01/30/2008 2:03PM

Q&A 1/30/08


I'm not going to pretend to complain about all this recent travelling (I know, spending much of January in Miami, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas is a brutal hardship), but it does get in the way of one's serious horseplaying. Had to pass up today's little $47k carry at Aqueduct due to lack of preparation, so I'll root for a double-carry and get tied back on by tomorrow.

Before getting to your specific questions, let me say a couple of things about all the posts suggesting ways to tinker with the format of the National Handicapping Championship. One thing we've learned through putting this thing on for almost 10 years now is that there's no format that everyone likes or that can be called a definitive test of handicapping ability. The "Handicapper of the Year" award that goes to the NHC winner isn't meant to be a certification that this individual is America's greatest handicapper on a regular basis. The idea of the award was to recognize a horseplayer that night along with horses, owners, trainers, breeders and jockeys, given that we horseplayers are the ones who fund the game. That led to the idea of a year-long circuit of contests culminating in a tournament of champions.

There are dozens of ways the contest could be structured differently and we really do consider changes on an annual basis, but there's also something to be said for keeping it pretty much the way it is to provide some continuity and historical context.

One idea that keeps coming up, and that we'll think about again for next year, is allowing one "double up" bet each day of the NHC. The pros: This allows players to get extra credit/value for their strongest opinion, and adds a strategic element with at least a nod to bankroll management. The cons: This might put an even higher premium on a single wacky longshot's victory, especially if players save their double-up bet for a Hail Mary toss at the longest shot in the last race.


--marshall says: Did these experts lose at a 27% clip? Overall only 62 players of 278 finished ahead of $120. Assuming all contestants bet their full allotment of races, they returned $24,530 from $33,360 wagered. I know the tournament encourages aggressive play and rewards longshot winners, but this is discouraging --- if the experts can't collective win than how am I supposed to beat the take?

I think you answered your own concern with your comment about aggressive play. While something like half of all win-pool handle is on horses who are 5-2 or less, I would guess that under 5 percent of tournament bets are on such horses. For tournament purposes, it simply makes no sense to play 2-1 shots, much less 2-5 shots. I wouldn't be discouraged by the aggregate loss given that people were deliberately betting against perfectly logical horses. I doubt there were many tournament bets placed on the likes of Benny the Bull or Ginger Punch last Saturday.

paul_k says: Why weren't there any media at the event (i.e., ESPN, TVG, or HRTV)? I was disappointed that this years NHC did not get the same publicity it has in the past.

From the clips I've seen, the event got as much print coverage as ever; what was missing was TVG, which is cutting back coverage amid a recent sale and uncertainty about its future, and the ESPN broadcast we tried a couple of years ago -- which may have been the lowest-rated and least watchable hour of programming in ESPN history. I'm not blaming the network -- they spent a pile of money and used the same producers as their wildly successful World Series of Poker telecasts, but no one has figured out how to make a handicapping contest into compelling television. We need a "Eureka!" idea like the lipstick-cam showing poker players' hands.

ejxd2 says: Does the NTRA/DRF share any of the vig (is there any?) it makes off all the qualifying tournaments throughout the year with the tracks? Or is the presumed extra action on contest tracks considered payment enough?

DRF and NTRA get no vig from track contests. (DRF pays to sponsor the NHC in exchange for branding and the rosy glow of supporting something we like and believe in.) A lot of the qualifying contests pay back 100 percent of entry fees as prize money; some that don't use what they retain to defray the costs of putting on the contest and sending the winners to Vegas.

bill_ritchiel says: Please explain. Race #2 at Oaklawn on 01/27/08 is labeled OC $62500/NW1X. All six entrants meet the allowance conditions yet four of the six are tagged with a claiming price. Are they simply offering for sale or is there something advantageous in the condition book that is not in DRF?

They're simply being offered for sale in addition to fitting the N1x condition. The race was open to either N1x-eligible horses or multiple winners whose owners were willing to risk them for $62,500, but these options were not mutually exclusive -- you could be N1x-eligible and still offered for sale.

nochalk4me says says: Was that really Kim Delaney on stage [at the Eclipse Awards]?

It was indeed and there's a neat little explanation for why she was paired as a presenter with Carl Nafzger: Delaney's brother was the cameraman who shot Nafzger's famous narration of the 1990 Derby to Mrs. Frances Genter for ABC, and received an Emmy for it.

Whoa! They just cancelled the remainder of the Aqueduct card due to high winds, 10 minutes before the start of the pick six. Welcome home. The $47k carries again to tomorrow.