi who won and paid $47.40 and $20.20.  This put them up near the $150 range, and right into contention with me.  Just then, as I started to handicap the 5th race, I noticed Scott motioning Brian to follow him out in to the casino.  I figured they were going to come back and inform me that tournament protocol dictated that we had to either switch tables or stop talking openly about our opinions since both parties were now in contention for some serious cash.  I was wrong.  They returned to the table and a fresh round of Diet Cokes (I think both of them combined for between 30-40 Diet Cokes over the weekend).  Scott said “So Justin.  We figure you are in the lead and we are in the Top 5.  How about we each agree to hedge for 10% of each other’s winnings, and we keep playing openly like we have been?”  Wow.  Here were two tournament veterans wanting in on my action.  A far cry from just wanting to avoid embarrassing myself.  I agreed, and it was on to the rest of the Saratoga card.

I would only hit three more horses from my remaining 11 selections.  The highlight for me was a D. Wayne Lukas runner in the 11th race named Warrior’s Club, who almost stole the race at 26-1 before Neolithic ran him down.  That extra $54 would have come in handy, but I settled for the $11.60 place payout.  I did manage to score with my final two picks, adding about $20 or so.  After two days, I had accumulated a score of $189.20.  Scott and Brian were in the low $160 range.  It was all over.  Time to wait.

It took about 45 minutes for the final results to be posted.  The people sitting around me speculated that I had a shot at the Top 20.  I was letting myself dream about maybe the Top 15.  Though I was fully prepared to be disappointed by a 25th-place finish, which would have been out of the money and out of the Top 10 percent.

But I was not to be disappointed.  I had finished in 7th place overall.  Scott and Brian also cracked the Top 20 and took home some cash.  My finish was worth $8,500, minus the 10% cut for Scott and Brian, plus 10% of their winnings to me.  I was absolutely stunned.  I never expected to perform so well.  It was truly beyond my wildest expectations.   In a room full of people who had done this many, many times before and who in some cases were viewing multiple laptops at once as they analyzed replays and charts, I had somehow managed to finish 7th without even looking at the past performances until there were 30 minutes to post.  I’ll say it again: I was stunned.

Scott and Brian invited me to the Wynn buffet, where I literally pinched myself half-a-dozen times just to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming.  To be honest, while the money was nice and will fund my return to the BCBC this year, what I really was excited about was knowing that I can compete with the best handicappers on the tournament circuit.  Maybe not every time.  Maybe not even most of the time.  But at least this time.  For at least a race or two, I was in the lead against 241 other handicappers.  And I ended up beating 97% of the field.  Was it Beginner’s Luck?  I guess time will tell.

 

 

July On-Track Contests for 2018 National Handicapping Championship (NHC)

NTRA NHC logoLEXINGTON, Ky. (June, 2017) – Summertime brings with it an acceleration in the number of on-track National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) qualifiers, which frequently offer large cash prize pools along with berths to the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping tournament. Registration is now open for rich tournaments coming up in the next few weeks at Woodbine Racecourse, Santa Anita Park, Monmouth Park, Del Mar, and other top contest destinations around North America.

The first-half NHC Tour season will conclude on July 30.  The top 5 finishers of the first-half NHC Tour Leaderboard will receive full 2017 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge berths.

Here are the basics on the “brick-and-mortar” NHC qualifiers scheduled through the end of July, in chronological order:

SATURDAY – Woodbine Sprint Meet Handicapping Tournament – Two berths to NHC 2018, estimated $20,000 prize pool, entry $150 ($50 bankroll + $100 to prize money).

JUNE 30-JULY 2 – Santa Anita Three-Peat Handicapping Contests – Three days of one-day contests on closing weekend at Santa Anita, with 100 percent of entry fees paid back as cash prizes. Day 1: two berths to NHC 2018, $30,000 estimated prize pool, $700 entry ($400 bankroll + $300 to prize money). Day 2: five berths to NHC 2018, $100,000 estimated prize pool, entry $3,000 ($2,000 bankroll + $1,000 to prize money). Day 3: five berths to NHC 2018, $100,000 estimated prize pool, entry $3,000 ($2,000 bankroll + $1,000 to prize money). Cash bonuses of $50,000 for winning two of the contests and $250,000 for winning all three.

JULY 2 – Monmouth Park $250 Handicapping Contest – Two berths to NHC 2018, estimated $20,000 prize pool, entry $250 ($150 bankroll + $100 to prize money).

JULY 8 – Arlington Handicapping Challenge – Three berths to NHC 2018 plus berths to other major handicapping contests, no entry fee, $2,000 live bankroll.

JULY 8 – Belmont Park Stars & Stripes Challenge – Two berths to NHC 2018, guaranteed $5,000 first-place prize, entry $500 ($300 bankroll + $200 to prize money).

JULY 8 – Los Alamitos – Three berths to NHC 2018, estimated $10,000 prize pool, entry $400 ($300 bankroll + $100 entry fee)

JULY 14-16 – Surfside Race Place at Del Mar One-Day Contests – Three one-day contests,  two berths to NHC 2018 each day, guaranteed $16,500 prize pool each day.  Day 1: advance entry $340 ($40 bankroll + $300 entry fee).  Day 2: advance entry $500 ($200 bankroll + $300 entry fee).  Day 3: advance entry $340 ($40 bankroll + $300 entry fee).

JULY 22 – Monmouth Park $250 Handicapping Contest – Two berths to NHC 2018, estimated $20,000 prize pool, entry $250 ($150 bankroll + $100 to prize money).

JULY 23 – Lone Star Park Handicapping Championship Series, Second Chance – Two berths to NHC 2018, estimated $7,500 prize pool, free to play.

JULY 29-30 – Del Mar Challenge – Eight berths to NHC 2018 plus berths to other major handicapping contests, estimated $300,000 prize pool, entry $7,000 ($5,000 bankroll + $2,000 to prize money).

JULY 29 – Woodbine Mid-Summer Handicapping Tournament – Two berths to NHC 2018, estimated $25,000 prize pool, entry $500 ($250 bankroll + $250 to prize money).

Prize pools are estimated and will be adjusted on a sliding scale in accordance with the final number of entries.

For the full calendar of upcoming NHC qualifiers, including links to details on how to enter, visithttps://www.ntra.com/nhc-events.

For additional information on the NHC and NHC Tour visit www.ntra.com/nhc.

About the National Horseplayers Championship

In its 19th year, the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (formerly known as the NTRA National Handicapping Championship) is presented by Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens and Treasure Island Las Vegas. Equibase is the official data provider of the NHC and NHC Tour. The NHC is world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino race books, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping websites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. Each year, the NHC winner joins other human and equine champions as an honoree at the Eclipse Awards. The most recent NHC offered record prize money and awards totaling more than $2.9 million. NHC 19 will be held February 9-11, 2018, at Treasure Island Las Vegas.

About the NTRA

The NTRA, based in Lexington, Ky., is a broad-based coalition of more than 100 horse racing interests and thousands of individual stakeholders consisting of horseplayers, racetrack operators, owners, breeders, trainers and affiliated horse racing associations, charged with increasing the popularity, welfare and integrity of Thoroughbred racing through consensus-based leadership, legislative advocacy, safety and integrity initiatives, fan engagement and corporate partner development. The NTRA owns and manages the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance; NTRA.com; the Eclipse Awards; the National Handicapping Championship; NTRA Advantage, a corporate partner sales and sponsorship program; and Horse PAC®, a federal political action committee. NTRA press releases appear on NTRA.com, Twitter (@ntra) and Facebook (facebook.com/1NTRA).

Registration Opens Today for Louisiana Downs NHC Qualifier

NTRA NHC logoHarrah’s Louisiana Downs is pleased to announce that they will host a regional qualifying event for the $2.5 million-est.|

 National Horseplayers Championship. The contest will be held at the Bossier City racetrack on Saturday, June 17.

This will be a live format, with win, place and show wagers on ten selected races. The entry fee is $300 ($150 entry fee, $150 live bankroll) and the contest will be limited to 100 entries, maximum two entries per person.  All participants must be NHC Tour Members and may join online at https://www.ntra.com/membership. The fee of $50 offers valuable discounts for handicapping products and entry into the four FREE remaining online tournaments in 2017. Registration opens for the Louisiana Downs qualifier on Tuesday, May 30. Players needing further information may contact Tracey Blevins (tblevins@caesars.com) or Michele Ravencraft (mravencraft@ntra.com).

The top two finishers will win a berth in the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping tournament which will take place in Las Vegas, February 8-11, 2018. In addition, both winners will receive a $400 travel voucher and hotel accommodations for four nights in Las Vegas.

“Going the extra mile for our horseplayers is an extremely important priority at Louisiana Downs,” said Trent McIntosh, Louisiana Downs assistant general manager. “We look forward to hosting this regional qualifying tournament for the National Horseplayers Championship and will be rooting for our two winners to be crowned Horseplayer of the Year next January.”

Today: Free National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Qualifier Offers up 5 Spots

A Free-to-Play online National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) qualifier is set for Saturday on HorsePlayers.com, the new official qualifying site for the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping tournament.|

The contest offers five berths to February’s NHC and is open exclusively to NHC Tour members. This past January’s NHC 18 offered a record prize pool worth more than $2.9 million, including an $800,000 first-place prize won by Ray Arsenault, whose finish also earned him an Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year.

To register for Saturday’s free contest, go to HorsePlayers.com/contest/207512. To sign up for the NHC Tour, go to www.ntra.com/membership. One must be a current NHC Tour member to play in free online qualifiers. Individuals also must be registered at HorsePlayers.com.

NTRA NHC logoThe top five finishers in Saturday’s contest (one more than in each of last year’s free online qualifiers) will each earn an automatic berth to the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship Presented by Racetrack Television Network, STATS Race Lens™ and Treasure Island Las Vegas, to be held February 9-11, 2018, at Treasure Island. Each winning prize package includes NHC entry, four nights at Treasure Island and airfare reimbursement up to $400.

The free qualifier also offers NHC Tour points, with the top 10 percent of finishers earning shares of a points pool estimated at 250,000 points (with 3,750 to the winner), based on an estimated 1,500 players. The final number of points available will be determined on a sliding scale according to the number of participating NHC Tour players.

 The contest will be comprised of mythical Win and Place wagers on a series of mandatory races across the country with selections submitted in advance of the first designated contest race per the “Pick and Pray” format. Designated races will be posted 48 hours in advance on the HorsePlayers.com contest description page and selections may be submitted starting 24 hours in advance of the first race.

This marks the second of five free online qualifiers to be presented by the NTRA this year on HorsePlayers.com, with the later contests set for June 10, July 30, and Sept. 2. The 2017 NHC Tour is the richest in history with $400,000 in prize money, including $100,000 to the overall leader at the conclusion of the Tour season.

For more information on the NHC and NHC Tour, visit www.ntra.com/nhc.

Blaise Brucato Completes Rare Back-to-Back Tournament Wins

 Ohio Handicapper Captures Grade One Gamble and Spring Challenge at Keeneland

 April 22-23, 2017

 In the storied history of Keeneland Race Course, many patrons have had memorable (and profitable) weekends.  We would venture to guess, however, that not many have equaled the weekend that Blaise Brucato just experienced at this venerable racetrack.

RoughlyKeeneland Green Logo 24 hours after winning the inaugural Keeneland Spring Challenge, a $400 buy-in tournament held on Saturday (4/22/17), Blaise topped that performance with a dramatic win in Keeneland’s Grade One Gamble, a $3,000 buy-in tournament that has become one of the most prized titles on the NHC Tour.

On Saturday, the Cleveland native bested a field of 258 players by hitting a $500 exacta on the last race, winning a $10,000 BCBC spot and $3,500 in cash.  Mike Maloney of Lexington captured 2nd and 4th places in the tourney, earning an NHC spot and $3,500 in prize money.  NHC qualifiers Paul Hoffman of Chicago (3rd place) and Mark Haidar of Northville, (5th place) joined lucky 6th place finisher Ali Aksoy of Toronto, who benefitted from the NHC rule that prohibits any player from scoring 2 NHC spots in one tournament. [AGOS Founder Rich Nilsen finished a distant 21st].

After winning the Saturday tournament, Blaise revealed that April 22 was his Dad’s birthday.  Bill Brucato introduced his son to horse racing at a young age, and even though Bill passed away in 1988, it is clear that his spirit and love for racing lives on through Blaise.

TheNTRA NHC logo incredible story continued on Sunday, as Brucato closed again in the final race, cashing a $250 exacta to vault past former NHC Tour champion Jonathon Kinchen by a mere $200 to claim back-to-back victories, with another BCBC spot, an NHC berth, and $13,000 in cash.   In the Grade One Gamble, a record 170 entries competed for 7 BCBC spots, 10 NHC spots, and over $40,000 in cash prizes.  The 2nd place finish by Austin, TX native Kinchen earned him a BCBC and NHC spot plus $6,500 in cash. Third through 7th finishers Bob Traynor of Oceanside, CA, Joe Kramer of Fargo, ND, Marshall Gramm of Memphis, TN, Randy Gallo of Palm Beach Garden, FL and Kenneth King of New York, NY all earned BCBC and NHC entries, in addition to cash prizes.

Brian Johnson of Biloxi, MS, Ali Aksoy of Toronto, ON and Mike Maloney of Lexington, KY finished 8th through 10th and earned a berth to the 2018 NHC, in addition to cash prizes.  For Aksoy and Mahoney, it was the 2nd NHC berth in as many days.

To recap the weekend, totaling his bankroll winnings, cash prizes, and BCBC/NHC berths, Blaise Brucato cashed for over $50,000.  Not a bad way to spend a weekend at Keeneland, and not a bad way to celebrate your father’s birthday.  Somewhere Bill Brucato has a wide smile on his face.

Final Standings for Grade One Gamble (with Bankroll)

  1. Blaise Brucato $8,434.00
  2. Jonathon Kinchen $8,234.50
  3. Bob Traynor $7,000.00
  4. Joe Kramer $6,546.80
  5. Marshall Gramm $6,493.50
  6. Randy Gallo $6,412.00
  7. Kenneth King $5,968.00
  8. Brian Johnson $5,780.00
  9. Ali Aksoy $5,590.00
  10. Mike Maloney $5,151.00

Inside Horse Racing’s ‘Hunger Games’ in Las Vegas – Rolling Stone

NHC18 Champ Ray Arsenaul

NHC18 Champ Ray Arsenault

RollingStone.com: Inside Horse Racing’s ‘Hunger Games’ in Las Vegas

The NTRA National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas brings together an assortment of horseplayers from all over the world. and more »

Source: Inside Horse Racing’s ‘Hunger Games’ in Las Vegas – Rolling Stone

Champions Handicapping Tournament in Two Weeks at Laurel

The Maryland Jockey Club is accepting entries for the spring session of the Champions Handicapping Tournament to be held Saturday, March 25 at Laurel Park.

Berths to the NTRA/DRF National Handicapping Championship (NHC), Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) and BIG ONE tournaments are on the line as well as guaranteed prize money to the top 10 finishers.

A maximum of two entries per person will be accepted at a cost of $300 each, covering the $100 entry fee and $200 bankroll. The tournament will be capped at 300 entries.

The tournament winner will have their choice of one of two berths to the NHC or a berth in the BCBC or BIG ONE. The second-place finisher has the choice of one of the remaining three berths, the third-place finisher has the choice of one of the remaining two berths, and the fourth-place finisher will receive the remaining berth.

Tracks available for the tournament are Laurel Park, Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita, Aqueduct and Tampa Bay Downs, with no mandatory races. The minimum wager is $20.

For a registration form or further information, email Diana Harbaugh at Diana.harbaugh@marylandracing.com before noon March 24 or visit www.laurelpark.com/handicapping/champions-tournament. Registration by credit card can be done by calling 301-470-5432 before noon March 24.

The BIG ONE takes place Sept. 23-24 at Laurel Park, while the BCBC will be Nov. 3-4 at Del Mar and the NHC is held January 2018 in Las Vegas.

A First Timer’s Look at the NHC


Craig Spencer former jockey

By Craig Spencer

On January 27-29th I was lucky enough to be a guest at the Treasure Island Casino to participate in the 18th National Handicapping Championship.  I have not played a lot of tournaments and was lucky to win a seat on New Years’ Eve off of a qualifier on nhcqualify.com.  So my buddy and I headed to Vegas in hopes of coming home $800,000 richer.

It’s quite an event with so many like-minded handicappers enjoying spending time in an environment that caters to the horseplayer like none other.  We are the target audience that week and no stone is left unturned.  The NTRA does a top class job in organizing this event.  The accommodations, buffets, and dinners are top notch.  I will be back and I will be better prepared.  Now onto the events in the contest.

I had spent the couple of weeks prior to the NHC going over every first time starter to have made their debut since early December at all of the available tracks (eight in total).  I would make “trip notes” on ones that I thought ran better or worse than their running line might indicate.  If their race seemed like the running line would represent their abilities well, then I didn’t bother.

I had made around 90 notes on these horses and had gone back to see how any that might have made their next start had performed to see if my eye was good at identifying value.  I was quite pleased with the results.  Twenty-two had made their second start, four of them with “negative” trip notes, meaning that the performance wasn’t as good as the running line might suggest.  Examples included  “appeared to close well but the pace was extreme upfront and they finished the last quarter in near 27 seconds and this horse had everything go his way getting up the rail and still wasn’t good enough to finish better than a well-beaten third.”  All four of those horses had been reasonably well backed and all finished fourth or worse.

I had five runners that I thought ran deceptively well that didn’t perform that good in their next start.  I had three that ran well but ran into trouble in their second start to finish worse than second but none of them were beaten over three lengths in their second start.  It provided me some confidence that my notes were of some value.  I had four that finished second at good to great odds and six that came back to win paying $90, $66, $38, $24, $14, and $12, so I could see that I had a potential advantage.

I will say two things about these trip notes. First, I see very little value in watching a very experienced horse’s last race looking for trip problems.  I don’t weigh my decision on one race and will toss a race with any indication that it was abnormally poor.  I don’t need to watch the race to see it and one race will not have an effect to my opinion of an animal significantly.

Also I think people who do a lot of replay watching might get to be very good at it, but mostly they are looking for excuses and forget about other items in a race.  An example would be watching a replay and noticing a horse has nowhere to run down the lane so the jockey takes hold and gallops them to the finish line.  They forget that the horse had a perfect ground saving trip up until they ran into a wall of horses.  It is much more likely that the trainer will give instructions to go wide to avoid trouble next start and most of the time that ground loss will make it so they have too much to do and cost them even more energy to be lost than the lack of room did in their prior race.  However, for second time starters a lot can be learned from how they perform in their first start.

Second, after watching a ton of races over a few weeks I worried that I might be getting too forgiving, looking for reasons to like a horse.  I would suggest you spend less than 30 minutes before taking a break, clearing your head, doing something different so you can start again fresh watching the rest.

After entries came out for the weekend and they trickled in, which was painful, I pulled a list of all second time starters and looked at when they made their debut.  If it was outside of the window of time I had watched the replays or at a different track, I went back and watched those horses and made another 25 notes on these horses.  I also had run my data through my tools for the entire first day and had handicapped every race with a main and alternate selection before I left home.  We didn’t know until Thursday morning what the mandatory races would be on Friday and I would be traveling on Thursday so I wanted to be prepared.  Mission accomplished.

Day One of the NHC

Well, my buddy and I stayed out a little later than we should have on Thursday night.  I knew better and will not make the same mistake again.  But I took my list of horses and sorted them by main contenders’ morning line odds (after putting the mandatory races on top).  I had made some notes on ones I had to use and ones I wanted to watch the line on.  As the day progressed and morning line odds got obliterated, I realized as I marched down my list that many of the races had gone off that were a bit lower priority on my list and that I had passed on 3-4 winners already.

I cashed two place tickets for $9 bankroll going into my last alternate race.  In that race I had a Louisiana Bred maiden who had run a very game second in debut at Golden Gate in an open Maiden Special field.  I thought I’d get 4/1 or better on the horse but he was going off at around even money.  I told my buddy, I think I am going to change my ticket to this Yes It’s True first timer who had some decent works and whose trainer didn’t suck too badly with Firsters.  Being the devil’s advocate he is and to make sure I thought about things, he said, “Are you sure you don’t just want to cash, get a little momentum, and start tomorrow with $15 or so and change your tactics a bit?”  I thought about it and decided he may be right.  Well the Golden Gate shipper may have beaten the ambulance to the finish line, but it was a close photo with the ambulance.  The Yes It’s True first timer opened up a clear lead and held on to win and pay $131.  It would have given me the $64 maximum score (they limit the scores to 20/1 to win and 10/1 to place, or $64 as the most you can get off one selection).

Day Two of the NHC

I was dejected but vowed to at least not repeat Day One on Saturday.  I re-organized, spent a little less time at the [casino] tables and more time reviewing my selections with a lot fewer races on my list to play.  I sorted it by post times and categorized the races as “Mandatory,” “Use,” and “Watch the board.”  I played my “mandatory” and “use” races immediately (but still watched for odds and made some adjustments/cancellations on them if the odds didn’t make sense) and then knew which races were going off next.

I did quite a bit better with $129 in contest points on Day Two to get to $138, just $42.60 shy of making the cut to play on Day Three.  That one decision not to change my ticket on Friday cost me a chance to make some noise on Sunday.  I was able to use a trip note second timer that I scored a max payout in the contest on Saturday along with the correct second place horse who a Facebook buddy also had a trip note on, to cash an $880 exacta payout.  I also hit the pick 5 at Laurel for just under a grand, so it turned into a profitable weekend nonetheless.

Final Day of the NHC

I have no clue what would have happened on Sunday.  I played in the consolation contest, which the NTRA sponsors for the non-cut making players, such as myself, to play on Sunday morning.  You must play 10 races out of 36 races available before 12:30 pacific time, the same format the players making the cut play to determine who makes the final table.  I spent very little time preparing for that as there were quite a few social opportunities Saturday night and the chance of beating a field of 400+ non-advancers seemed pretty small, so my buddy and I enjoyed more of the Treasure Island that night.  Had I been in the main contest on Sunday, I would have likely spent a lot more time studying and came up with many different selections than the ones I used in the consolation contest where a couple of max horses are almost a necessity to beat that many players for one prize.  If you’re not first you’re last in that contest.  I did hit a $20 horse at Laurel making his second career start and a half sibling to $1.2M earner International Star.  I probably would have had that one in the big contest had I qualified, as there were many other positives on that horse.

Live and learn.  If you have never been to the NHC, it’s well worth the time to try and get qualified.  The experience is one that I will never forget.  I will be back and, as a second time starter, I will fare significantly better next time I am there.

 

  • Craig Spencer is a former jockey who competed for 12 years.