The contest circuit is one where you enter as a stranger and leave as a member of the group. Never before have I enjoyed doing battle in a game that I love dearly. But as of lately I have had some different feelings. Oh I still love them, but there may need to be a slight tweaking.
Now far be it from me to be the end-all answer to handicapping contests. But I have conducted them at three tracks, and played in many of the biggies. Players always felt confident when they shook my hand as they entered. They knew they were going to do battle on a level playing field as we kept players informed, happy, and be able to make wagers. After all, what more could you want? Oh, and don’t forget to have a nice lunch spread and have a 100% payout. For the brick and mortar tracks that offer these, it is a great way to showcase your track. You make your money on handle and not the one time kick of making $1,000 to cover your costs. Just think of it as advertising to that demo you want the most. Gamblers…
I have played in the traditional style with $2 to win and place, and a 20-1, and 10-1 cap in place. This keeps players from hitting the 100-1 shot and ending the contest 10 minutes after it started. This is the standard you will see the most, and it works. Players stay competitive and the track or OTB relies on residual handle from races. I do enjoy this type, but I have watched many handicap all day only to be beat by a 40-1 long-shot who pays the max of $42 to win, and $22 to place. One shot and they roll right past you. It is fair, but it is a hard way to get beat. The word “Hail Mary” applies during the contest. Trust me, they will be slinging the bet so far down the track that John Elway couldn’t have done better.
Yesterday, I played in a small $20 feeder contest. Think of it as a poker style satellite where if you score in the top %, you get to play at a later date. This contest had a twist. You had to make all of your wagers before the first post. You were given another to be used as an alternate, and if all else fails you get the post time favorite. It was called “Pick and Pray” and run by one of the best guys in the contest game. I watched the races, and you could follow the others. It didn’t matter, as the windows were locked and there would be no last-second long balls down the field. OK, OK, I did finish 6th. And I do get to move on, but that wasn’t the reason I liked it. I really appreciate that I handicapped all day, and you had to play a chess-like game in advance. This type was fun, and I sure hope it grows for the future.
I think we are getting warmer. Just read this and see if you could see yourself playing at the table. Let’s start with 15 races, and they would be a mix of claimers, turf, maiden, and some allowance events. Now, you get five points for every 1st place finish and three points for every second. It doesn’t matter if you are 1-9, 0r 40-1… You still get points. To sweeten the pot, we could make the last five races 10 points and 7 points to quicken the action. There would be no “Hail Mary” throws as they all pay the same. You are testing your ability to see how many you can pick correctly. The real challenge would be for the administrator to select the fullest races. This is a real handicapping contest, and you will have to keep a strict limit of entries. I once played where there was no limit and this fella’ was betting for 15 minutes to get all of his plays in before the bell. There could be a “bonus” race offered during the day at the discretion of the contest administrator. This would keep all players on their toes, and they would be tuned in for the bonus race of 15 points and 10 points. Interested? Some will like it, and others will not. Change is not embraced quickly in racing, and this would let us know who was the “King of the Hill” on this day. I like to toss around ideas. This idea stimulates some thought and hopefully someone will come along and blow this idea out of the water. I like to have some pressure put on me as I once heard “contented oysters yield no pearls.” Tear it up and fire away some thoughts. I would love to hear what’s on your mind.