This week, I played my first DerbyWars game.
It was something I had been intending to do for a while, but Emily Gullikson’s column on ShapperDaCapper yesterday made me remark on Twitter that I really needed to try it. Emily prodded me, and linked me yesterday afternoon to a points (read: funny-money) game today. The first race of the contest featured Copperplate, a Curlin baby. Of course, this meant I had to play, right? I told her I would, and signed up for the game.
Very late last night, I considered dropping off. I am on a business trip for my (very non-racing-related) day job, and it was not until around midnight that I finished up my work for that. Still, what did I have to lose? Though I generally tend to spend an absurd amount of time per race, this could be a chance to force myself to fight something I have discussed with Seth Abrams on Twitter several times: the tendency to overthink. I would not go back on my statement that I would play in today’s DerbyWars. I would spend an hour or two maximum on the six contest races: Wednesday’s Belmont 9th, and Wednesday’s 6th through 10th at Kentucky Downs. I stayed up another hour and a half or so, and submitted my contest picks.
This is, of course, where I fail as a writer. Trying DerbyWars had been on my radar for a while, but I was hoping that I would be able to do a full write-up the first time I played. I had been saving it for a day when I’d have more time to discuss the reasons behind my picks on here. However, I had said I was going to play, and did not want to go back on that. Furthermore, who would I be to pass up a chance to practice my handicapping skills, even if I couldn’t write about it in advance?
Knowing I didn’t have the time I usually liked to take, I parsed the races into a few important elements. It was a little imposing since I had never handicapped Kentucky Downs before, but I did focus on some handicapping concepts. Who is in good form? What is the likely pace scenario? What types of horses tend to win at that track at similar distances? Who, possibly favoured by those things, is actually fast enough to win? And, if I landed on a horse who was likely to be a low price — were they so strong that I was willing to eat chalk, or should I prioritize a horse with almost as good a chance but a likely longer price?
Even though the contest was not a lockdown (in other words, I could change picks until post time of each race, instead of being locked in before first post of the first race), I was going to be in the office all day, and therefore not have the time or availability to swap around picks. If nothing else, it was a great exercise in making sense of a race in short order, useful if I was going to have to swap contest picks in the future due to a late scratch, or if someone were to ask me on Twitter about a race I hadn’t handicapped yet. I looked at each race in light of those questions, put my picks in, and called it a night.
Today, I won my first DerbyWars game.
The day started with a bang. Arlington shipper County Corrections, an early speed type horse who had been running very well at Arlington this year, was in an N1X in the Kentucky Downs 6th. (Just my luck, that was the same race in which Copperplate ran…but, as a handicapper, I could not back the Curlin baby even though I would be rooting for him.) Speed tends to be pretty good in sprints at Kentucky Downs. He was 8/1 on the morning line, perfectly square for a horse who had a good shot at being the speed of the speed. Florent Geroux was riding, and he had been doing well at Kentucky Downs this meet: including two big stakes wins with Suntracer and I’m Already Sexy. Sure, it was County Corrections’ first time trying grass, but his breeding was good enough for it that he was worth the risk with everything else pointing his way. I threw in my lot with County Corrections…and he blew up the tote, a wire-to-wire winner at 20/1.
That was my only bomb of the day, but I had a few solid backups as well. Out of my six picks for the contest, three scored. (The contest was a $2 Win/Place format, six races.) I knew Walking the Kitten would be pretty chalky in the Kentucky Downs 7th, but there was so much going for that one that I couldn’t pass up: Mike Maker firsties on the turf are one of my favourite handicapping angles. Her works were good, Rosie Napravnik had been riding very well at the meet…this one looked single-worthy to me. She went off at 6/5, paltry odds for the Kentucky Downs meet. Still, she was as good as I thought she would be, winning by open lengths. My other scorer on the day was, like County Corrections, a familiar face from the Arlington circuit. My angle on Frabster was fairly similar to my angle on County Corrections, too: she was a speedier type in a sprint, she had a chance to get the lead, her form at Arlington had been strong this summer, and everyone’s favourite Frenchman had the call. She was also not completely screwed if she didn’t get the early lead, able to rate a bit if she needed. Unlike County Corrections, she went off the favourite — though, a decent enough 3/1, not quite so enthusiastically sponsored by Crayola Anti-Dust Chalk. She did end up just off the pace early…and although she did not catch Spring Included (a horse who should NEVER have gone off at 29-1, given that she had knocked off older company twice!), she kept her second-place spot come the wire. Though two other players had Spring Included, Walk The Kitten and Frabster kept me far enough ahead to stay on top.
Hopefully, I will be able to spend a bit more time with the races next time I play, and write something before it’s once more into the breach, dear friends. Still, I am glad I decided to stay up that extra hour and a half and look at those races. It was a definite confidence-builder for this contest play newcomer, and I will definitely play more DerbyWars soon.