The popular Road to Kentucky contest starts this Saturday at Canterbury Park. This free contest offers more than $30,000 in total prize money and the top two overall finishers gain entry into the 2010 Claiming Crown tournament, one of the gateways to the prestigious National Handicapping Tournament held at Red Rock casino in January 2011.
The format has remained unchanged over the years. Players select one horse per race and hold a mythical $20 win-place-show ticket on each selection. Each position is capped at $60-$40-$20, respectively. Points accumulate equal to the mythical dollars earned. Also, each week there are between one and four “feature” races where the point values are doubled. The ultimate feature race, the Kentucky Derby, offers triple point values where you can leapfrog a hundred players if you have the right longshot.
Last year’s Derby winner Mine That Bird was so unlikely that not a single player selected him in the contest. He made Giacomo look like a virtual standout, and was certainly the most unlikely Derby winner in my lifetime. 50-1 seemed a tremendous underlay. Yet that potential pick could have vaulted someone from page 3 in the standings all the way to the winners circle. But not even diehard Borel fans or numerologists could predict that the Canadian juvenile champion would propel a 4th place finish in the ungraded Sunland Derby to a Kentucky Derby romp.
I’ve been frustrated with my own lack of success in this contest over the past few years and this year I vow not to repeat a few of the mistakes that I’ve made in the past. One piece of advice that I will employ this year: avoid the favorite every time. I don’t care if the horse is a walkover and I’m “throwing away” free points by picking someone else. I won’t do it. Too many times in prior years I watched my horse win and get 72 points while the 2nd place horse paid $38 in the middle and $10 on the bottom. Favorites aren’t going to get it done when you are competing against hundreds of players. If there is a longshot winner then somebody is going to have it (with the exception of Mine That Bird but that was a 19 horse field!).
Rather than being right with four favorites and grinding out 6 or 7 hundred points which won’t get you anywhere, the proper play is to play prices every race and try to be right 2 or 3 times on the card to get into that four-figure range. A player needs to average about 1,000 points per week to be near the top come Derby Day.
You can end up embarrassing yourself if you’re wrong all day, but remember the best players with the proper strategy either finish near the top or near the bottom. Good Luck in this years contest!