What Went Right, What Went Wrong, and the One That Got Away

Brandon Valvo evaluates his WHHC handicapping and experience for the Harness Racing FanZone

Playing in the World Harness Handicapping Championship at The Meadowlands April 29 was a great experience. Admittedly, I never gave much thought to the idea of competing in handicapping championships before the FanZone approached me with the idea. I did a lot of research about contest play before the event to make sure I wouldn’t totally embarrass myself and that, combined with some good handicapping and betting, earned me a fourth place finish in the event.

Overall, I am very happy with my performance in the WHHC. In my preview of the event, I set a goal of a $1,250 bankroll. At the end of the night, my bankroll was $1,275. I topped the standings for much of the championship and my eventual fourth place finish was good for $5,000. In terms of money won, it was by far my best night at the track and it was a lot of fun.

What Went Right:

– The strategy I mapped out before the event worked very well. Although there were a few mistakes made (addressed below), my strategy of playing horses who were at least 5-1 and preferably higher than 10-1 and aiming to get smart once or twice in the evening paid off.

By connecting in the very first race with Play The Field ($31.60), I took the early lead. In this contest, I found that once you build a bankroll, it’s actually pretty tough to lose it unless you simply fail to cash a ticket the rest of the night. Hitting big early in the night gave me some flexibility because I didn’t have to keep playing big longshots and hoping for the best. Instead, I could focus on horses in the 5-1 range who I thought really had a shot. The contest became mine to lose and everyone else had to come up with big-priced winners to beat me.

– My handicapping was solid all night. In 10 races played, I had three winners: Play The Field ($31.60), Rocket Da Red ($12.60), and Quick Asa Trick ($13.60). In addition to my three winners, I had a few close calls (see the one that got away below). Moreover, several of the races I skipped were won by short-priced horses. In general, my handicapping was very strong all night long.

Mistakes Made:

– The horse that I liked the most in the entire contest was Quick Asa Trick N in the ninth race at The Meadowlands. The New Zealand-bred was making his North American debut for trainer Darran Cassar and driver Andrew McCarthy. Horses from Australia and New Zealand generally do well in their first few starts in North America, but beyond that, I liked him because he was good enough to be in a field with the brilliant Lazarus in the Group 1 New Zealand Cup last fall. He didn’t do well that day, but if he was good enough to even be in that field, he was good enough to win this race.

The wagering public sent him off at odds of 5.80-1. I only played $50 on him. With my confidence level, I should have played $100. This simple mistake cost me a second place finish in the championship.

– In planning my strategy before the event, I decided that I wanted to save some bullets for the last few races in the contest and elected to play in last three races at The Meadowlands. This meant I chose to skip races six, seven, and eight. Looking back, I think this was a mistake.

I initially didn’t like race six because McCardles Lightning looked to be unbeatable as a big favorite. I didn’t handicap the race again after he scratched and felt that I should have played the winner, Roll Away Joe. I thought he would be the favorite after the key scratch and simply didn’t pay enough attention to the race to notice he was 6-1. Of course, that’s easy to say after the race.

The other race I regretted skipping was the eighth. Like anyone with a program, I narrowed the field down to Boston Red Rocks, Western Fame, and Check Six and expected they would all be short prices. Again, because I decided to skip the race ahead of time, I didn’t pay enough attention or give myself the flexibility to change my plan when Western Fame was 7-1, more than triple the price of my other two contenders. Again, it’s easy to say after the race, but I regretted not being more flexible in this spot and not playing Western Fame at that price. The eventual winner of the championship separated himself from the field by taking advantage of this overlay.

The One That Got Away:

Sweet Ashley T in the mandatory race at Hoosier Park was the one that got away. Dismissed at odds of 23-1 from post eight, she was my selection in a wide open race for trainer Homer Hochstetler, who has good numbers off layoffs. Driver Lewayne Miller raced her like she was ready to win, firing off the gate and racing in fourth early. She tracked cover into the stretch and charged down the center of the track, but finished second by a length. I played $30 to win on her. Had she won, I very likely would have taken the top spot in the championship.

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