02/23/2012 9:01PM

Horse Player World Series: Kenny Peck's handicapper diary - Day One


LAS VEGAS -- The staff at the Orleans did a very nice thing at the tournament this year, erecting a poster board with pictures of the late Randi Muniz, who ran this and every other contest here for perfection for years before she succumbed to cancer in December, only 49 years old. Under pressure for three entire days while overseeing her staff at the Horse Player World Series, Randi was always in control but never flustered, and in my limited dealings with her I got the impression she could have run anything, on absolutely any level, with the same precision she ran this contest. She's clearly missed by the staff, as well as the regular players here, a true testament to her professionalism.

Outside of our little world in the Mardi Gras and Esplanade ballrooms, the National Association of Residential Property Managers (Pacific/Southwest members) are having their convention in the other ballrooms on the second floor of the Orleans, right down the hall from 700 or so ink-stained maniacs competing in the 2012 Horse Player World Series. The NARPM members have spilled out into the hallway, as their rooms seem to be preoccupied with presentations, and tables loaded with pamphlets. They look a little bewildered to see us coming down the hall with our weathered bags and stacks of newspapers, slowly lurching down the hall like the 2012 version of "Night of the Living Dead," but they seem to be getting a genuine kick out of the eruption of noise coming from our gathering every five to ten minutes. Come tomorrow, however, they'll be as sick of our nonsense as our wives are every day of the year.

If that's not enough action at the Orleans this weekend, there's some kind of cheerleading competition, or convention, so there are hundreds of high school and middle school-aged girls here. Which is fine, except for the fact that they're with their parents, which is not so fine. You're talking about men -- grown men -- with their hair dyed to match their kids' school colors. Which I guess is okay in general, but not ideal when they're sitting next to you at the blackjack table. And splitting tens.

If I sound cranky it's because today was a long day, and I'm stone sober and in need of some food. I knew going into the day's action at the six tracks (Aqueduct, Tampa, Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn, and Santa Anita) that the cards were not the type to yield numerous long-priced winners, but the biggest win price at Gulfstream today was $11.00, and there were exactly three horses who won at odds over 10-1 anywhere. There was value to be had, but the guys who did best focused on mid-ranged prices, and they had to hit a few of them to have a decent day.

The one update we got was at 4:30 p.m. EST (1:30 Vegas time) and the leader was at $1,264, an impressive score at that stage given the lack of parimutuel power. I don't have the leader's total after Day One, as this is being written with a few minutes to post for the eighth and final race at Santa Anita, but I'm guessing it's going to be around $1,500. You almost always need to be north of $3,000 to have a shot of winning the whole thing, so I'm expecting the leader after Day Two to be around $2,500.

My goal coming into today was to just get myself into position to hopefully have a decent day on Friday, and then parlay that into a shot at the whole thing on Saturday, since I knew there weren't many viable longshots on today's card. I started out well, with a winner in my second play of the day, J's Mary Jane ($16.20) in the 3rd at Tampa. That was good for $232 in contest bucks (each play is a mythical $20 win and $20 place) but I proceeded to lose with my next seven plays, all at mid-range odds or slightly less.

So, with my original plan still intact, I revised my odds restrictions and started taking lesser prices, figuring it was better to try to get some points on the board as opposed to flinging darts at longshots I marginally liked. And that worked, resulting in a win bet on Tiz Rising ($19.80) in the 8th at Fair Grounds, followed by an easy win from Webster ($9.00) in the 7th at Oaklawn, about 90 seconds later. That was a $370 boost to the bankroll, and, more importantly, to the ego. I bet Explain ($5.80) in the 9th at Oaklawn, putting the ticket in and leaving the ballroom as he hovered at 3-1 with about 10 minutes to post. I'm glad he won, and even though he was way too short to be a good contest bet I think back to last year, when I finished $39 out of 2nd, which meant about $33,000 to me. So I'll take the $94 payout and gear up for tomorrow, after a quick dinner at the Palm steakhouse with Danielle, who got in this afternoon. There's a lot of work to be done -- in addition to today's six tracks we add Hawthorne and Golden Gate to the mix tomorrow and Saturday -- and though I have already completed most of my prep work for Friday's races I'm still going to limit myself to just one steak. The over/under on drinks, however, is off the board.