Handicapper Blog

Sophia Mangalee, Contest Director at Monmouth Park recently invited NJ Horseplayer Bill Holobowski to appear as a guest blogger on monmouthpark.com. You can follow his full blog at: www.njhorseplayer.com as he continues his quest to qualify for the NHC. His contribution is below. 




An anomalously warm winter aside, March usually bears several meanings for NJ Horseplayer — a near-end to unwanted dates with the snow thrower, an early exit from the Big East tournament for my beloved Rutgers men’s basketball team and two decades of NCAA Tournament futility, and the finale of what is one of the top thoroughbred handicapping tournaments around.


Simulcast Series Challenge #3, the last of three monthly winter qualifiers that culminate in April’s SSC Invitational where two spots to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) are awarded, is prominent on the NJ Horseplayer calendar. 


The 2012 edition is scheduled for Saturday, March 24, and having zeroed out of SSC#1 and SSC#2, a Top 15 finish in SSC#3 is a priority in my third year of trying to qualify for the NHC.


NHC and SSC may seem like hieroglyphics, but for newcomers to the handicapping contest circuit, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) and Daily Racing Form host an annual championship in Las Vegas, akin to the World Series of Poker.  The 2012 NHC was worth $1 million to the winner among 500 players, and double the 2011 payout…impressive a Tour entering its 14th year and that costs $50 to join. 


SSC, meanwhile, is one of the best events on Monmouth Park’s calendar, and still a relatively unheralded commodity. 


Whether NHC Tour members or not, handicappers pay a reasonable $200 ($100 entry fee, $100 bankroll) for a shot at a robust first-place payout (SSC#2 winner Chris Russo of Wall Township took down nearly $14,000 in winnings and cash prizes), and SSC#3 is typically the best-attended SSC tournament.


For NHC Tour players, especially, finishing in the Top 15 is paramount—advancing to the SSC Invitational, scheduled for Saturday, April 28, gives Tour players a shot at one of two “seats” to the NHC, which is the brass ring for even a third-year Tour player like me.


The rules of SSC stipulate that, to qualify for any prizes, players must make wagers of $10 or more on at least 10 races from three contest tracks, usually Aqueduct, Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs.  Wagers must be at least $10 per race and can comprise a win, place, show, or a combination thereof. 


The core concept is simple—players need to turn their starting $100 bankrolls into as many winnings as possible.  Getting there is often the challenge, and generally mandates strong handicapping skill, though betting strategies can vary depending on one’s perspective, and bankroll management is often the key.  


First-hand experience suggests that simply lasting to the end of the contest is an extremely difficult but essential hurdle.  In a non-SSC tournament at Monmouth a few years back, I went 0-for-8 before turning my remaining $13 into a $550 (7th-place) finish with a well-placed pick of a 7-to-2 shot and subsequently hit on back-to-back 9-to-1 and 14-to-1 winners. 


More recently, however, in SSC#1 and SSC#2 I had many near-misses and two off-the-board finishes.  The complexion of both contests differed, however, in that in SSC#1 my handicapping was awful and too focused on long-shots (a NJ Horseplayer staple), and in SSC#2 I dabbled in win-place wagers but only ultimately met the same $0 finish.


Leading up to SSC#3, I have given serious consideration to a capital-preservation strategy focusing on move-the-chains show wagers through the middle of the contest in hopes of doubling my bankroll to take one big shot at a price later in the contest.  In light of two players hitting the top 15 of SSC#1 with just a $127.50 bankroll and needing $252 in winnings to crack the SSC#2 Top 15, the show strategy deserves some consideration in terms of my making it to the SSC Invitational.  Still, admittedly, show betting lacks the allure of hitting a well-placed win wager.  Therein lays the inner turmoil of contests!


Whatever the motivation, the Simulcast Series Challenge on Saturday, March 24 is well worth the plunge for any handicapper, and provides an excellent venue to test one’s skills versus like-minded, almost fraternal contest players and break from monotonous one-off bets at random tracks.  The atmosphere is competitive and almost collegial at the same time, whether between contest regulars or newcomers to the contest/NHC circuit.


Follow along with NJ Horseplayer in the days leading up to SSC#3 and feel free to forward questions or comments in advance.  There, I hope to share some strategies (darts not included) and other ideas in terms of preparing to digest a 30-35 race contest card; the preparation entails just a little homework, in my view, but nothing onerous. 


Otherwise, stop by the Dining Terrace on the third floor clubhouse at Monmouth Park and give SSC#3 a shot.  You’ll be glad you did.


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