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.

 

 

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.

2016 NHC Tour Comes Down to 5 Tournaments this Weekend

NHC TOUR LEADERBOARD ON THE LINE

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Thursday, December 29, 2016) – The 2016 NHC Tour’s cash prize pool of $315,000 as well as eligibility for additional bonuses at the world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping tournament – the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC), Jan. 27-29 at Treasure Island Las Vegas – will come down to five final events this weekend. A Saturday contest on NHCQualify.com, three days of qualifiers at Del Mar’s Surfside Race Place, and a New Year’s Day grand finale at Monmouth Park represent the only remaining chances for players to accrue NHC Tour points and increase their potential prize money.

The top 20 finishers on the NHC Tour will share in $175,000 of prize money, with the 2016 NHC Tour champion taking home $75,000, a trophy, and an automatic berth to the NHC 19 in January 2018. Second place will take home $20,000 and a trophy. The remainder of the cash prize pool is scaled from $15,000 for third down to $1,000 for 20th.

nhc final table vegasNHC Tour veteran Cheryl McIntyre enters the final weekend of play in first place with 19,898 points, more than 1,000 ahead of Tony Zhou in second with 18,698.

A separate “Second Half” prize pool will pay $10,000 to each of the top five finishers based only on results posted after August 1. Sam Alipio holds the edge in that race, though any top-five finish returns the same prize amount.

The top 150 NHC Tour point leaders receive an automatic berth to NHC 18 in four weeks (those that have already qualified do not receive an additional berth). The top 40 NHC Tour finishers will compete for the $25,000 Tour Bonus, which goes to the individual within that group with the highest finish at NHC 18.

Two lucrative bonuses restricted to specific players will also be decided this weekend. Friday’s NHCQualify.com tournament, the year’s final online qualifier, will determine shares of a $25,000 “Cyber Stars” bonus pool for the top five players based on NHC Tour points earned on NHCQualify.com, with $10,000 to the winner plus eligibility for a $1 million bonus should that player go on to win NHC 18. A $15,000 “Rookie” bonus pool will go to the top five player that signed up for the NHC Tour for the first time in 2016, with $5,000 to first.

George Chute, 15th in the overall NHC Tour standings, leads the “Cyber Stars” standings, while Peter Dresens, 47th overall, is the “Rookie” leader.

Full standings for the 2016 NHC Tour and the bonus divisions can be accessed online via the NTRA website at https://www.ntra.com/nhc/leaders.

Online registration for the 2017 NHC Tour opens Sunday, Jan. 1, at nhctour.com.

 In its 18th year, the NHC is the most important 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. There are no bye-ins to the NHC. Each year, the NHC winner joins other human and equine champions as an honoree at the Eclipse Awards. In addition to the founding title sponsor, Daily Racing Form, the NHC is presented by Racetrack Television Network and Treasure Island Las Vegas.

For more information on the NHC Tour and a complete contest schedule, visit NTRA.com/nhc.

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).

The Hammer Crushes Them in Keeneland’s Grade One Gamble

Keeneland Grade One Gamble logoBy Rich Nilsen

Tommy “The Hammer” Massis scored his second major handicapping tournament victory last weekend when he took down the prestigious Grade One Gamble tournament at Keeneland Racecourse.  Topping 123 players with a huge $28,074 bankroll, Massis won an NHC berth, a $10,000 grand prize, and an entry into the lucrative Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, which was the main prize he was shooting for.

Massis defeated an all-star cast that included runner-up Paul Weizer, third place finisher Patrick Gianforte, fifth place finisher Dan Hartman, pro player Mike Maloney, among others.  We sat down with this professional horseplayer from Toronto, Canada to discuss his big win and his approach to handicapping.

 

AGOS: Tommy, how did you first get into horse racing and how long have you been playing the sport?

TM: Oh man, first time I went to the track was when Secretariat ran at Woodbine. I was like 10 years old, and I didn’t realize the significance until like 10 years later.   I was dragged there and I wanted to go home.  I remember my uncle saying, “Just one more race.”  He gave me two dollars to bet on a horse named Kennedy Road, the local star, who was named after a street in Canada.

About five to six years later I started going regularly with my uncle, my cousin, and the guys in the neighborhood, and I’ve been at it ever since.

 

AGOS: Tell us how you prepared for the high stakes tournament from a handicapping standpoint, and what some of your strategies were going into the day.

TM:  My strategy is that if I can find something to go all in on, that is my preferred strategy, but I don’t have a set one.  I don’t want to do what everyone else does, such as in the Breeder’s Cup Challenge where many players will just bet to “show” and then go all in on the last race.  I try to do the opposite of that.  In this case I found 3 horses that were playable for me on this day.  The greatest thing was that they [Keeneland] changed the rules so that if you didn’t play a race, you were no longer disqualified.  Instead you would be deducted 250 points from your bankroll.  So I was minus 500 because I didn’t play the first two races but I still had my original $2,000 to wager with.  I took advantage of that because I hate to bet show.  For example, if I miss the first race to show on a 1-5 shot, I’m done. I’m on tilt.

So my wager in the contest was $600 or so on the third race.  And that was it.  The contest was over [after my pick won].

The funny thing is that the winner of the last race would have been my “all in” horse.  He was the third horse [of the three] that I liked all day.

My whole goal for playing in this tournament was to get the BCBC spot.   I have no interest in the NHC.  I despise that tournament.

 

AGOS: Longshot Wilhelmina in race 3 was the key to your success on Sunday.  What got you on this 36-1 shot, and what wagers did you hit with her?

TM: I had $400 to win.  I only played one exacta, a $40 exacta box 6-7 and a $40 press 7-6.  I hit a $2 trifecta, and I got my worst result in the three hole. Most of my trifecta combinations were 6-ALL-7 and 7-ALL-6.  I would have won 3 times as much if they were split.

racehorse Wilhelmina

I would come up with that horse every time, no doubt about it.  I trip handicap and I saw a lot of speed in the race.  So, I looked closely at the off-the-pace horses.  I kept going back to her as the only real closer, and she looked horrible.  However, she could finish a race and come off the pace.  Then, I do what I do.  I looked at the replays.  Her last race was the first replay that I watched.  She got killed out of gate, made a move around the turn and then got killed again at the top of the stretch.  She finished strongly down the middle of the track for third and galloped out really well.  That was it for me.  I didn’t need to see any more.

Especially at Keeneland, I take a close look at the big morning line horses, e.g. 50-1, since most people will just quickly dismiss them.

I also love betting trainers and jockeys I have never heard of.

 

AGOS: You won the Woodbine Handicapping Challenge last summer which has a completely different format as a traditional $2 w/p structure.  Do you approach that kind of contest differently?

TM: Yes, 100% different.  The $2 w/p format doesn’t fit into the way I play every day at all.   It was a beautiful day and it’s my home track with a great setup, so I decided to play.  I am actually horrible at those contests.  I would have put the line on me at 1000-1 to win that tournament beforehand.

“Racing with Bruno” actually helped me win the Woodbine contest.   Half of my winners were from Woodbine, which I found myself, and the other three were from Bruno’s Saratoga sheet.  With his selections I read him just like anyone else, but as a clocker he is just unbelievably deadly.  That is, if you know how to read him as I do.

I read every track handicapper of every track that I play.  I read every word that they write because they may tell you one tidbit of information that maybe you didn’t know.  They could tell you something about the horse, any little bit of information, such as trouble, being on the wrong part of the track, etc.  The information is free (comes with the cost of the Form) so why not read it.

I really only have the capacity to play one track at a time with all of the work that I do.

 

AGOS: What information do you rely on in your daily handicapping, and what are the main points of emphasizing when dissecting a race?

TM:  First thing I do is watch replays a day or two after they’ve actually run.  Head-on’s are the most important to me, especially because most players don’t watch them or can’t get them.

I will go back and watch more replays to “fill in the blanks.”  I rarely bet Win.  I am more of a Pick-3 and Pick-4 player.

For me it is watching those replays, making notes, keeping track of biases.

I wasted a lot of time and money on the Sheets.  It’s really tricky, actually, to use them, and if you are just betting the lowest number [on the Sheets], you got no future.   The horses are way overbet.   It was just too much money, too much work, and not enough reward for me.

In a nutshell, I am a replay guy.  I also try to get around the takeout as much as possible.  I look at the Pick-3 and Pick-4, for example, as dividing the takeout by 3 or 4.

I focus on Woodbine.  I don’t spread in my wagers.  I average only 6-8 combinations.  Because why play it otherwise?  You might as well play a Pick-3.  Even with a Pick-3 I don’t like to go more than four combinations.  I try to explain it to guys.  If you are 1x2x5xALL in a Pick-4, for example, why not just put all that money into the 1×2 daily double?  That’s the way I look at it.  If I have to spread that much, then why play.  Even when I play a Pick-5, I rarely have the ticket that has like 80 combinations on it.  I am always trying to have it multiple times.

I am horrible at trifectas, superfectas, and Super Hi-5s.  I know my strengths and my weaknesses.  Not being too stubborn is very important. When I am ‘capping 5 furlong turf races, those races always look like an “ALL” to me, whereas with 6f on the dirt or ploy, that is my specialty.  My strengths are maiden $20,000 claimers, not Grade 1 stakes races.

 

AGOS: Tommy, what would you like to see changed in our sport going forward?

TM: One major thing. I want racetracks, which they will never do, to realize that this is not about horse racing or entertainment.  This is about gambling and to hire gambling people. It all revolves around the gambling dollar, and I would like see gambling people hired to cater to the players.

They [the track employees] are all clueless about the gambling.  You have to cater to the gamblers if you want to grow the sport.

5 Tournament Tips to Keep You Relevant (and Sane) When Life Gets in the Way

by Ross Gallo

I’ve been a professional handicapper for over 30 years, playing tournaments for the last 15.  I’ve qualified 10 times for the NHC, finished second on The Tour in its inaugural season, and am a member of the NTRA Player’s Committee.  In recent years however, my time has been at a major premium.  I recently married the love of my life, and have a brand new, BIG family who I adore as well.  In addition, my son is 11 now, and there is kick boxing twice a week, jiu jitsu another day, band practice, concerts, homework and much more.

It occurred to me that there are many of you out there who love this game, love to play tournaments, but are in the same or similar situation as I am. With the current tournament landscape being so internet heavy (online tournaments far outnumbering brick and mortars), it is still possible to play and compete even when your schedule says “no.”  Recently, a perfect example presented itself to me, and the idea for this article was borne.

On November 29th, Twinspires held their annual monster NHC qualifier*. The top 20 earn a spot, and the next 30 receive Horse Player World Series packages.  Fifty trips to Vegas in all, and I didn’t want to miss it.  Being the Saturday after Thanksgiving (why schedule a tournament like that right after the holiday?), Maria, Ethan and I were visiting her family in New York.  It was a great time, as Ethan hadn’t seen snow since he was age 3 (we live in Florida).  Thus, sledding was a big deal and the food and company were spectacular.  But I had to play in the tournament and Maria is always very supportive, which is huge for my state of mind.  I appreciate that very much by the way, but how could I hope to be competitive under the circumstances?  Here are a few things that helped me, hopefully they will you as well.

Turf scene_promo_smallerGet your handicapping materials as early as possible.  Under normal circumstances, I can handicap a tournament the day before rather comfortably.  When you know you’re going to have time issues, getting your choice of handicapping products as early as possible can get you an important head start.  DRF PP’s, the sheets, HTR, BRISNET, et al, often have their info available two or three days in advance.  And while you may not know the exact tournament races that far out, most of the time you know the tracks to be used, so if there is a big field turf race or major stakes, you can be fairly certain they’ll include it.  You should be able to figure out at least half of the races they’re going to use.

Maximize your time. If you’re flying, the plane is a great place to handicap.  If your obstacles are closer to home, get up an hour earlier and get some ‘capping in.  Go sledding, take the kids to the movies, make dinner, put up the tree, but set aside a half hour here or there to do a race.  Or my favorite, wait until everyone goes to bed and handicap in the peace and quiet until you can’t keep your eyes open.  Sure you’ll have some bags under your eyes the next morning, but you may just find that 20-1 shot you dearly need.

Put all your picks in (but be ready with alternatives). Unless you’re playing a Pick and Pray (where picks must all be in by a set time), most, if not all, of the other online contests let you change your picks.  I know they suggest putting all your picks in for the day anyway, and this is probably good advice for any contest, but I’ve never liked the practice personally.  Doing so, leaves you open for taking a winner out (an optimist might think putting one in too, see below), and the last thing you need is something else to possibly aggravate you.  But in the case of limited time, I believe it is a wise idea.

Of course, if you’re absolutely out for the day, you’ll need to ‘Pick and Pray’ anyway, but with smartphones and tablets available to most players, keeping tabs of your picks is at your fingertips.  At the least, try to have a backup list of longshots and/or favorites to change to according to the circumstances.  Example: you only have a minute, but you check the standings quickly.  A bankroll of $90 is leading with two races to go, you have $30 and a 2-1 shot in the next race.  You have to change out of that pick to something longer.  A simple list of alternatives, especially for the later races, is crucial.

Keep handicapping on the fly.  Obviously if you’re totally off the grid, there is nothing you can do, but even if you get back to business with only a few races to go, keep working.  Your time was limited, so you certainly could have missed something.  Case in point from my Twinspires experience.  I had hit a 7-1 shot and a couple of places about two thirds of the way through the contest, and was wallowing in the middle of the pack.  There was a race coming up that I was okay with the horse I had put in already, but the following race was a big field, competitive turf race at Del Mar that I didn’t have time to handicap thoroughly.

I do a lot of tape work, so I watched a few races I didn’t get to.  Sure enough, jockey Joe Talamo was on a second time turfer who had broke his maiden in what, on paper, appeared to be inferior to some of the contenders.  I found the effort eye catching and at over 20-1 he seemed well worth a shot.  Got a perfect trip, came up the fence and won convincingly!  Now I’m in the hunt.  Without continuing to grind, I NEVER find that horse.

Don’t beat yourself up. This is good advice no matter the situation, but even more so when you’ve had little time to prepare and your margin of error is very small.  I got in front of the computer with 5 races to go, and was a hero with my change to a 20-1 shot winner.  I proceeded to hit a 5-1 in the next race to get to 21st place and less than $1 from qualifying for the NHC with two races to go.  I fanned the penultimate race, so it was a one shot contest and I needed about $6 to qualify.

My advance picks had me on a 7-1 shot, the 12 horse in a two turn race at Hawthorne.  After further handicapping I noticed the jockey was 4 for 74 and the trainer wasn’t much better. Thinking it would be very difficult for this jockey to work out a winning trip from out there, I changed my pick for the second time that day.  That didn’t work so well this time as the ‘4 for 74’ jock  rode like Javier Castellano and drew off, while the 3-1 shot I ended up on (with a supposedly superior jock) got stuck down on the rail, trapped behind horses the whole stretch.

I was understandably pissed, would’ve finished top ten if I left it alone, but my brother told me a long time ago “You plant your feet, make your pick, and whatever happens, happens.  Good or bad you have no more control over it.”   Despite the result, I think my logic was sound,  I finished up with a credible 39th place finish out of over 500 entries.  The HPWS package was not quite the result I’d hoped, but under the circumstances not horrendous, and I battled to the end.

This last tip maybe the hardest and most important to follow because you have to fight human nature.  We all feel that disappointment when bad things happen, but it is imperative to keep your focus if you want to have success in this difficult game of ours, and dwelling on adversity can even carry over to your next tournament if you allow it to.  Keep the demons at bay.

So there you have it.  When those inevitable times come up when your life is as frenetic as possible, but you still just HAVE TO play that tournament, hopefully these little suggestions will help you.  And who knows, maybe you just might steal one from the Shurmans, Weiners, Goodalls and Nilsens of the handicapping world.  Why not you, right?  Happy Hunting (winners) !

Editor’s Note: Ross Gallo is considered one of the top horseplayers in the country and is in select company, having qualified 10 times for the NTRA National Handicapping Championship.   His brother and nephew are also top-notch players, having qualified numerous times.

* the event was designed and created by the founder of AGameofSkill.com

Real-Money Handicapping Contest Offers $5,000 in Cash Prizes!

Special Offer for AGameofSkill.com Visitors

Portland, OR, July 31, 2012 – Traditional handicapping tournaments are not designed to appeal to all horseplayers. If the contest is filled with mandatory races at racetracks that the horseplayer doesn’t normally play, it slants the playing field toward others in the tournament who play those tracks. Cash money contests, on the other hand, typically require large minimum wagering thresholds or entry fees that price most players out. The Cash is King II contest at BetPTC.com takes away those inequities and lets every level of horseplayer participate. The new tournament, featuring an enhanced prize pool, begins this Saturday, August 4th.

“It doesn’t matter if you a big bettor or a small bettor. Everyone has an equal chance to win the prizes in the Cash is King contest at BetPTC.com,” explained General Manager Todd Bowker. “The contest is scored based on your return on investment (ROI), not on how much you wager.”

“We have increased the prizes significantly for the return of the Cash is King tournament,” continued Bowker. “This time around, our customers will compete for $5,000 in cash prizes.”

Real Money contestThe Tournament Director for the event is veteran contest player Rich Nilsen, who created the first-ever online qualifier for the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) back in 1999 at Brisnet.com and who managed the online tournaments at TwinSpires.com for several years. Nilsen is the founder of the site here at AGameofSkill.com.

“There are no mandatory tracks, and no specific bets required. You can play your favorite tracks and make your favorite wagers, all using a bankroll that fits your budget,” said Nilsen. “Best of all, there is no entry fee and since it’s a real-money contest, in addition to any prizes, you keep whatever you win.”

Wagers can be made online or by phone and on any type of bet that BetPTC accepts through their Oregon hub. Cash is King wagers can be made on any racetracks of the player’s choice on Saturdays beginning August 4 and running through December 29. To qualify for contest play on any given Saturday, registered members must bet a minimum of $50 during the course of a contest day. There is no limit to how much can be wagered. Players are not penalized for missing a contest day.

The inaugural handicapping contest at Premier Turf Club was successfully held in June. The June Cash is King champ was Vermont veterinarian Bill Mentes who won a trip for two to the 2012 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, courtesy of Premier Turf Club. Cash prizes were also awarded to the top four finishers.

Registration for the event is quick and easy for members of Premier Turf Club, which is also offering a $75 sign-up bonus for new customers of the online wagering service. Rules for the Cash is King II tournament, as well as a leaderboard, can be found at www.betptc.com/news.jsp.  Visitors from AGameofSkill.com can earn an additional $25 cash sign-up bonus by entering promo code “AGOS” when signing up.


ABOUT PREMIER TURF CLUB
Premier Turf Club operates in Portland, Oregon, and is licensed by the Oregon Racing Commission as a Multi-Jurisdictional Simulcasting and Interactive Wagering Totalizator Hub. The company can be found on the internet at www.betptc.com. Premier Turf Club accepts online and phone wagers on over 120 Thoroughbred, Harness, and Greyhound race tracks. Since 2007 Premier Turf Club has handled over $100 million in wagers safely and securely through the Oregon hub.

AGameofSkill to Sponsor DerbyWars.com Handicapping Contest

Derby Wars contest

This Sunday May 13th, AGameofSkill.com and one of the leading tournament websites, have teamed up to offer a guaranteed $5,000 game. The handicapping contest is only $77 to enter and is limited to 75 players, with a max of two entries per player. There will be 11 mandatory races, chosen from Belmont Park, Churchill Downs, and a track(s) to be determined.

Longtime horse racing executive Mark Midland created the tournament site DerbyWars.com last year. On DerbyWars contest players can chat with one another during the event. Members at DerbyWars can also “connect” with their friends via the contest interface, for example, knowing when one of their friends have registered for a contest on the site. It’s the first tournament platform to integrate social networking-type features.

“Since we started DerbyWars,” explained Midland. “One of the things that surprised us was how well newer racing fans took to the game.  Part of that speaks to the fun and interaction of DerbyWars, but part of that speaks to the fact that tournaments are fun and easy.  Since you’re not betting, you only have to pick a horse, and you can see many others picked the same horse you did.  So it’s a much easier learning curve than wagering.  That’s why we think it’s a perfect introductory game to create new horseplayers.”

“We are excited to partner with DerbyWars on this $5,000 game,” explained Rich Nilsen, founder of AGameofSkill.com. “DerbyWars offers numerous types of tournaments, many of which are cash games with a very reasonable takeout. Unlike at most other sites, there are many opportunities here to play in games with great cash prizes.”

If you haven’t tried Derby Wars, please support AGameofSkill.com and get in this Sunday’s handicapping tournament. Sign up for Derby Wars and members can deposit funds via any major form of credit card or ACH bank transfers.

FREE Online Tournament to follow Championship Event

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) announced today that it will host a free, online handicapping contest at ntra.com that will allow fans to follow along with the action at next week’s $1.6 million Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) at Treasure Island Las Vegas. In its 13th year, the National Handicapping Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers.

The one-day “Play Along With the Pros” contest will offer a $1,000 prize pool to the top five finishers plus free 2012 NHC Tour memberships to the top 20 finishers. There is a limit of one entry per person. “Play Along With the Pros” will take place on Saturday, January 28, which is the second and final day of the NHC. Contestants must make mythical $2 win and place wagers on eight designated mandatory races. The eight races selected will be same as those chosen for mandatory play on Day 2 at the NHC. For more information, visit http://games.ntra.com.

Prize Structure for “Play Along With the Pros” contest:

$1,000 pool

1st: $500

2nd:$200

3rd: $150

4th: $100

5th: $50

“’Play Along With the Pros’ is designed to expose the NHC to players who may not be familiar with the excitement of tournament play,” said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of the NTRA. “It also gives fans the chance to see how they stack up with some of the outstanding handicappers battling for the $1 million grand prize at Treasure Island.”

The NHC Tour is a yearlong bonus series offering additional prize money and qualifying berths to the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship. Tour members receive NHC Tour points for top finishes in NHC qualifying events held during the year. Registration for the 2012 NHC Tour will begin shortly.