01/30/2012 11:25AM

NHC Thoughts

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Impressions of last weekend’s 13th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at Treasure Island on the great Las Vegas strip:

It just couldn’t have gotten more dramatic at the end of the NHC – actually, yes, it could have, but we’ll talk about that in a second – with the last race in the contest, Saturday’s ninth and final event at Golden Gate, deciding the outcome in a way that would have been too over-the-top for even Hollywood.

Michael Beychok, who was chasing front runner Dave Flanzbaum, took Glorious Dancer in the finale. Flanzbaum told me he saved his final elective bet for this race and took Royalism. Glorious Dancer got up in the very last jump to win by a lip, while Royalism finished fast to be third, beaten less than a length. After hovering around 5-2 for much of the way, Glorious Dancer’s odds drifted up a bit late and she wound up paying $8.20 to win and $3.80 to place (don’t forget, the NHC is a win-place contest). So, Glorious Dancer desperately getting up in the last stride, her odds drifting up just enough late in the betting, and Royalism just running out of real estate, enabled Beychok to nail Flanzbaum by one lonely dollar and take the $1 million first prize. Flanzbaum didn’t exactly walk away empty handed. He took second money of $150,000. Still, Flanzbaum suffered an incredibly tough beat for $850,000, and it was impossible not to feel as bad for him as happy for Beychok. For the record, Flanzbaum showed as much class and dignity in defeat as Beychok showed graciousness in victory, which is to say, a lot.

The one problem I had is it took quite a while even after the official sign was posted at Golden Gate for Beychok to officially be named the NHC winner. There was a raucous celebration at Beychok’s table immediately after Glorious Dancer got up. But a few minutes later when things calmed down a bit, Beychok admitted that while he thought he might have caught Flanzbaum, even he really didn’t know for sure. No one did.

Here’s why: Beyond the rightful accounting of the top few contestants immediately upon conclusion of the contest (there is a thorough accounting later on) there is an NHC policy of not providing updated standings through the final few races of the contest. I understand why some think this is the way to go. Proponents of this philosophy maintain that this prevents the end of the contest from becoming an exercise in dart throwing, where some folks chasing the leader will take nothing but bombers in the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle. But – and this is strictly my opinion – I disagree with this update blackout.

For one, while no one wants to see a contest like the NHC turn on a ridiculous longshot, for that to happen, and thus justify the update blackout, a contestant has to be in striking position, he has to have saved enough elective plays for the end, and he has to be willing to sacrifice a better finishing position and payday. Most importantly, a contestant can take as many 20-1 shots late in the contest as they like, but that doesn’t mean any of them will win or finish second. In fact, the update blackout really doesn’t prevent contestants from “throwing darts” late because players, especially those laying around 12th to 20th, are going to do exactly that, not necessarily in the hopes of winning, but in the hopes of getting a significantly larger piece of the purse. And let’s not forget, this NHC was decided on a low 3-1 shot.

To me, the late update blackout is akin to not knowing if your NFL team needs a touchdown or a field goal to win. And from an aesthetic standpoint, much of the electricity of Saturday’s wild finish was lost in the 25 minutes or so of waiting before Beychok was declared the winner. That is because no one knew for sure where anyone stood through the last four contest races.

Speaking of late the contest, Beychok deserves a lot of credit for being as close to Flanzbaum as he was considering the number of plays each had made. After the last mandatory NHC contest race (Santa Anita’s 8th) and with four optional races to go, Flanzbaum told me he had one elective bet left. After the contest was over, Beychok told me that when there were still five optional races left, he still had four elective bullets to use. In his words, his elective plays late “bombed.” Glorious Dancer was his only winner, and the only other money he collected was $7.40 when Schofield Barracks finished second at Santa Anita.

I admit I wondered of this NHC would lose something being the first to be held in a ballroom instead of a race book, a move necessitated by the fact that the NHC field was 60% larger than it was last year. No race book can hold 480 contestants comfortably. But Treasure Island did a great job. We had the second floor of the facility, and in addition to the main ballroom, there was a smaller ballroom set up for family and friends of contestants, or contestants who just wanted to be in a smaller room. That was an especially nice touch. In the main ballroom, there were a total of 18 huge screen projection televisions along the ceiling line, meaning there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. Tables were set up for eight players each, and worries about contestants being cramped proved unfounded. There were 16 manned windows up in front of the room, all of them contest windows and a good portion also being live betting windows. And a huge plus were the 12 SAM machines dedicated to the contest along a side wall. All of this kept congestion at the windows to a minimum.

If there is one quibble, it is that there was more noise coming from the podium this year than in any previous NHC. Most of the announcements were well intended, providing information that was meant to be helpful. But much of it was redundant stuff that was obvious to anyone looking at a tv screen. And some of it, such as the introduction of people who had no connection to the contest whatsoever, was an intrusion. Contestants are shooting for $1 million. They shouldn’t have a constant din interrupting their concentration. But on the whole, Treasure Island did a fantastic job and deserves a tip of the hat.

SR Vegas More than 1 year ago
General note I see many posters speculating about, how much, or the structure of the payouts, costs, overhead, etc. FYI, DRF posted an article a few days prior to the contest spelling it all out. Please read it, and I hope it answers your questions, and or complaints. ..in short the last paragraph sums it up: "Official prize money was set after the Last Chance Tournament on Wednesday at Treasure Island with the final five NHC seats up for grabs and 70 percent of those entry fees going to the NHC XIII purse. In addition to the $1 million first-place prize, $150,000 goes to the second-place finisher, $80,000 for third, $50,000 for fourth, and $37,000 for fifth. Prizes are paid to the top 50, with the last cashing spot worth $1,003. There are also daily prizes for the top scores with Friday’s pay scale set at $2,500 for first, $1,500 for second, and $1,000 for third; Saturday’s prizes are $5,000 for first, $3,000 for second, $2,000 for third. The total prizes to be paid out this weekend will be $1,507,003. An additional $125,000 was paid to the top finishers on the NHC Tour and another $174,337 in airfare and hotel rooms for qualifiers at the finals for total payouts of slightly more than $1.8 million" for the complete article : http://www.drf.com/news/handicappers-chase-15-million-prize-money-drfntra-national-handicapping-championship I have posted the same at another DRF blog site, and no one has said anything since. Hope this helps. Once again, MW ...nice job on your recap.
Frank Dambra More than 1 year ago
I see many comments about the actual take in money the NHC accumulates over the year to purse payouts at the contest. I don't begrudge the NHC for taking a % for the service they provide each year but if Rich is right then the 1.5 million overage that is pocketed seems an inordinate amount to take off the top. With the success and growth of the NHC over the last few years, I believe it might be time for full disclosure so not to cloud everyone's speculation and thoughts. I think if the NHC did this it would keep the contest participants fully informed and reduce the doubts among them. It would also give us some comfort knowing that this information that is provided will also be in sync with the government and IRS on that actual overage because with the money taken in now the IRS would if not already start to regulate that activity. This would also remove the speculation that if the overage was not fully disclosed by the NHC to the IRS then what would stop the IRS from shutting down the contest close to next year because those overage funds were not fully disclosed? I have seen this happen with several poker betting sites in which many players lost money cause it was seized by the IRS because they neglected to report the funds being made and were using players money for their own benefits. I would hate to see this happen here, especially the way this contest has grown over the years. So full transparency made be in order here.
Stringmail More than 1 year ago
Rich I agree with transparency and there certainly is a question as to where a lot of money ends up. I recognize that there are costs but at the end of the day I think it is important to understand the % of our money that is going to administrative costs as opposed to purses. NHC is not the sole funding arm of NTRA but there is certainly some costs incurred. However, unless I am misinerpreting your comments about the Sunday tourney, you are way off base. The Sunday tourney had 200+ entrants and paid off 100% ;purse prize plus 3 NHC quallys. There was no takeout/rake. It's very unfair to bundle that in your comments. I would encourage all that participate in tourneys to understand the % payout structure so they can determine if it makes sense for them to participate. For me, any tourney such as Sunday's at TI in which there was 100% payout makes it an easy decision. Stringmail
charley w More than 1 year ago
I have just read all the comments and I would like to add that paying down to the top 50 was to high. That's one reason that second place was so low. Most of the contest players didn't come to Vegas to win a nominal prize of a little over $1000.00 dollars.The BEST handicappers should receive the biggest payoffs.Pay to the top 20 and make it worthwhile to the Best players.Sounds like people want BIGGER PAYOUTS so forget the token prizes. The contest format is fine like it is but after EVERY race there should be a update on the leader board.Yes the bomb won the 1st mandatory and put most of us in a big hole but that's Horse Racing.The daily prizes are low especially day 1.You beat out 481 players and get $2,500.00,it should be more like 15,000.00. People shouldn't gripe about the entry fee's if you can't afford to play don't.The entry fee's pay for the prize money.If they are going to guarantee 1 million to the winner they need our entry fee's to pay for it. You aren't going to please everyone so a little change is ok, but I think they should send out surveys to get everyone's opinion's and let the majority rule.
Rich More than 1 year ago
Entry fees pay the prize money? Do the math. The NTRA took in entry fees and contingency fees in excess of 3.5 million dollars in 2011. They paid out 2 million. Where'd the other million and a half go? Renting the ball room, paying 3 night stays at convention rates, a $250 travel stipend, two days of catered food, racing forms, and salaries for staff at the event. That equals a million and a half dollars? More like $250,000...tops. Plus, they had another tournament on Sunday with an entry fee of $200 for 300 entrants. That's a cool $60,000. Not every handicapper I saw at the event is shot with diamonds. I consider myself fortunate to be able to afford going to Las Vegas for up to five tournaments a year, and I've knocked down over $50,000 in tournament prize money over the last few years, but I'm also smart enough to notice when I'm being ripped off with a tournament that is more hype than anything else.
C More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure why there has to be a leaderboard at all. It's a handicapping contest; why should contest-specific strategy come into play? I say keep them in the dark.
Turnbackthealarm More than 1 year ago
A few random thoughts from a spectator who is friendly with two of the top ten and a top hundred finisher: Re dart throwing and the early longshots: I am sick and tired of the complaints about Freddy the Chap. He was a half to Charitable Man. Twenty-Six participants (I think) had this horse. How is this a dart throw if 5% of the competitors had it? Sounds like sour grapes to me. Re payouts: I think the entire tournament payout structure was too top heavy. Much was made of the drop between first and second. But is was about 90 cents that was the difference between fourth and seventh, along with a $50,000 payout drop. Re the facilities: TI was a more convenient and accomodating facility over Red Rocks. However, it would have been great to have tellers and betting machines in the smaller ballrooms. I hated leaving the small room, sliding and twisting my way to the front of the big ballroom and then hustling back to the "friends and family" room. It took too long, it disturbed the guys in the big room and I failed to place a few bets due to the inconvenience. All in all, it was a great show. However, I sure would have loved to see the acceptance speeches recorded and uploaded to DRF.
Larry Eads More than 1 year ago
Good story by Watchmaker. ALSO: It was just TOOOO damn hot in that ballroom, and they should have put a 6 foot wide aisle to walk thru, down the middle and side to side. The food was not comparable to years past, and I totally agree with all the mumble jumble coming from the podium, a HUGE distraction.
Frank Dambra More than 1 year ago
I was at the NHC this past weekend and I totally disagree with this blackout rule the NHC has. When you compete all year to get to this contest with one million dollars on the line any competitor or handicapper should have the opportunity to know their position and what they need to do to win. In all of sports you ALWAYS know the score and what it will take for the competitors to win and I don't see why this contest should be any different. The NHC ideas are ANTIQUATED and should be brought up to speed. There are enough restrictions in the NHC put upon the handicappers with 8 mandatory bets and capped odds. There is absolutely no reason with today's technology that the NHC can't provide a more efficient and exciting venue for this event. There should be updated odds after every race with a complete computer link to the leaderboard throughout the contest. This is the consensus belief of almost all the players I conversed with this weekend. This contest is for the handicappers not for the DRF/NTRA. We make this contest what it has become and it is time that you elevate this contest out of the DARK AGES and into contemporary standards and more compliant with the handicapper. This past weekend I mathematically had no chance to win anything with my last two bullets but I really felt for the other handicappers engaged in that battle at the end and totally in the dark in where they stood. NHC it time to take the BLINKERS OFF and provide a better product
Alan More than 1 year ago
To avoid confusion as there are two Alan's posting here, I'm once again including my last name in my comment. As one of those so-called "dartboard throwers", I can assure you there is an art and a science to picking longshots. I've now made the NHC in 4 of the last 5 years and have already made it into next year's contest (by finishing in the Top15 in the Tour Top100 Online Challenge last month.) My supposed "dartboard selections" in the NHC on Friday were based on handicapping and determining "playable odds". For example, on Friday my "playable odds" for Freddy the Cap was 12/1 and Melrose Woods was 8/1. These odds were based on Beyer progression, watching video replay of his last race and last workout report for the former selection and pedigree handicapping, workout pattern (weekly 4f-4f-5f-5f-6f-6f-6f for 6.5f race) and last workout report for the latter selection. Should I be punished because the half-sister to Charitable Man went off at 45/1 post-time odds from her 12/1 ML? Just because some horseplayers either don't know how to do it or don't spend the time necessary to do it doesn't mean handicapping longshots is "dartboard throwing"! Keep the caps as is. Alan Levitt
Jesse More than 1 year ago
Re: Comment from Alan Levitt I agree, leave the caps where they are. There IS an art to picking longshots and it goes way beyond just taking a stab at a horse simply because it happens to be at double digit odds. I kicked myself all day on the first day of the tourney for not having Freddie The Cap as my selection. I watched this horse win at more than 30-1 in New York in similar front-running style two years ago. That race didn't show up in the PPs because it was so long ago. However, the horse had just run 3rd in it's last start which represented a snap-back to form of sorts, he was 3 for 11 at the day's race distance, and he was facing a highly suspect field. Alas, I outsmarted myself. I noticed he is now 10 years old and decided he probably wasn't capable of running back to form of two years ago. So, I missed him, but I salute those guys who took the shot. I played (and bet) several horses in the tournament that were in excess of 20-1. A couple ran 2nd, one ended up 3rd but should have been moved up to 2nd in the Tampa Bay race where the winner veered out at the wire. I just mention this because I didn't consider these picks as "dart board" longshots without a chance. The truth is guys, if you can't spot good overlays and horses that are ready to outrun their odds, you probably will never contend in a tournament with 480+ handicappers who aren't afraid to go for big prices. Best of luck to all.