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The Oracle Showvives…

ShowvivorThe online Survivor or Showvivor contest. It’s a simple premise: select one horse each day at a given track that finishes in the top three. Sounds easy enough. It is anything but.

Yet Bruce ‘The Oracle’ Meyer managed to navigate his way through the entire 52 days of the Portland Meadows’ season, beating 1,694 others, winning a $10,000 first prize, without ever missing the board. That’s a Showvivor.

It all came to an end this past Sunday when Meyer and the only other remaining player selected different horses in the same race. Meyer’s pick won; the other guy was up the track. $10,000. No entry fee.

This is not the first Showvivor title for The Oracle. He captured the top prize in 2009 in a Santa Anita contest that lasted ‘only’ 26 days.

The Oracle may be the first ever two-time Showvivor Champion. Prevailing thought maintains that a man only gets one Showvivor title. He defied the odds. Will Meyer try for another after the meat-grinder that was Portland Meadows?

The Oracle: The short answer is yes. Despite my declarations and ramblings during the latter part of the Portland Meadows contest that I was done with Showvivor forever, the underlying fact is that Showvivor is a free opportunity to win a significant prize. If you have internet access it makes sense to play. My current thought is that residents of the state of Colorado may have a significant edge in dealing with the elevated stress levels that go along with surviving to the latter stages of Showvivor. Nyquil is a potential substitute for Minnesota residents.

So what’s the secret? The favorite at Portland, and it seemed like there was a 3/5 in every race, won at a 41% rate and was on the ticket seemingly every time. In fact the in-the-money percentage for chalk was 77%. Select a chalk in that 23% and you are finished. That is the diabolical nature of showvivor. One mistake and it is over.

The Oracle: The bottom line is that there is an extreme amount of luck involved. During my Portland Meadows run, which lasted 52 racing days from July 29 – December 9, I was eliminated from four other Showvivor contests offered at other tracks. Twice I was knocked out at Hawthorne on the first day of the contest, and I failed to last five days at both Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. I tried the same methods at those tracks that I was using at Portland Meadows but it didn’t work out.

Portland was unique in that there were a lot of five and six-horse fields offered almost every day. That does simplify the process of finding a horse, but as you said, one slip-up and it is over. Plus it’s the same scenario for all contestants so it’s not really an advantage. I had two very close calls where it easily could have been over for me. On day four, my selection bolted on the turn and was about 15 wide turning for home. I was extremely lucky that he rallied back to be third. One other day late in the contest, my selection ran a sub-par race and wound up in a three-way photo for second which he won. But I was probably a head from being out so you never know.

Do you usually land on a favorite? How do you determine which one to select?

The Oracle: Selections need to be submitted prior the start of the first race of the day, so you won’t know the odds of the horse you are taking. But generally it will be a heavy favorite. Occasionally it will be a second choice if it’s really a two-horse race on paper.

I ask myself one question when picking a Showvivor horse: “Am I willing to lose with this horse”? Be thorough because it’s no fun to realize that you missed something on paper after a poor performance. I try to keep it as simple as possible and pick the most dominating horse I can find. I do a scan of the entire card and find a few possible selections, and then start building cases for or against them. I have certain guidelines that can be helpful in narrowing down my contender list. For example:

1) Stick with high percentage connections, trainers and jockeys that are winning 20% or more with their horses.

2) Avoid one-dimensional horses, horses that need the lead or are always last the first half of the race.

3) Pay attention to the track bias and don’t pick horses that will be against the bias if one exists.

4) Avoid negative rider or trainer switches no matter how good the horse’s speed figures are.

5) Avoid long layoffs and track/surface switches if possible.

6) Visualize how the race will be run. Horses that get stuck down inside can get beat by racing luck. Sprinters with tactical speed breaking from middle to outside posts tend to get good trips.

One method that has helped me with selections is to compare the horse I like with the fourth choice in the field and see how large the gap is between the two. There are a few ways of doing this but I would recommend using BRIS Prime Power or some other ranking system where each horse gets a numerical rating. Since we are looking for a top three finish, the key gap in ability is really at the fourth spot in the race.

If I’m really stuck I will go back and watch replays to make sure that what I’m seeing on paper is actually true. I did this before the final day of the Portland contest and it helped convince me that my selection, J J’s Gypsy, was going to improve off his last effort. He was exiting a sixth place finish beaten about 3 lengths and was facing three horses he had just lost to. He had been the even money favorite that day (7 days prior). It was his poorest effort in months, any of his previous 7 races was much better than what the field on December 9 was capable of running. The video confirmed that he had suffered a wide trip after being bumped at the start, and had galloped out past everyone after the wire which was significant to me because it convinced me there was no physical issue with the horse.

Most horseplayers are not looking for a $2.10 show price but there is a lesson to be learned from Showvivor and that is finding the vulnerable favorite can be a key to wagering regardless of the approach.

The Oracle: Races with vulnerable favorites are dream races to play under normal betting scenarios where one is looking for an overlay situation. But in Showvivor, races with vulnerable favorites are good to avoid altogether. There should be a better opportunity somewhere else on the card. Let your opposition try to jump the eight-foot bars, while you step over those a foot off the ground.

These contests pop up online from time to time. Hawthorne has one running now and is likely to offer another in February or March. Santa Anita traditionally fires one up in December.