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Book Review

Handicapping Contest Handbook
A Horseplayer's Guide to Handicapping Tournaments
By Noel Michaels
from DRF Press
160 pages, softcover

New revised and expanded edition

With the fourth annual DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) recently completed and Florida high school teacher Steve Wolfson taking home the $100,000 winner's check, handicapping tournaments have become all the rage in North American thoroughbred racing. With huge jackpots, decent consolation prize money, and a chance to win an all-expenses-paid trip to the big dance in Las Vegas, qualifying tournaments at tracks, OTBs, and casinos across the continent routinely sell out of entries and the competition is fierce. DRF online editor Noel Michaels sets out to help current and potential contestants win in this new realm of battle, separate from the traditional pari-mutuel arena.

To do well in the future requires a look at the "past performances", and Michaels satisfies this requirement beautifully, giving a detailed history of North American handicapping contests from the inaugural World Series of Handicapping at Penn National in 1976 to the DRF/NTRA NHC of today. In each case he briefly outlines the contest rules and how it was won. He also dedicates an entire chapter on the NHC's first three years, detailing each day's activities, interview quotes from the winners, and giving a complete result chart.

Michaels did not intend to write a book on handicapping horse races, so you will not find such tips here. Instead, he gives detailed strategies on how you would use your selections in contest play, depending on the rules of the contest you are entered in. Thankfully, most contests have patterned themselves after the NHC for consistency, so his basic strategy can be applied almost anywhere. He also interviewed eleven tournament veterans, with a combined 30 tournament victories, for their secrets to success.

Finally, Michaels compiled an index of almost all tournaments in North America, of which most (but not all) are qualifiers to the NHC. Most are at racetracks or OTBs but some are online or at casinos. This section is very useful for contestants willing (or needing) to travel to contests to increase their chances of qualifying for the NHC. In each case he lists where and when the contest is held, the maximum field size, entry fee, total purse, and rates the contest on its value-for-money and its "qualifier rating" (your odds of qualifying for the NHC by entering this contest). He outlines the contest's format and the prize money, and gives brief hints to success, such as the importance of knowing the local circuit and how best to apply the basic strategy under the local rules. He also lists hotels and restaurants near the contest venue and who to contact at the facility. With this information he recommends several contests to everybody. Some contests are unfavorable to the player in his opinion and he highlights these too.

Clearly this is a book with a narrow focus. If you are a contest player or are planning to enter contests in the near future, this book is strongly recommended. The information Michaels compiled here is very useful for the handicapper wanting to make the transition from pari-mutuel to contest play, since the strategies given already assume a high level of handicapping proficiency. Knowing which contests are worth entering and what strategies to use when you get there is half the battle. Racing fans whose focus is not on handicapping or specifically, contest handicapping, would not find this volume useful at all, thus the star rating below is aimed only at those interested in handicapping contests.

Handicapping Contest Handbook has a cover price of $14.95 and can be ordered Amazon.com for only $10.47 or direct from from DRF Press.

Rating:     4.5/5

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