Last week I participated in the Horse Player World Series for the first time and I’m not sure if I could have done worse if I tried.
Over the course of three days and 45 bets (15 each day) I managed to pick two winners and two runner-ups.
My total score of $728.00 was good for 735th place out of 792 total entries.
My strategy was to focus on logical horses and hit with a high strike rate, rather than stabbing at long shots and hoping to catch a few each day.
I can’t say for sure that the strategy failed because my handicapping was so bad but I can say that the people I know that finished well went with a completely different strategy.
Where I Went Wrong
My first mistake, which occurred during my early preparation, was to completely ignore Oaklawn on the first day because of the high probability of an off track.
Oaklawn did have an off track but there were several logical winners (some at overlaid odds) that in retrospect could have easily been included in my 15 optional bets on day 1.
Mistake number two was to bet any races from Tampa Bay.
A few years ago I decided to focus on Tampa Bay instead of Gulfstream and Santa Anita for the winter.
After a month of losing I quickly ended that experiment.
Being stubborn and knowing that Tampa Bay produces some juicy win mutuels I handicapped the whole card and found a few horses that looked interesting.
Unfortunately none of them won.
After a dreadful first day I knew that I needed to have a very strong day two to have any chance of finishing in the money.
I needed to build some momentum early and maintain it throughout the day.
I stuck to my original plan of attack but only one of the logical horses I selected managed to win.
After a 2 for 30 start my chances of cashing were all but gone.
On day three I altered my strategy and demanded that any horse I selected be at least 8/1 at post time.
I knew this would reduce my strike rate but I had no other choice.
The racing gods were surely laughing at me as I passed on an early selection that went to post at 7/1 and promptly won by open lengths.
As the day progressed my minimum odds requirement increased and so too did my level of frustration.
I cashed with a 20/1 runner-up at Hawthorne but missed the rest of my bets.
The icing on the cake was the final race from Santa Anita and even though I had no chance I decided to pick a long shot firster from the Richard Mandella barn.
As I stood at the machine to enter my final bet I changed my mind and went with my original selection because I wanted to go out a winner.
That horse was never in contention and at this point you know exactly what happened.
Mandella’s hopeless firster came flying late to get up by a nose at odds of 27/1.
Not that it mattered but picking that horse would have moved me up about 200 places in the standings.
What Worked for Others
I had the pleasure of sitting with 2012 NHC Champ Michael Beychok during the second and third days of the contest.
He was playing three entries with a partner that could not attend the event and one of those entries finished in 26th, which was worth nearly $2,000.
His strategy throughout the contest was to avoid favorites and pick mostly mid-priced horses and sprinkle in a few long shots.
The formula worked great as all three of his entries beat my lone entry.
I also had the pleasure of meeting and eating dinner with Eric Wing of the NTRA.
Eric led the contest after day 1 and finished in 7th place winning a little over $18,000.
His strategy was similar to Michael’s as he connected with a few horses each day, all of which were in the 10/1 to 20/1 range.
What I Learned at the Horse Player World Series
Win or lose when attending a major handicapping contest you will always walk away a smarter and more educated horseplayer.
Each of us has our own way of handicapping and betting the races but watching others, especially those that do it full time and/or have been extremely successful is an eye-opening experience.
I have been to two major handicapping contests and I was lucky enough to sit with 2011 NHC Champ/professional horseplayer John Doyle and professional horseplayer Mike Maloney at the 2012 NHC and as I mentioned earlier I sat with 2012 NHC Champ Michael Beychok at this years Horse Player World Series.
Observing those three guys for just a few days taught me more than I could ever learn from reading every handicapping book in print.
The key takeaways are:
- Create the same environment you use on a regular basis at the contest (i.e. bring your laptop or printed past performances or whatever it is you use in your daily routine)
- Focus on your strengths and use the tools you have the most success with (i.e. workout reports, trip notes, trainer stats, etc.)
- Let the odds board be your guide, pass on underlays and bet on overlays
- Discuss the races with those around you because you never know when they might point out something you missed
- Listen to the conversations during the contest and if you have the chance spend as much time as possible interacting with your fellow horseplayers before or after the contest
I may have had the worst three days of handicapping of my life at the Horse Player World Series but I’m glad I was there to learn from those mentioned above as well as so many others.
Why I May Never Attend the Horse Player World Series Again
You may think I am going to enter into a bitter tirade about my poor performance but there is sound reasoning for not attending this event again.
The Horse Player World Series has been around since 2005 and up until last year the rules were the same.
In 2012 players were for the first time allowed to earn or purchase multiple entries.
Looking at the chart below will show why this one change has completely altered the Horse Player World Series.
Allowing players to have multiple entries has resulted in a record winning scores each of the two years.
Going into this event I projected a winning score of $3,500, which was 10% above the average for the first eight years of the event.
After day 2 this year that score had already been surpassed.
The consensus among those that I talked to was this rule change will hurt the Horse Player World Series in the long run and many like myself may not attend again unless the rule is changed back to allowing only a single entry.
This is yet another rule that will benefit the deep-pocketed handicapping contest players that can afford multiple entries and deter the average bankrolled handicapping contest players, like myself, from participating.
A person at my table mentioned that one guy had seven entries in his name and possibly more under other people’s names.
Who has a better chance of winning: the guy with 7+ entries or someone like me that has one?
Will the NHC Suffer the Same Fate?
The NHC is now allowing two entries per person and after the backlash against that change as well as several others I can only assume that the conversation throughout this year will be similar to the one at the Horse Player World Series.
Quite a few people I talked to said they are either not trying to qualify for the NHC this year or will be spending far less time and money doing so.
I understand that both the NHC and Horse Player World Series want larger fields but doing so by allowing multiple entries will likely be counterproductive over the long run.
My Focus the Rest of the Year
Originally I had planned on trying to qualify for every major handicapping contest this year.
Now after playing in one and talking with others I have shifted my focus.
My primary focus is to qualify for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, which has two big advantages.
First the event focuses on the two best days of racing during the year and second each person is only allowed one entry.
My secondary focus will be on the big money contests at Derby Wars, such as the $10,000 and $20,000 events that are held at least once a month.
I will still attend/play in NHC and Horse Player World Series qualifiers but on a much more limited basis.
My goal is to win prize money this year and if a qualifying spot comes along with it so be it.
If it doesn’t I’m not going to be upset.
Over To You
After reading about my experience at the Horse Player World Series and my thoughts about that event and the NHC going forward have you changed your opinion about either?
Will you still try to qualify for one or both?
Let me know in the comments below and if you enjoyed this post and want to know when every new post is published complete the form below.
Creative Commons photo courtesy of paulistapink.