National Handicapping Championship Recap

Another National Handicapping Championship has come to an end but unlike the previous twelve I participated in this years.  For me the two day event was a roller coaster ride with the highest of highs and lowest of lows.  My preparation began the Monday before the event when early entries were released for many of the contest tracks.  Four days (actually mostly nights) of handicapping followed by two days of contest play was one of the most taxing efforts I have ever endured.

My strategy was to focus on two or three tracks and only handicap the mandatory races from the others.  I focused on Aqueduct, Gulfstream and Santa Anita as those are the tracks I follow on a regular basis in the winter.  I avoided the other tracks in my early preparation because I rarely bet any of those tracks and more importantly the forecast was calling for rain which meant there was a good chance for an off track and no turf racing.

Day 1

The weather forecast were half right and half wrong as no rain was expected in New York on Friday when I checked the forecast at the beginning of the week.  Other than the mandatory race at Aqueduct I played only one other race from the card.  My focus was Gulfstream as I found several mid-priced horses that looked like they had a good chance.

After missing on two optional races early on I connected on the first mandatory race of the two day contest, Gulfstream Race 3.  The race was at 1 mile on the main track and was an $8,000 Claiming race for Four year olds and up which had not won a race in the last six months.  My top choice was 20/1 on the morning line , was 14/1 a few minutes before post time but drifted up to 30/1 as the gates opened.

Handicapping Contest

Freddy the Cap was making his 3rd start off a layoff and stretching out to 1 mile.

Let the roller coaster ride begin.  Freddy the Cap went straight to the front, fought off a challenge and drew clear paying $62.20 to win and $21.80 to place.  With the contest odds capped at $42.00 to win and $22.00 to place I received $63.80.  Of the 480 contestants 26 had him so I was in a 26 way tie for the lead.

The rest of the day was unfortunately not so good.  I had a few horses run okay but not win, got off a few that did win and managed to only catch one second place finish in the last mandatory race of the day.  My total for Day 1 was $72.20 good for 86th place.  I was extremely frustrated but I was in position to make a run at the leader on Day 2.

Day 2

Early on Day 2 I hit another high as I connected with a 10/1 winner at Oaklawn that vaulted me up to 31st place.  Unfortunately that was as high as I would get.  Throughout the day I had some frustratingly close misses, such as Speak Easy Girl in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf.

Horse Racing

Speak Easy Girl led into deep stretch but faded to third at 15/1.

I kept my composure and continued to pick the horses I liked but time was running out.  Depression set in when I came to the realization that with only two optional plays left I could not catch the leader even if I caught two cap horses.  Resigned to defeat I elected to go for the gusto anyway because the thought of finishing in the 40 to 50 range and taking home around $1,000 did not excite me.

I missed both my optional plays and finished with $119.60 which was good enough for 97th.  My first trip to the National Handicapping Championship didn’t go quite as well as I had hoped but finishing in the Top 100 against the strongest field of the year was still a great accomplishment in my mind.  The experience gained from those two days will go a long way and until the next time I make it to the National Handicapping Championship every other handicapping contest will be much easier.

The People

In addition to the great experience I mentioned above I got to meet many people I have come to know through various horse racing websites, including the winner (Michael Beychok) and 7th place finisher (Alan Levitt), both of whom are regular commenters on Dan Illman’s Formblog.  I also met several others from that blog, some Twinspires people and a few Twitter friends.

I also spoke with dozens of new people and had the honor of sitting at the same table as last years champ John Doyle and professional horseplayer Mike Maloney.  I learned more over the two days of the National Handicapping Championship then I had in the last year.  It was an experience I will never forget and one I hope to have many more times in the future.

History Repeats Itself

Many of the points I mentioned in my post “National Handicapping Championship: History Says You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Win” were validated this weekend.

  • The average winning total was $239: the winner had $238.60
  • A solid first day is a must: the winner was in 24th after Day 1
  • Perfection is not necessary: I had 2 winners and 3 runner-ups out of 30 races and finished in the Top 100

Final Thoughts

As I said the experience I had this past weekend was one I will never forget.  To be successful at the National Handicapping Championship you must:

  • Be prepared ahead of time, that means do all of your handicapping before the contest
  • Make a list of contenders in the mandatory races and make a list of all the races that are potential optional plays
  • Be flexible and adjust your strategy based on what has occurred throughout the contest
  • Not rely on technology because you never know when the internet is going to go down
  • Keep your composure as going on tilt for even a few minutes can mean missing a horse that could cost you the contest
Those points can and should be applied to every handicapping contest you play in.  I thought about taking a break from the contest scene for a few weeks but every week I sit out is a missed opportunity to qualify for next years National Handicapping Championship so I’ll be at it again this weekend, will you?


  1. michael alunni says:

    Just curious does the NHC or other tournaments allow playing a mandatory race as an optional as well.
    Seems you were on Freddy the Cap from the get go and you would have played him as a optional.

    • Michael,

      No the NHC does not let you play the same race twice, there has been talk about giving each person one “best bet” per day but it has not been added yet. I would definitely like to see that rule added, maybe have one race per day where you can bet $5 to Win and Place instead of the normal $2. It would definitely add another level of strategy to the contest. And yes I liked Freddy the Cap and would have played him as an Optional.

  2. Don Swanson says:

    I don’t have the pp’s , but I would guess that Speak Easy Gal was a long distance front running turf horse moving up in class against graded caliber horses with miler speed. The horse was in sharp form but had a class-dist-pace problem (2nd call times). Mucho Macho Man had the same problem prior to the Ky Dby. I looked at the entries and recent charts and the stakes history from the pedigree site. The pedigree site has a menu item labeled “reports > stakes races” located upper left and also the “i” button next to the horses name which shows the stakes history not visible in the pp’s.

    • Don,

      Speak Easy Gal was questionable at the class level and was questionable at the distance. If she could have gotten clear without pressure early she may have been able to steal it.

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