The landscape of Las Vegas horse racing handicapping tournaments continues to shift with the disappearance of a local mainstay – the Wynn Handicapping Challenge.
The multi-day $200,000-guaranteed summer tournament at Wynn Las Vegas had a relatively steep entry fee of $2,000, but offered players the chance to win big money.
It’s not clear why the tournament, which drew more than 240 players last year, was canceled. A Wynn representative confirmed it was not on the calendar this summer but directed all other questions to racebook director John Avello, who could not be reached for comment on Wednesday or Thursday.
In the meantime, deep-pocket players are lamenting the loss of the tournament.
Longtime handicapping tournament player David Gutfreund, better known as “The Maven,” tweeted recently that “with the disappearance of this event and the Spa’s contest drastically changing, gone are the days of dreaming of a six-figure score for $1,000.”
Hearing that the Wynn Handicapping Challenge was no more made me wonder if the other remaining big local handicapping tournaments at the Orleans might also be on the endangered list, but Bob Scucci, racebook manager for the Boyd Group, assures me that’s not the case.
The Horse Player World Series drew more than 450 entrants in March, each of whom put up $1,500 for a chance at the grand prize of $231,000, and is planned again for next spring, he said. And the Fall Classic, with a more-affordable $500 buy-in, is scheduled for Oct. 11-13.
Scucci said he couldn’t comment on the Wynn’s decision, but said increasing competition from racetrack-sponsored handicapping contests has chipped away at the casino contests. The former “often offer live-money contests vs. the mythical bets as we do,” he said, explaining that the casinos are unable to do that “because of some restrictions from the Tote companies and the wagering platform.”
I thought that the growing popularity of online handicapping contests might also be undercutting the live events, but Scucci believes they have the opposite effect.
“We found that they add to the interest, particularly the online qualifiers for our events,” he said.
#RJhorseracing featured races
If it’s Arlington Million weekend, and it is, then you know where you’re going to find the #RJhorseracing handicappers.
The crowd ‘capping crew this week took on the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds and the $1 million Arlington Million for 3-year-olds and older, both Grade 1 races contested at 1 1/4 miles on the turf.
In the former, the gang likes 2-1 morning line favorite Analyze It over Sniper Kitten (12-1) and local hope Captivating Moon (20-1).
I agree that Analyze It is the horse to beat, but will take a shot with Bandua (20-1). The colt’s trainer, Irishman Dermot Weld, has successfully poached a number of graded stakes races in the U.S. over the years and I think this Calumet Farms color-bearer is capable of springing the upset. I’ll use Analyze It and Sniper Kitten to fill out the trifecta.
In the Million, the crowd ‘cappers are taking a stand with Spring Quality (8-1) over 3-1 morning line favorite Oscar Performance and Almanaar (5-1), who were tied for second.
“Loves turf. Reborn,” wrote Les Izmore of the group’s choice, referring to the improvement the 6-year-old when he was switched to the lawn last year.
I think Oscar Performance is in the driver’s seat in the race off his excellent comeback race in the Poker Handicap and 2-for-2 record at the distance. I have Spring Quality and Almanaar in the lesser spots.
Drop me an email or follow me on Twitter if you’d like to join our group as we seek out the most challenging handicapping puzzles we can find.
Ellis Starr’s Arlington Million analysis
Century Dream (IRE) will be my top choice to win this year’s Arlington Million based on his obvious desire to win and a liking for tracks like the one he will be running over at Arlington Park. Last fall as a 3-year-old, Century Dream won back to back on left handed (counter-clockwise) courses like those in North America, the second of those wins at the Million distance of 1 1/4 mile. Given six months off to mature, he began his 4-year-old campaign with a dud when 11th in the Group 2 Prix d’Harcourt in France, but that was run on a very wet course and he may have needed the race. Returning to England in May, Century Dream once again won two races in a row, including the important Group 1 Diomed Stakes, his first race of the year on a left handed course. Beaten just three-quarters of a length in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes in June and fourth against some very tough competition in the Group 2 Summer Mile Stakes in July, both at Ascot and both on the straightaway course at a mile, Century Dream stretches back out to the 10 furlong trip and more importantly returns to a two-turn race on a left handed course.
Robert Bruce (CHI) and Spring Quality were separated by a length when sixth and first, respectively, in the Manhattan in June, with Spring Quality earning a career-best 126 Equibase Speed Figure with his eye catching rally from 10th with a quarter of a mile to run and Robert Bruce earning a 124 figure, also the best of his career. Robert Bruce entered the Manhattan with an unblemished record of seven-for-seven and should run as well or better making his third start since arriving to the U.S. and being rested six months, while Spring Quality could easily bring his career record to seven for 12 with a win by repeating his Manhattan effort.
Deauville (IRE) is a world class runner but one prone to finishing second, as he now has six career runner-up efforts to go along with four wins. Last summer Deauville ran the best race of his career in the Million (117 figure) when stalking in fourth early then rallying to lead in the stretch. Although he battled gamely to the wire, Deauville came up a half-length and a neck short of victory. Considering world class trainer Aidan O’Brien brings over his No. 1 jockey in Ryan Moore as he did last year and after Moore did not ride Deauville in his last three races, it is likely Deauville is ready to repeat or better his very competitive effort from one year ago.
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.