A couple of my friends e-mailed me a message last week detailing the NHC Tour Handicapping Contest scheduled for Sunday afternoon and advised me to sign up to play. I like to think of myself as at least an adequate handicapper, so I ponied up my $45 (down from $100 last year) and signed up for the NHC Tour. After all, I have the same dreams that many of you do of going to Las Vegas and winning the National Handicapping Championship myself.
Having done that, I took out my copy of the Sunday Racing Form and started to handicap the ten necessary races for the contest from Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, and Santa Anita. I actually took the time to also check out the weather for New York, New Orleans, and Los Angeles to see if any precipitation was expected for those areas on Sunday and got down to business. My previous handicapping tournament experience is limited to say the least. I have participated in just two live tournaments (one at The Orleans in Las Vegas and one at Louisiana Downs) and have dabbled only here and there online. I determined that I would use a mixed strategy of favorites and longshots to try and at least make sure I was on the board at some point and would be able to avoid the embarrassment of going oh-fer, while still taking the approach of looking for an available price to try and pad the bankroll.
The first race in the contest was one of those races I elected to take a chance on to start the contest with a big shot. The horse that came out with the best figure according to my handicapping was #6 Three In The Bag. However, I thought the #9 End Of The Gulch had a chance to spring the upset and used him instead. I was feeling good about things at the top of the stretch when the #9 took the lead, only to quickly feel my stomach turn when the #6 surged on past and went on to win, paying $9.10 to win and $3.80 to place. No matter, it was just the first race and there was plenty of more action to come. Have you ever heard of the term "a harbinger of things to come"? Well, there couldn't have been a more glaring example of this as race after race passed and I was getting nothing for my efforts. The worst of the worst from my perspective came in the third race of the contest, the sixth of the day from The Big A. I used the #10 Pin as my selection and he was actually bet down from the morning-line of 8-1 to a still reasonable 6-1. The favorite, #1 Fuhrlang, dug in to win a neat stretch duel with the second-place finisher, #8 Pegasus Papou at 66-1. I have an annoying habit of looking back at the past performances to see what I missed in my handicapping after a particular race and I did that here. To my horror, I finally noticed that #8 Pegasus Papou had finished AHEAD of my selection the last time the two horses faced each other. I normally look for things like that when I handicap and had missed that and missed a chance to get a $37.40 place payoff for that #8 horse or whatever the payoff would have been capped at. It was at this point that I realized what I was up against on Sunday.
Essentially, it went from bad to worse as the day progressed. The sixth race of the contest, I selected a nice 15-1 shot from the Fair Grounds, #6 Birdie Beats Par. I watched as that one ran a good third behind the impressive win of #4 Machen. Third place means bupkus when you are in a contest that pays win and place only. I even inhaled poor Katie Mikolay into my afternoon of misfortune. She had selected the same horse I liked in the ninth race of the contest at Fair Grounds as a possible longshot candidate, #14 Bud Is Choice. She didn't pick it to win, but she did have it to hit the board. Needless to say, #14 is still running and searching for the finish line at Fair Grounds. Katie, I can only offer my sincere apologies for gathering you up as an unsuspecting victim in this miserable vortex.
So, for all of my mighty efforts, I ended up with a big, fat zero as my total for the contest. That's right, a zero, not one win or place, nothing. I finished in a multiple tie for 1,372nd place with my colossal earnings of zero with the rest of the schmoes who got nothing and liked it. Does this dissuade me from trying again? Do I feel like I wasted my $45 for joining the NHC Tour? Absolutely not on both counts. I will be back in there plugging again, just like any handicapper who has an atrocious day at the track and with any luck (and maybe a 4-5 shot here and there), I will lift myself out of the abyss. It was fun to focus on some other races while I was busy calling races and trying to hit the Pick 5 at Turf Paradise (getting 4 out of 5 for the 8,000,000th time this meet, I might add). I can't wait to do it again and I am sure that every last one of those other schmoes stuck at zero feels the same way I do.
Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!