Friday, March 1, 2013

Outwearing My Welcome? (and a preview of the Baffle Stakes from Santa Anita)

"No guest is so welcome in a friend's house that he will not become a nuisance after three days." 
- Plautus
I had a different idea for my weekly blog than what I am actually writing about.  What changed my mind?  I got an email from the NHC entitled ‘Welcome Back’, which made me wonder if with all the changes to the NHC qualifying and finals, have I started to outwear my welcome (other than my yearly fee)? 

 As has been mentioned by the NHC, there will be changes to the 2014 Finals format, most notably that the finals will be held over three days (which in my book is a day too long); but more about that after they finalize and release the rules in the next few weeks.

After an exhausting week where I forgot to enter the NHC online survey, I scrolled through the NHC email and got to the part where they discussed the results of their online survey – a portion of which appears below:

“Some of you asked why we conducted a survey based largely on consumer habits and demographics. The reason is we believe the information will be valuable in attracting additional sponsors to the NHC, and sponsorship revenue is one of the few ways to grow the NHC without doing it on the backs of the players. The individual responses will remain confidential. Suffice it to say, however, that NHC Tour members are overwhelmingly male, older and affluent. They bet lots of money on Thoroughbred racing, are more highly educated than the national average, and are willing to travel by air to attempt to qualify for the NHC. That’s a good target demographic for most any sponsor, and we now have the data to back it up.  A sincere thank you to all those who responded.”

This got me thinking – do I really have a shot at qualifying based on where I live and the fact that I work for a living?  In a nutshell, the NHC Tour members are old, educated (education doesn’t necessarily make you smart), men with money.  I consider myself young (even though the new hire at the office thinks that anyone over 30 is old), well educated, and I make a decent buck doing my day job.  I am not necessarily interested in flying to try to qualify for the NHC, especially with the proliferation of added opportunities through online sites such as Derby Wars, Horse Tourneys, etc.; and the expectation that with the TVG takeover of 4NJBETS that there will likely be some further opportunities there.  Do I meet the demographic they describe?  Somewhat.

 I filled out the survey last year and remember adding my two cents which did get a response from someone at the NHC.  My comment was simply that the majority of the contests are on the major tracks and do not include other venues or minor tracks – which is honestly a place where I have done my best over my career.  For the last two plus years I have struggled to try to follow Southern California, Florida, and the NYRA (Belmont and Saratoga meets), whereas I have traditionally done my best handicapping (and winning) at Parx, Monmouth, Delaware Park, and the slew of night tracks – Penn, Mountaineer, and Charlestown.  

The response I received for Keith Chamblin was:

“Thanks for the feedback. Keep reminding us that there are players everywhere. We do care and appreciate your support. Keith”

I think the NHC has forgotten that there are players everywhere… and not all of us find our niche with win, place, and show bets.  Some of the best horseplayers I know strictly play Pick 3’s, Pick 4’s, and other multi-race mutuels – a demographic of bettors that typically have a bankroll to go deep into these wagers, but their style is forgotten, much like the minor track players that do all the same research and keep all the same data/records as the guys who follow Gulfstream, Del Mar, etc.

This also comes after I read the latest entry by Lenny Moon at which detailed his experience at the Horse Player World Series last week.  As someone who has not qualified for the finals of the NHC or HPWS, I was very eager to read about his experience, and frankly was disappointed one point that he noted in his post - that there are multiple entries allowed… in the case of the HPWS it sounds like you could qualify an infinite number of times, play on someone’s behalf, or buy your way in with an entry.  

Basically, if you have the time and the money, you can succeed.   My quest for the ‘big win’ in Vegas has in some ways taken a toll on my daily performance.  I can’t follow my old ‘bread-and-butter’ venues the same way when I am trying to understand the horsemen and nuances of other circuits for what amounts to a (currently) finite number of decent qualifying opportunities on-track in NJ (or within reasonable driving distance) and discounting the free-for-all freebie contests against 4,000 or so other players.  I paid my NHC tour dues like everyone else, but do not have any intention of throwing thousands of dollars at buy-ins for tour events, qualifiers, or feeders.  Does this hurt my chances of making it to Vegas?  Absolutely, but I have bigger priorities in life that are more important to me.

I’ll save my rants about the new finals format for 2014 until they finalize the format, but after hearing some of the initial ideas, I have to admit that I am feeling less than enthusiastic about the ‘final table’ approach with a head to head format.  But let’s see what they formally publish before I get back on my soap box.

On to more pressing matters… Santa Anita Race 5 – Baffle Stakes 75k for 3 year olds 6-1/2f over the Turf

1 Rosengold (8-1) – shows a solid last work over the turf, but in a race full of early speed he won’t be able to sustain the early pace.

2 Laugh At Life (8-1) – moderate pedigree, but untested in last against 30k maiden claimers over the dirt.  Will be part of the weak early pace here.

3 Amarish (4-1) – makes his 3 year old debut after being forwardly placed last summer.  Solid pedigree and is very likely to improve, however the early pace will be highly contested and he will likely be used up early.

4 Sacred Ovation (20-1) – outclassed and over matched here, may fire early but won’t be much of a factor by second call.

5 Procurement (4-1)  - looks to improve off of that solid staking effort last out where he spotted the field at the break.  Overcoming a bad start and a troubled trip to score off the layoff should imply some improvement here as the late pace seems to have an advantage.  Contender.

6 Tiger Day (5-1) – ships in from Italy where he won a G3 as a juvenile.  Solid work pattern and breeding indicate this one is likely the class of the field.  Contender.
7 Horizon Sky (5-1) – fairly unimpressive career overseas but does have a few sharp works.  Let this one run once before using in the future.

8 Native Treasure (12-1) – minor stakes winner over the AW track last out – seems a bit outclassed here in his 3 year old debut.  Early pace will be highly contested which works to his disadvantage.

9 Caught Napping (7-2) – overcame a torrid pace around two turns in US debut last fall, turn back will help his chances here.  Contender.

10 Will True Up (10-1) – will be part of the late pace, but seems a little weaker than the rest of the field.  Not likely for the top spot, but figure he has a shot for a spot underneath.

The race appears to be heavy on early speed so the late runners are more likely here.  The question is, how will the Euro imports run?  I am still inclined to go with the class here on 6 Tiger Day, but not ruling out the late runners in 5 Procurement and 9 Caught Napping.

Good luck all!

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