02/25/2012 8:37PM

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

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LAS VEGAS, NV - For three days, I've taken a cab from THE Hotel at Mandalay Bay (ridiculous name, I know) to the Orleans to play in the Horse Player World Series. Not once has the fare been more than $9. On the way back from the final day today, I was lost in text messages with Ken Jordan, a New Jersey handicapper who was also in the tournament, and I look up to somehow find myself on the Strip, with the meter reading $14.60. After a couple of questions -- and one very ugly exchange -- with the cab driver, I found myself having to walk the final 100 yards to my hotel, luckily not escorted by Metro, and still a free man.

It was, in fact, a fitting ending to the day, a walk of disgrace after a day of utter frustation. I scored virtually nothing on the day, which was ruined by an excruciating photo involving 33-1 El Commodore in the 9th at Tampa. He lost by a head after seemingly having the race won in deep stretch, for some reason giving up the rail, a spot eagerly taken by Roman Tiger. I got place money, sure, but that changed the whole day for me. Even at that late stage I had saved most of my "bullets", with 12 still remaining to use on the later races at Oaklawn, Fair Grounds and Tampa. But that narrow loss meant I had only $1450 or so, with the leader coming into the day at around $3200, so I knew I had to veer away from my scheduled plays, most in the 8-1 to 12-1 range.

Now, a sensible person might suggest to simply play those horses that were already mapped out, horses I legitimately liked. Okay, it would likely mean I wouldn't win the tournament, but a top ten check is nothing to sneeze at, and I had plenty of bullets left. I would have probably had to hit only four of my 12 remaining plays to get a check, but that would have meant settling, and I wasn't ready to do that, not with so many plays left. So I started looking for prices as the races came up, the one thing I hate to do when in these tournaments.

For each day of the contest, I spend a lot of time constructing a "play sheet", consisting of horses I plan to use in the tournament. The theory is that these horses are plays mapped out in the comfort of my room, without the pressure of post time looming. I've been burned in the past by trying to make decisions on the fly, and the play sheet helps to minimize those audibles that so often do not work out. But because of my contest position after the El Commodore tragedy, I went away from my suggested plays and tried looking for horses in the range of 15-1 to 20-1. In the meantime, here are the horses I passed on playing, and their win prices, because I'm so friggin' smart I can ferret out 20-1 shots at will:

Clifford (Tampa, race 10): $17

Jimmer (Oaklawn, race 10): $21.40

Depend (Hawthorne, race 9): $12.60

What stings most is that if El Commodore wins the photo, and I pick up another $500 or so in contest money, I most certainly play these horses. It still doesn't get me the title, as Robert Gregory set a very high bar by having the top scores on both Day One AND Day Two, an unprecedented feat, I believe. But at least I get a check, something I could use after paying all these inflated cab fares. I would also be able to use it at Rao's tonight, and for my bar tab, which promises to be high, as I attempt to forget what happened today. Who won the contest? I couldn't tell you, they're still tabulating it as we speak. I'll be back with an update on the final standings sometime tomorrow, from the cozy confines of New Jersey -- or, from a cell here in Vegas, if I get another wiseguy cab driver.

[MORE: Horse Player World Series: Kenny Peck's handicapper diary - Day Two]

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

[MORE: Horse Player World Series: Kenny Peck's handicapper diary]