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Book Review

Handicapping Contest Handbook
A Horseplayer's Guide to Handicapping Tournaments (2nd edition)
By Noel Michaels
DRF Press, 272 pages, softcover, October 2005

With the sixth annual DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) in January and Michigan horseplayer Jamie Michelson Jr. taking home the $200,000 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. In Handicapping Contest Handbook, Daily Racing Form turfwriter and tournament expert Noel Michaels sets out to help current and potential contestants win in this new realm of battle, separate from the traditional pari-mutuel arena. This new and updated edition is over 100 pages longer than the original 2003 edition.

To do well in the present 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 six years, detailing each day's activities, interviewing each of the winners, and giving a complete result chart. He also includesw a chart listing the "career earnings" of every player who competed in the NHC.

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 21 tournament veterans, with a combined 50 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. 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). In this new edition, he gives recommended "road trip" itineraries for players who want or need to go on tour to increase their chances of making the finals. He outlines each 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. With this information he recommends several contests to everybody. Some contests are unfavorable to the player in his opinion and he highlights these too.

Michaels said, "The Handicapping Contest Handbook is meant to be a guide that gives accomplished handicappers all the tools they need to become successful tournament players. Tournaments have heir own rules, their own players, and their own separate keys to success that make them different from an ordinary day at the track. This guidebook can serve as a constant companion that can be referred to again and again as players navigate the long and winding road to the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship."

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, tournament play, 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 list price of $14.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $10.17.

Rating:     4.5/5

Books in the Elements of Handicapping series:

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