Monday, January 31, 2011

New Shooters...Already?

The Kentucky Derby is now 96 days away. Of course, you have the prohibitive set of favorites that have already established themselves through their doings in the waning days of 2010. Uncle Mo won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in about as devastating a fashion as possible. Even with that, the runner-up, Boys At Tosconova, might still be considered one of the favorites, although his absence from the Grade 3 Holy Bull on Sunday at Gulfstream is considered a glaring one. To Honor And Serve's victory in the Remsen last fall stamped him as one to definitely consider, although the way that runner-up Mucho Macho Man disappointed at Gulfstream yesterday might lessen that victory a tad. The West Coast is not without its candidates either with CashCall Futurity winner, Comma To The Top, and Sham Stakes winner, Tapizar, considered in the vanguard.

This weekend DID produce some new faces to the Kentucky Derby picture, mainly in the southeast. Machen, trained by Neil Howard, repeated his devastating maiden victory in an Allowance score at Fair Grounds, winning by a widening five lengths and paying a salty $2.10 to win. The horse that ran second to Machen in the maiden race, the Al Stall-trained Sour, broke the maiden at less than even-money on Monday at Fair Grounds. It is my opinion that one of those two horses will likely be the winner of the Louisiana Derby, if not complete the Risen Star-Louisiana Derby double. Nick Zito might have another solid Derby candidate in Dialed In, who came from well off the pace to run past everyone and win the Holy Bull. His style seems reminiscent of Zito's 2010 Derby horse, Ice Box, another stone closer. The runner-up in the Holy Bull was Gourmet Dinner, winner of the Delta Jackpot late in 2010 to clinch a spot in the gate at Churchill Downs. All he did yesterday was re-establish his credentials as a possible Derby horse with a respectable second-place that makes one think his poor effort in the CashCall was likely caused either by the artificial surface or the interminable wait he experienced in the saddling paddock.

I just rattled off ten possible Derby candidates in two paragraphs and it is likely that in the next 96 days, we will see one or more establish themselves as chalk for the Roses, one or more disappear from the Derby Road without leaving an oil slick, and several more step up from the background and make their cases most emphatically. 96 days seems like forever, but believe me, it will go by before you know it.

Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, January 28, 2011

The $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic

The Sunshine Millions is Saturday afternoon at Gulfstream and Santa Anita. It will match up some of the finest Florida and California-breds in training right now in a series of six races, three at each racetrack. The highlight of the Gulfstream card is the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic, which will consist of ten Florida-breds led by morning line favorite, First Dude. None of the races in the Sunshine Millions are graded and in fact, there is only one graded race on the docket on Saturday, one that doesn't really interest me that much, so let's take a look at the Sunshine Millions Classic:

The top choice is 12-1 shot, #4 Black Hills. Black Hills should benefit from what promises to be a hot pace in the Classic from First Dude, Tackleberry, and Birdrun. It is my thought that those three will burn each other out and set things up for a nice closer to get up and take it late. Black Hills is my choice to do exactly that. He managed to do that job nicely in his last nine races in New Mexico, finishing either first or third in each of them. Don't be fooled by the fact that these races were in New Mexico. I think that Mine That Bird proved that racing in the Land Of Enchantment has come a long way in a short period of time. For second, I will use the morning-line choice, #1 First Dude. I find it interesting that despite the number of excellent races this colt put forth in 2010, he has not won since breaking the maiden at Gulfstream Park on January 30. That's right, the Preakness runner-up and third-place finisher in races like the Grade 1 Travers, Grade 1 Haskell, and even the Belmont Stakes, is still eligible for non-winners of two. Of the expected speed horses in this race, I think he might be the most apt to sit back off the pace a touch and try to make a middle move for the lead, but that still be not be enough to hold off the cavalry here. John Velazquez rides the third choice in here, #10 Honour The Deputy. The grey gelding has not raced since a victory at one mile at Laurel. He has won three times in four lifetime starts and has that come-from-behind running style which should work in this spot. I do find it odd that this horse trained up to this race at Santa Anita before shipping east for it. This will be his first start for new trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. For fourth, I will use #5 Birdrun, a Bill Mott trainee making his first start of 2011. His last two workouts were bullets and his last win at Calder in a state-restricted stakes race was impressive and he defeated some of those he will be facing here. Here is the play for the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic:

$5 WP #4
$1 EX BOX 1-4-5-9-10
TOTAL- $30

Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Perfect Match

That is what most of the people associated with the two horses in question seem to think. Zenyatta, the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic winner and 2010 Horse Of The Year, will be bred to Bernardini, the 2006 Preakness winner and Champion Three-Year-Old the same season, for her first mating session.

There had been some question as to who the Sire would be for the most famous Dam to come along in many a moon. Bernardini's Sire, A.P. Indy, was given consideration from what I understand, but the connections thought better of a May-December romance for Zenyatta's first foal. In fact, the connections seem to think that Bernardini and Zenyatta fit together nicely. According to the story on the situation, David Ingordo, advisor to the Mosses, said "There were physical reasons, the two complement each other,” he said, “and there were pedigree reasons, the two complement each other. Everybody agreed.”

Certainly, Bernardini is the logical choice for such a tall order. In the last two years, Bernardini has covered 255 mares with a relatively successful live foal rate, according to The Jockey Club and the story. His pedigree is impeccable and his racing record nearly so. It will be most interesting to see what this pairing will produce when the time comes. There should be some interest in what the foal will be named. Zendini, Bernardyatta, or maybe Sting will have an idea or two?

It will also be interesting to see who would be next in line for Zenyatta. Certainly, a horse like Tapit has established himself as an outstanding Sire in a relatively brief time, and wouldn't it be a hoot if Blame and Zenyatta were to produce a foal after all the feisty discussion that captivated the racing public since the Breeders' Cup Classic. Certainly, there is a part of me whimsical enough to want to see an all-Moss affair with Giacomo getting his chance to mate with Zenyatta. Whichever way those that make such decisions lean, they must be aware that these decisions are crucial to many racing and Zenyatta fans. If ever anyone earned the title, "The People's Horse", it was the mighty Zenyatta.

Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Call Me Ismael...

That is the opening line of one of the most famous pieces of American literature ever penned, Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It is the gripping story of Captain Ahab and his constant, fruitless pursuit of The Great White Whale, Moby Dick. Ismael ends up being the lone survivor of the quest of the Pequod at the end of the tale when The Great White Whale destroys the ship and Captain Ahab ends up lashed to the whale to meet his doom.

Well, dear reader, I have my own Moby Dick now. Yes, I am hapless Captain Ahab railing against the devastating force of The Great White Whale that has threatened to become an albatross around my neck. My Moby Dick is the 50-cent Pick Five wager at Turf Paradise, which I believe would double as the Pequod if the comparison is to go to the n-th degree. I have yet to hit this wager despite numerous attempts since its introduction at the start of this current season. I have gotten 4 of 5 I cannot tell you how many times, but of course, never one of those times that it actually pays 4 of 5 and creates a carryover.

My first effort to try and harpoon the whale came early in the season. As a matter of fact, it was the first time it had generated a significant carryover and I had secured the first four races in the sequence and faced a six-horse field, scratched down from a field of nine. I should mention that when I originally handicapped this particular race all the horses I initially would use in the wager ended up scratched, so I reconfigured the last leg before I placed the wager and ended up picking three of the six horses. In addition to the three I had used on my ticket, two of the three I didn't use were paying 4 of 5 for decent returns. My three selections were paying anywhere from $1,500 to $7,000, depending on who won. Of course, the one horse I did not include in the ticket or receive the 4 of 5 consolation from wound up winning the final leg of the Pick Five. I don't know if any of you have ever described to those listening over a public address system yourself NOT winning $3,500 (the amount the Pick Five paid to the horse that won), but I can assure you it is not a pleasant experience.

Since that day, as I have already mentioned, there have been numerous other encounters with near glory with 4 of 5 winners on my ticket. Today was the latest such occurrence. There was a carryover in excess of $7,000 in the Pick Five pool today, so I handicapped and put together a modest ticket using two horses in the first four legs and three in the final leg. This time, I was put out of my misery early as my third choice won the first leg and knocked me out right away. However, my top overall choice won three of the next four legs (including the leg I went three-deep in) and my second choice won the other leg. The Pick Five paid $2,488. Had I went three-deep in the first leg rather than the last leg, I have the winning ticket. Had I singled one of those three top choice winners and spread out in the first leg, I have the winning ticket. I ended up with three top choices, a second choice and a third choice winning and still managed to NOT hit the Pick Five. I am able to rationalize this myself, though, because in that first leg, I thought the two horses I did include in the wager stood out above the field more than the rest, so I am actually comfortable with the fact I didn't go three-deep.

So, dear reader, I am Captain Ahab, lashed to the side of The Great White Whale until the day comes that I finally exact sweet victory from these repeated tales of woe. To paraphrase from another piece of classic American literature, Gone With The Wind, "As God is my witness, I will cash the winning ticket on the Pick Five before the end of the season." I don't care if it pays $4.80 or $4,800, I will hit the Pick Five before Sunday, May 8.

Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mighty Miesque

With the prominence of Goldikova over the last three years in the Breeders' Cup Mile and the fact that she is now probably the finest horse currently in training in the world, it is ironic that we all learned of the passing of Miesque last week at the age of 27. It is all the more ironic when you consider that Freddie Head, the man that rode Miesque in all but one of her sixteen lifetime starts, is the trainer of Goldikova. That means that Head has been associated with two of the finest distaff milers that we have seen since the advent of the Breeders' Cup in the 1980s.

Miesque was the first horse ever to win the same Breeders' Cup race in back-to-back years, scoring in the Mile in 1987 and 1988. Goldikova is the first horse ever to win the same Breeders' Cup race in three consecutive years, winning the Mile in 2008, 2009, and 2010. The connections between the two are nearly uncanny. You must remember that Miesque was more than just those two straight wins in the Mile. She was maybe the finest miler produced by Europe until her near-doppelganger, Goldikova, came along twenty years later. She lost twice at the distance, it is true, but one of those came over soft going at Longchamp and the other came in the lone race that Head didn't ride her, the 1987 Group I Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, in what was a rare trip outside of France for her. Oddly enough, both of those losses came in the starts immediately preceding her triumphs in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Maybe that is why she entered both of those Cup races as not the betting favorite. In 1987, she cruised to a 3 1/2 length victory, while the favorite, Sonic Lady, ran third. In 1988, she dominated the field and won by four widening lengths in a tour-de-force performance, while the favorite, Warning, ran 11th of twelve starters, one of which was the winner of the Belmont Stakes the year before, Bet Twice. It was a fitting way to put an exclamation point on her magnificent career. By the way, her nearest competition in the 1988 Mile, Steinlen, would return to win the race in 1989.

Here is the link to watch the replay of the 1988 Mile victory by Miesque: Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fitting Farewell

The Eclipse Awards in Miami on Monday night provided the storybook finish to Zenyatta's career that the racing public was denied at the Breeders' Cup, when she missed out on finishing her career a perfect 20 for 20. Of course, she lost that night to Blame by a head in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

In the final Horse Of The Year balloting, Zenyatta's margin of victory was slightly more substantial than that. She received 128 votes to Blame's 102 votes. The third finalist, Goldikova, received five votes. There were three voters, who returned ballots with no choice for Horse Of The Year, which I cannot fathom for the life of me. It makes me think of members of the Baseball Writers Association of America voters that return blank ballots for the Hall Of Fame in a given year. It is a PRIVILEGE to have a vote for these honors, the very least you could do is have the decency to return a selection.

Granted, in the piece I did where I documented my Eclipse Award thoughts, I begged off on the Steeplechase Division because I had insufficient knowledge of the nominees. If you don't have sufficient knowledge of Zenyatta, Blame, or Goldikova, then really you shouldn't have a vote in the first place.

Getting off of that tangent and back to the main point, Zenyatta is the Horse Of The Year and her connections, owners Jerry and Ann Moss, trainer John Shirreffs, and jockey Mike Smith were all in attendance for the ceremony and they received a well-deserved standing ovation from their contemporaries after the announcement was made. While Zenyatta was also named Champion Older Mare, the Mosses did not win the Owner category (WinStar Farm did) and Shirreffs did not win the Trainer category (Todd Pletcher did). Somehow, I think that all of them were quite content in the aftermath of those individual defeats to go home with the biggest prize of the evening when all was said and done.

If you would like to watch the announcement of Horse Of The Year, here is the link to the DRF website page on the Eclipse Awards:

Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Grade 2 $150,000 San Fernando Stakes

Unfortunately, the big horse in this year's edition of the Grade 2 San Fernando, Sidney's Candy, has been scratched and will not run. Fortunately, that might make the race a little bit more competitive and bettor friendly since Sidney's Candy would have been an overwhelming favorite in here and likely would have run like it. So, with Sidney's Candy out, where do we go? Here is the analysis:

I will go with the apparent speed horse in this field, the Bob Baffert-trained #1 Tweebster. This horse is currently working a three-race winning streak and while none of those wins have come against anything like he will be facing here, I think he just might steal the whole thing on the front end. The offspring of the current prime Sire, Tapit, might have to contend with the other Baffert trainee in here, but I think that he could be the best one in this field on Saturday. For second, I will select #2 Paris Vegas, who might come running late to inject a price into the proceedings at 15-1 on the morning line here. His race in the Grade 1 Malibu was a disaster, as he finished way behind the track record pace of Twirling Candy that day. However, he stretches back out in distance here and gets Brice Blanc in the saddle. For third, I will AGAIN return to the well and select #6 Thiskyhasnolimit. I was on his side in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and was rebuked. I had him in the mix in the aforementioned Malibu and again denied. I will include him here and make myself feel like that guy that keeps waiting for the girl to out with him (Maybe it's today, Maybe it's today). Thiskyhasnolimit has broken my heart before and I half-expect him to do it again here. Finally, I will go with #5 Do It All, who gets Pat Valenzuela in the saddle on Saturday. The Eoin Harty runner has not actually crossed the finish line first yet in his career, but a win off of a DQ is still a win. The last work on the Cushion track at Hollywood is enough to pique my interest. Here is the play for the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes:

$5 WP #1
$1 EX BOX 1-2-5-6-7
$1 TRI 1 with 2-5-6-7 with 2-5-6-7
TOTAL- $38

Last week's Bet Three at Gulfstream was a total failure, so the loss of $24 there reduces our 2011 profit to $7.40. Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Eclipse Award Picks

There are 17 Eclipse Awards that will be given out on Monday night, January 17 at the Fountainbleau Hotel in Miami, Florida. Did you know that Jerry Lewis filmed his classic comedy, "The Bellboy" at this hotel? Maybe you don't care, but I figured I would throw that in as a "fun fact". So, without any further ado, here are my selections for 16 of the Eclipse Award categories (I am not familiar enough with the Steeplechase division to make any kind of pick in that category):

Apprentice Jockey: Omar Moreno, who has won more money and more races than any other apprentice in 2010. Those two points outweigh anything else in this category.

Jockey: Ramon Dominguez, who finished 2010 second in wins with 369 and earnings of $17,411,880. That is the most for any jockey in the country. If I am going to base the first selection on this criteria, I feel I should be consistent, especially since Dominguez is second behind a rider not nominated against him and he dominates the toughest circuit in the land in New York.

Breeder: Adena Springs. I know it is in vogue to bash Frank Stronach lately for his management of Magna and the situation that some of this countries most glorious or historic racetracks (Gulfstream, Pimlico, and Santa Anita) find themselves in, however, that should not take away from the fact that the man runs the finest breeding program on the continent. Adena Springs has won this Award the last seven years and I see no reason that it shouldn't be eight straight. Adena Springs horses won 506 races in 2010 and earned $13,369,852 in purse money.

Owner: WinStar Farm gets my selection here over Ann and Jerry Moss. Yes, the Mosses did a wonderful thing bringing Zenyatta back for another campaign, but the pickings after her were a little light for the couple. WinStar won two of the big three in 2010 with Super Saver in the Kentucky Derby and Drosselmeyer in the Belmont Stakes. WinStar was also the leading owner by earnings in North America with $5,183,379.

Trainer: This might actually be the toughest category of the entire program for me, but I will side with Bob Baffert. In all likelihood, Baffert was robbed of another Derby win by the post position draw of Lookin At Lucky, who was the best three-year-old by a long way this year. Baffert also won 124 races from 500 starters and earned $11,103,463 in purses. Baffert also picked up his 2,000th career victory in 2010, which is quite a landmark for any trainer.

Female Sprinter: Dubai Majesty won the big one in this category, the Grade 1 Filly And Mare Sprint on Friday at the Breeders' Cup and she deserves the honors here. She defeated her closest competitor in the division (Champagne D'Oro) at the Breeders' Cup and she even prevailed in an ungraded turf sprint at Monmouth Park. She is a versatile and deserving champion in this division.

Male Sprinter: While Big Drama won the Sprint at the Breeders' Cup, I still feel that Majesticperfection proved he was the better horse when he crushed the entire field (including Big Drama) in the Vanderbilt at Saratoga over the summer. It is not his fault he was injured and denied the chance to finish off what was a championship season. Majesticperfection is my pick.

Female Turf: Goldikova is maybe the most brilliant horse currently running on the planet and to deny her this award simple because she made only one start here is ridiculous. Anyone voting against her for that reason is wrong, in my opinion. Her third straight win in the Breeders' Cup Mile was maybe the most impressive of the three and she gets the edge in here.

Male Turf: You know it strikes me as odd that many of the same scribes who won't vote for Zenyatta for Horse Of The Year because it isn't a lifetime achievement award are going to vote for Gio Ponti here. I don't get that because he really didn't impress in 2010, winning just twice and not being super awesome either time. I actually think Winchester's season was better and he beat Gio Ponti to boot in the Manhattan.

Older Female: Zenyatta, do I really need to go on?

Older Male: Blame, see Zenyatta comment above.

Three-Year-Old Female: Blind Luck won the Kentucky Oaks, the Alabama, and ran second behind the older Unrivaled Belle in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic. She beat her closest rival in the division, Havre De Grace, every time they met save one. Blind Luck is the deserving selection here.

Three-Year-Old Male: I know what I said about Majesticperfection's injury not costing him my vote earlier, however, I still go with Lookin At Lucky over Eskendereya. Lookin At Lucky was the Champion Two-Year-Old coming in and had a magnificent 2010, winning the Preakness, Haskell, Indiana Derby, and running a strong fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He never seemed to run a really poor race all year and he gets my selection.

Two-Year-Old Female: Awesome Feather went six for six in 2010 and won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. There really is no alternative to picking her here.

Two-Year-Old Male: Uncle Mo won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in dominating fashion, a performance that stamped him as the early favorite for the 2011 Kentucky Derby to run over the same track in May. By the way, he drilled his closest competition for this honor (Boys At Tosconova) in the Juvenile. No contest, Uncle Mo wins.

Horse Of The Year: I have already made my feelings for the category known in a previous post. I am picking Zenyatta and I really don't care if you think I am a bozo or not for doing it. I don't care that she lost by a head (or less) to Blame in the Classic. For all she did for racing and for coming as close to perfect as anyone ever could, Zenyatta is the Horse Of The Year.

There will be no post on Thursday since I am going to enjoy a Hockey Night In Arizona. Tune in again on Friday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Martha's Oaklawn Preview

Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas will be starting its 2011 racing season this Friday afternoon and their always-entertaining meeting will last through April 16. Terry Thompson was the leading rider in 2010 and Steve Asmussen was the leading trainer last year. Both will be on hand to try and repeat those titles. SureBet Racing News' Martha Claussen has a preview of the 2011 Oaklawn season in the latest issue of the magazine. Here is the link to read the article, starting on Page 5:

Hopefully, everyone will have a profitable and enjoyable season at Oaklawn Park. Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, January 07, 2011

A Gulfstream Park Bet Three

There are two Stakes races on the Gulfstream Park program Saturday afternoon and they are separated by a very competitive turf race in the middle, so that tells me that we need to investigate a Pick Three (or as Gulfstream calls it, The Bet Three) on races 7, 8, and 9 from Hallandale on Saturday. Here is a brief look at each of the three races and the horses that will be used for the wager:

Race 7- The $100,000 Spectacular Bid- Named for the 1979 Derby and Preakness winner (not to mention the 1980 Horse Of The Year), this is a six-furlong sprint that should feature quite a bit of speed. The top pick is #5 Leave Of Absence, who is coming off of a Beyer figure of 94 in his last go, a maiden breaking six-furlong win at Aqueduct on November 10. He went the six furlongs in 1:09.2 that day. I also like #1 Winchill, who gets Johnny Velazquez aboard and whose two wins were both at six furlongs, #7 Dual Exhauzt, who posted a 93 Beyer at Calder last time out and you cannot discount those Calder horses anywhere they go anymore, and #8 Cane Garden Bay, who is 8-1 on the morning line and ran in a route Grade 2 at Churchill Downs last out behind Santiva, who was one of my Three To Watch in 2011.

Race 8- Optional Claimer on Turf (1 Mile)- This could be quite the difficult spot to trip up on in this sequence. The top selection in this one will be #11 Vanquisher, who is entering this easier spot (based on his recent races) out of Stakes company, running third in the Diliberto at Fair Grounds. He has two blistering Tampa workouts entering this try today. I also like #5 Rogue Victory, who has been off since the Saratoga summer season, but he has been working lights out also recently. I don't think you can ignore#4 Guys Reward, who might end of going off as the favorite in this one. He ran third in the Grade 3 Commonwealth at Churchill Downs in November over the turf there and gets Kent Desormeaux up Saturday. I am also going to include #8 Saint Dynaformer, who won last out with Paco Lopez aboard and looks to live to leave out at 12-1 on the morning line, #6 Jimmy Simms, who could steal it on the front end with Eibar Coa, and #10 Asphalt, who won in a similar situation at Gulfstream almost one year to the day.

Race 9- The Grade 3 $100,000 Hal's Hope- I think this could shape up a couple of ways. Either the speed of the speed (Morning Line) is going to run the other speed (Tackleberry and Rule) into the ground and win going away or the closers are going to make this very interesting when they hit the finish. I am going to side with Situation A here and single #3 Morning Line in the Bet Three. I just think he is going to be far too classy for these when it counts on Saturday.

Here is the Bet Three play on Races 7-9 at Gulfstream Park on Saturday:

$1 BET THREE: 1-5-7-8 with 4-5-6-8-10-11 with 3
TOTAL- $24

By the way, this year I will be tracking profit and loss on these suggested wagers. So far for 2011, the blog shows a profit of $31.40. Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Martha's 2010 Bloopers

Martha Claussen of SureBet Racing News is a frequent contributor to this blog and the time has come for her look back at 2010. Specifically, her look back at what went wrong in 2010. Her bloopers and blunders article in this month's edition of SureBet Racing News starts on Page 7 of the following link, enjoy!

Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Behind The Bagel

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!