Tuley's Takes on handicapping contests

We hope you had an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend, as we did here in the Tuley’s Takes home office, where we continue to see progress with the return of the sports we love.

In the meantime, we keep our minds active with our weekly “Tuley’s Thoroughbred Takes” column at VSiN.com with picks Wednesday through Sunday as well as playing in a couple of qualifying tournaments each week for the National Handicapping Championship at horsetourneys.com and horseplayers.com.

Our group of handicappers bounced back last weekend after a brutal run the week before. Duane Colucci and Ed Sehon hit the first four legs of Churchill Downs’ all-stakes Pick 5 on Saturday, and then Colucci completed the Pick 5 for a $414.85 payoff from his 50-cent ticket that cost $72. Also of note, John Lauro and Colucci liked the top three finishers in the Matt Winn Stakes, which paid $25.20 for the $2 exacta and $41.80 for a $1 trifecta. Lauro also made a strong case for Maxfield in that Kentucky Derby prep race, and I have it on good authority that he got Maxfield at 22/1 in the Derby future book at Circa before the race. Circa lowered it to 18/1 and then down to + 925 after Maxfield’s impressive victory. 

Colucci carried our team the rest of the weekend as he hit Red King at 9/2 in Santa Anita’s sixth race Sunday. It took a 70/1 long shot to beat his other pick that day, Art of Almost, who still paid $6.60 to place in Churchill Downs’ ninth race. He capped the holiday weekend with Ramsey Solution paying $9.60 in Monday’s ninth race at Churchill.

Longtime readers know I rarely ask sportsbook directors for picks. That’s because the few times I have, some trolls would say things like “If they could handicap, they would be betting instead of booking” and “They’re probably giving that side because they need action on that team because all the sharps are on the other side.” One of the great things about horse racing is we don’t have that real or perceived conflict of interest in asking for picks from Colucci, assistant racebook manager at the Rampart Las Vegas. That’s because racebooks don’t have a rooting interest for you to lose; they make the same amount in takeout from the overall handle. In fact, they want you to win because if you do you’re more likely to bet, and thus their takeout is higher.

The other thing I love about horse racing is the chance to maximize our winnings on successful days or weekends. Many readers know about my coverage of the Westgate SuperContest and last year’s inaugural Circa Million, among others. I’ve been covering the SuperContest every year since 1999. I’ve also covered every year of Main Event’s final table at the World Series of Poker and horse racing’s National Handicapping Championship over the last two decades.

While I haven’t been posting any winners lately in the TTT columns, I’ve had more success in the NHC qualifying tournaments. Because of my former employment with the Daily Racing Form, I was ineligible to qualify for the NHC until 2014. I’ve tried to earn a seat in subsequent years, usually late in the year at last-chance qualifiers, but have stepped up my efforts this spring due to being stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. I haven’t earned a seat yet, but the top 75 point earners on the NHC tour who haven’t qualified are awarded seats at the finals, and I’m currently No. 30 on that list. Even though many will pass me in the next seven months, anytime someone in the top 75 earns a qualifying spot, he or she drops from the list.

Occasionally, I post my plays on Twitter @ViewFromVegas when I participate in a “Pick & Pray” contest at horsetourneys.com or horseplayers.com. For the uninitiated, P&P means all selections must be submitted before the first contest race and can’t be changed, so no one can gain a competitive advantage against me if I post my plays publicly.

I’d also like to expand on something I tweeted May 15: “If you’re looking for extra plays today, here’s the rest of my plays in a ‘Pick & Pray’ qualifier … keep in mind these are contest plays and doesn’t mean I’m betting individually.”

I’m a self-proclaimed long-shot player, but I still feel the need to differentiate between contest plays and real-world plays. When I’m playing in a contest or tournament, I’ll take some shots that I wouldn’t normally take with my regular bankroll. From two decades covering the horse racing contest circuit, I know you can’t win by playing favorites. Think of it this way: If you’re in a 10-pick contest and you’re having the day of your life with five straight chalk winners, averaging $7 to win and $4 to place, you would have 55 contest points but would be passed by one contestant hitting a 20/1 shot, even if capped at $42 to win and $22 to place, as we see in most contest formats.

For instance, I won a small non-NHC contest Sunday with a 19/1 winner that I unfortunately didn’t like enough to include in my daily best bets, along with a $15.20 place on 31/1 shot Indimaaj in Gulfstream’s ninth race that I did post. I know I won’t make a profit long term with my cash plays on long shots if I’m not more selective, but in a tournament you need more of an all-or-nothing mentality.

This is similar to what some people say about poker tournaments and cash play. You might have a lot of success as a tight player in cash games, but you’ll probably find it doesn’t work as well in tournaments, where it pays to be more aggressive. If you’re playing too conservatively, you won’t build your stack enough. And if your competitors view you as too tight, they’ll know you have a big hand when you finally do bet.

Another comparison can be made to football contests in which you might pick a team at -2.5 but might pass with your cash if the real-world line goes up to -3.5. Conversely, you might love an underdog at + 7.5 but pass if only getting + 6.5.

Good luck if you’re joining me in horse racing contests (but not too much luck if we’re in contention against each other). There’s also good news on the football contest scene as Circa has resumed taking entries for Circa Sports Million II and Circa Survivor at its drive-up window in the Golden Gate Hotel valet area. And hopefully the Westgate will be reopening soon for SuperContest (Classic, Gold and Reboot) entries. We’ll have more details on those — as well as the World Series of Poker, which had been scheduled to start Tuesday but is now aiming for the fall — in the coming weeks.


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