01/28/2011 9:25PM

The NHC, Mandatory Races, and Chalk


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.