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The Agony of Defeat (originally published 12/11/2007)

The following story is blogworthy because it couldn’t possibly happen but it did.
The setting for the story is the Horseplayer World Series Satellite held at Canterbury Park on Saturday, December 8. The format was ten $2 win-place bets with no cap. The qualifiers head to Vegas to compete in the HWS tournament at The Orleans. The preferred strategy is to play horses at 10-1 or higher and shoot for a target score of $120 total, or 3X the starting bankroll.
It’s pretty much bombs away.
The Player’s strategy was to target races with vulnerable favorites and look for something at double-digit odds. An early score and he could revise his target odds downward and get a little more conservative.
Not a lot was happening early, a few misfires left plenty of bullets in the holster. A prime play occurred in the 5th at Aqueduct when a 26-1 bomb named Show of Colors figured to clear the field early. As anticipated, Show of Colors sprinted clear, maintained his advantaged into the final furlong and was beaten in the final strides by the 6 to 5 favorite. It was clearly the right bet with the wrong result but the place payoff was $16.
Moving along, a few more misfires left the Player spinning his wheels with only the $16 place bet in the cash column. The first score update was posted and nobody was doing much. Plenty of contest left.
The 9th at Aqueduct was a New York-bred maiden sprint with a few interesting price plays. The public was betting an unlikely horse early, a horse that looked hopeless on paper with more than 20 losses on form. Why the early money? The conspirators want to know. There was also some upside on the rail horse that intrigued the Player. Both horses were 35-1 as they approached the gate. The Early Money horse had drifted up sharply in the last few minutes. The Player decided to play his pick, the rail horse instead of Early Money. The Player’s selection ran a very credible fourth, missing the trifecta by a nose. Unfortunately, Early Money was in a running mood and rallied in the final 16th to get up by ½ length to pay $73 to win.
Another update shows the target number to qualify is hovering around $100. That means $84 is needed by the Player with one bullet left in the holster. The races are running short; the contest ends at the conclusion of Hollywood Park. The Player cannot accept less than 30-1 odds. The Native Diver Handicap has some promise as it’s a wide open event on the Cushion track. The player finds a Jerry Hollendorfer bomb sitting on the board at 35-1. Perfect. Hollendorfer had scored with a 20-1 shot the previous day at Golden Gate Fields and here he is again with a live longshot at Hollywood. This is the horse, an animal named Heatseeker was going to score. The Player waits as the horses near the post. A tote check shows the horse sitting on the board at 25-1 as the horses begin loading. That’s a little light; it won’t make the target number of $100. A split second decision and the Player decides to pass on Heatseeker as it won’t get him to the Promised Land.
The result is crippling. Heatseeker splits horses at the 16th pole and draws off by more than a length as the Player watches in disbelief. Adding insult to injury are the final odds of 30-1 flashing on the tote board.
It’s done. The Player has watched his contest life fade to black as the tote board reveals the harsh reality: Win: $63.40 Place: $20.60.
The day can only be slightly salvaged by knowing that another player or two had tabbed this horse, and this rousing comeback would have been in vain. The Tournament Director carries the results into the room.
“Tell me something good, please” the Player begs for some much-needed relief.
The relief doesn’t come.