01/06/2014 2:28PM

It's last call to qualify for National Handicapping Championship


Things are coming down to the wire when it comes to qualifying for the 2014 National Handicapping Championship, which will be conducted at Treasure Island in Las Vegas from Jan. 24-26. However, if you’re committed to trying to join us there, several excellent opportunities still remain.

On Sunday, DRFBets will host an online contest with four NHC seats on the line. To me, this contest is one of the best chances to qualify all year long. It’s so good, in fact, that I’ll spend my next column doing a complete breakdown.

If you really don’t mind waiting until the last minute, and you’re looking for an excuse to go to Las Vegas anyway (you know who you are), you also can check out the aptly named Last Chance Qualifier at Treasure Island on Jan. 23.

You have to figure that a lot of the heavy hitters in town will be in their rooms studying for the big one, so maybe it’s a chance to get a seat by playing against mostly local competition.

But the main purpose of today’s column is to talk a bit more about the two remaining NHCQualify.com contests. Here are the particulars:

This Saturday: One-day contest (maximum of 360 entries, maximum of six spots awarded, $165 per entry).

Saturday, Jan. 18: One-day contest (maximum of 240 entries, maximum of 10 spots awarded, $400 per entry).

This Saturday, the buy-in is less, but there’s only one seat for every 60 entries. On Jan. 18, you pay more but will face less competition for a seat (one seat per 24 entries).

In either case, with many of the best contest players already double-qualified for the NHC (a player can have two entries in total), there has never been a better time to take a shot, even if your contest luck has been rotten all year. Remember the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals? They were nowhere in August, started a late run, and won the World Series. Why can’t you be the handicapping equivalent?

To help you in your quest, I recently spoke with John “Poster Boy” Doyle. Why do I call him Poster Boy? Well, he is one of the spokesmen for the contest website DerbyWars.com. He also might as well be the poster boy for NHCQualify.com since in 2011 he parlayed an NHCQualify.com entry into $500,000 by winning the big one in Vegas.

Doyle already has double-qualified for this year’s NHC and was kind enough to answer a few questions to help you win a seat on NHCQualify.com.

How do you prepare for a 12-race bullet contest?

“My handicapping process is not rigid but gives me structure, and I use the entire process for each race, never trying to shortcut it. There are certain patterns and angles I look for, but that’s only part of my larger process. No matter how tedious it is, I have found following my entire process is the only way I can avoid making glaring mistakes.”

What are the important differences between a contest with all mandatories as opposed to more open formats?

“For open formats, I am able to focus on the tracks and the types of races that I do best, using my records to help make that determination. With mandatories, you need to play races you might not necessarily play. My approach is to first label the race as legitimate favorite, spread, key, etc. I then use some informal decision criteria based on those labels.

“For example, if the favorite looks strong, I might consider playing it at a reasonable price. These decisions are all made using your own criteria.”

Any tips for how players can identify which races to look for longshots in?

“In general, look for information not in the public domain. Handicapping is still an information game, so it’s all about how we process and use that information to create an edge.

“I think a lot individual players have their own niche at picking longshots under certain circumstances and/or race types and need to recognize their own individual strengths. It can help to verify that those strengths are producing their desired results.”

All excellent ideas from the former champ. The only thing I’ll add is that I’ve seen from my research that it usually takes about a $108 final score to qualify. Take a careful look at the sequence of races when they are announced and plot a course to get somewhere near that goal (the contests consist of 12 races where you must make one $2 win/place bet in each race).

Keep in mind that statistically speaking, you’re unlikely to pick most of the winners in a 12-race contest, so pick prices accordingly. You can play a favorite or two whom you absolutely love, but you’ll want to mix in horses at 6-1 and above, and hopefully you’ll find a few cap horses (15-1 and higher) to play. If one of those comes in, your job just got a lot easier.