01/28/2011 9:25PM

The NHC, Mandatory Races, and Chalk

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LAS VEGAS - In addition to looking for races at tracks all over the country so as to be fair to a playing field that comes from all parts of the country, and then being careful not to pick races that conflict post time-wise with other potential races (don't we wish race tracks were so thoughtful), the committee that selects the manadatory races in the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (which consists of Jason McCormick, Race and Sports Book Director at Red Rock Casino, Eric Wing of the NTRA, and yours truly) tries to do one more thing: We look for the toughest races from a handicapping standpoint that we can find.

The reason why we do this is not to be mean. We try to pick the toughest mandatory races (there are eight mandatory races and seven elective races on each of the two days of the tournament) because with first money of $500,000, the NHC is supposed to be tough to win.

Truth be told, we felt pretty good about the eight mandatory races we came up with for Friday, the first day of this year's NHC. We had a good geographical balance, and considering that the pickings were slim on some of the Friday cards from the eight tracks in the contest, we felt we came up with challenging races. The feedback we received Thursday afternoon after the list of mandatory races was released, and at Thursday evening's pre-tournament cocktail party, seemed to confirm that we achieved our goal.

And that is why what actually happened in Friday's eight mandatories seems ridiculous. I know that when the chalk starts flying, there isn't anything anyone can do about it. Still, it was astounding that four of the eight races were won by favorites, and solid ones at that, with win mutuels of $5.20, $5.60, $5.80, and $5.00. Two of the remaining four mandatories were won by the second choices in the wagering. Only two of the eight mandatory races produced the kind of double digit win mutuels that most NHC contestants always look for.

For this reason, the leaders after day 1 of the NHC - Thomas Anderson ($182.00) and Ron Geary ($171.60) - deserve a special tip of the hat. They were able to accumulate outstanding first day totals (there is a $63.20 gap back to the third place contestant after day 1) despite an unexpected run of chalk in half of the mandatories that couldn't have been helpful to their bankrolls.

Jack B More than 1 year ago
I agree that the NHC is supposed to be tough to win, but I think there are different kinds of tough. I think that the tournament races should be tough because they are made up of good evenly matched horses. In other words, competitive races. Too often in contests I have entered the races are tough because all the horses are so bad, not even being able to run close to par for the class, that it is pure guesswork to pick a winner. These races may produce big prices, but it is not good handicapping skills that are pointing out the winners.
ML/NJ More than 1 year ago
So what do you look for in a "tough" race? Is is some race you would never play?
Carl Logan More than 1 year ago
I am a former particpant in the BIG DANCE and would love to get back but have not qualified since my 2007 trip...but from what I remember in the rules (you can not have help from other people including trainers-owners-friends-etc and you are not suppose to converse with other players during the tourney either)...well I listen to the video post about the Minnesota man who was doing well today and he said numerous times the "we" word..."we are doing OK"..."we are considering this" and "we are looking at that"...in other words he obiviously has some help picking the horses...SO WHAT IS UP WITH THAT?...have the rules changed since 2007 and if so then I may not be as interested in playing anymore...also the year I was out there were people talking with each other often and I overheard 2 guys trying to figure out how to use their last plays together on Sat to finish in the money in the tourney saying they were going to split...afterwards I ran into one of those fellows at the airport and he said that the buddy system is the way to go if you get close to the big purse...please tell me that the tourney is being run BY THE RULES!...... (MW - There has been no change in NHC rules. Contestants have always allowed to talk with friends or other contestants and trade ideas about handicapping just as bettors do every day at the track. However, contestants are not and have never been allowed to conspire with other contestants when it comes to actual participation in the tournament. This, as well as all other tournament rules, are strictly enforced.)