The Benefits of Pick-and-Pray Tournaments

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scott_raymondQueen’s Plate Day and the Benefits of Pick-and-Pray Tournaments

By Scott Raymond

After the 2011 Kentucky Derby, I vowed to never let work interfere with horse racing. The week of the Derby I tweeted the following, “Though I wasn’t able to follow the Derby preps like I wanted to this year, I am very interested in Animal Kingdom.” The craziness of my job kept me from capitalizing on that hunch, and I missed out on a $43.80 winner. Most of us have similar stories to share. I decided to never allow work to interfere with horse racing, but sometimes life interferes. As Queen’s Plate Day approaches, a potential cross-country move finds me searching for homes with my wife, in an unfamiliar city seven hours away. Even in the internet and ADW era, sometimes life decisions take most of our time and focus. Yet, this scenario provides the perfect backdrop for Patrick McGoey and me to tout the benefits of the pick-and-pray tournament and remind you of a few adjustments to your contest strategy.

Some of the experts claim that lockdowns or pick-and-prays are true handicapping challenges. You don’t have to worry about people just playing the board; once your picks are in, that’s it. Peter Fornatale writes, “If you’re just interested in pure paper handicapping, these are the races for you.” For those whose strength might be in analyzing the horses in the paddock and post parade, these contests might not play to your strength. But when life gets in the way, I find pick-and-prays are a great way to experience the thrill of tournament play, stay up to speed on your handicapping, and maybe score a nice win despite the busyness of life.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Patrick McGoey in The Winning Contest Player by Peter Fornatale. McGoey said, “I like tournaments because I fit them into my schedule. I can put in my picks in the morning and still go to my kid’s soccer game. If I have time to sit in front of the computer, I will. It’s a fun hobby that I can work into my real life.” It’s a fairly successful hobby for McGoey; the man won the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge two years in a row. Nevertheless, he makes a great point about pick-and-prays. Pick-and-pray tournaments allow you to work horse racing and contests into your real life. So, while I drive seven hours back to Minneapolis after a weekend of viewing homes, I can still work in some pick-and-pray tournaments that include Queen’s Plate Day. We want to capitalize on racing’s biggest days, and pick-and-prays provide options regardless of what your schedule looks like on the big day.

Remember what it’s like to be new to tournaments, to be an aspiring tournament player searching for expert advice. Remember what it’s like to learn that tournament play and everyday play are two very different things. Some of the most helpful advice for me personally came from Ken Massa in Fornatale’s book. Massa says you should always play a high-priced horse in theStruttheCourse-DaveLandryPhotography last leg of a pick-and-pray. You’re either in the lead and want to protect yourself or you’re not in the lead and need to come from behind. You don’t want to get to the last race needing an 11-1 and be locked into a 3-1 horse. I made that rookie mistake too many times. For example, my HorseTourneys pick-and-pray contest forSunday July 3 includes races 8, 9, and 10 for Queen’s Plate Day. But the last race of the contest involves race 10 from Belmont Park. So for that maiden claiming turf race at 1 1/16 miles, I’m taking a bomb. I want a longshot who will get loose early or one who has a good late kick.

Handicap the contest races. Check the scratches. Get your picks submitted on time. And if life allows, sit by the computer and watch the day unfold. Just remember some of the nuances of the lockdown. Eric Moomey says that most people tend to pick logical horses in the pick-and-pray contests. So you need to be the person picking the longshots. You can take a 5-2 if you believe it will help you get to your target score, but we can all agree that you are not going to win the contest by picking Generous Kitten, Strut the Course, and Leavem in Malibu. In The Winning Contest Player, Don Marr suggests looking for the under-the-radar horses. Specifically, he likes to look for horses who are between the favorites and the monster longshots. Can you make a case for Uchenna in the Dance Smartly? Anyone can pick Strut the Course. Uchenna runs 2nd off the layoff and you get Gary Boulanger aboard. Look through the past performances. The horse puts in a game effort nearly every time out and anything can happen when these closers turn for home. Just remember, if you have a horse that you think several other players are likely to play, that pick loses its contest value regardless of the price. Find the under-the-radar horses.

While I can never get back my Animal Kingdom $43.80, I did learn a powerful lesson about not letting work interfere with horse racing. But as I finish a weekend of house hunting, meeting realtors, and staring at my Trulia app, I still have a chance to be involved in one of the biggest days of the year for the horseplayer. Look at the Dance Smartly differently; look at the Queen’s Plate differently. Find the horse that nobody will play. You’re locked into your picks so you don’t have to be the victim of second guessing. No chasing the leaderboard. If life allows, sit by the computer and watch the big day. Just remember pick-and-pray contests when you need to fit your contests into your real life.

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