I know, I know. I said that Monday’s blog was going to be the last one for awhile. I lied. Consider Monday’s blog a false finish. You see, I can’t let an event like Brian Nadeau — such an important character on the blog — winning the #Huddie contest go unremarked upon. What is #Huddie you might ask? A terrific, semi-underground, twitter-propelled, meet-long Saratoga horse picking contest that has been the ruin of many a poor boy, and God, I know I’m one.
They say you shouldn’t hang around the racetrack with people you don’t want to see win. That’s about as close to a racetrack truism as you’ll get. There’s a select group of us at the Paddock Bar who sometimes play as partners but always want to see each other win. Brian is part of that group. We first met many years ago when we were both working for The Saratoga Special. I was analyzing races, he was chasing down quotes. Quite sensibly, within a few years he was analyzing races and I was off writing books. Books, incidentally, which featured another kind of false finish.
Everybody knows I fancy myself the Barbara Walters of the degenerates. So here, without further ado, my interview with 2013 #Huddie King, Mr. Brian Nadeau:
So this year’s Huddie contest came right down to the wire. Tell me how it went down.
It’s kind of funny that it came down to the Hopeful and I was pretty fortunate, because I think somehow I was the only person in the entire contest who picked Strong Mandate. And it’s easy to say after he ran off the screen, but I didn’t really understand how that could be. In fact, I thought he was a real wiseguy horse, who a lot of people would have picked. I used him as a block as much as anything else.
I picked him for several reasons, most notably I had a big note on the horse out of his maiden win: “8/17 Sharp speed, well within himself, widened on cue midstretch, straight as a string; new horse with blinks, should only get better with more ground.”
I had heard positive word about the runner-up in there, a nice Asmussen prospect, so I knew that Strong Mandate must be kind of nice if he drilled him that easily. Plus, it was vintage Lukas, in that the horse didn’t raise a hoof in his debut but added blinkers and ran off in his next start. Throw in a dream post in the Hopeful, good breeding for the wet, and a field, quite frankly, that I didn’t think was very strong, and Strong Mandate was a 5-star tout for me.
How would you describe your general approach to the Huddie contest?
Most days I don’t really think I had much of an approach to tell you the truth. Every single horse I picked was a BUZZ horse (one I picked for our Horse Player Now product) that I had a trip note on. I didn’t handicap one horse or one race. I mean, at the end of the day you have to pick fast horses who run well. There were two days I tried to use strategy.
One was when I had only one pick left on a Sunday on the second to last weekend. I had a horrible first two days with seven picks. That’s when I used Ready Signal, who was the longest of four BUZZ horses I had that day. The other day was the final day, when I had three picks and was close to the lead going in. I wanted to pick up some cash early, so I used Inaflash at 8/5 in the opener and she ran 2nd. Then I wanted to come up with someone I knew no one had, so I used Mama Zee, who didn’t run much in the 5th at about 15-1. Strong Mandate was a 100% no-brainer play for me when he popped into my Stablemail Friday afternoon, and I thought I could use him as a block at the least if I was already in the lead.
Honestly, I’m not even sure I played it right the last week, I’m kind of new to all this “game theory” stuff. In hindsight, I might have tried to pick up a few more dollars with logical winners, since it was pretty obvious the contest was going to be decided by a few dollars. We kind of scoff at 9/5 winners, but those are $10-$12 contest horses and as you know those dollars come in handy at the end.
Yeah, don’t rub it in. I was advising a friend on a ticket and I thought we were sitting great, eight picks going into the last day. Only problem is that while several fired, none won. We picked well, but they didn’t run quite well enough.
I thought the way you guys played it was awesome. You needed to get lucky in the sense of not having anyone else score out the first three days of the weekend, which happened, and then you were sitting in the garden spot entering Monday. I woke up Monday morning expecting you to win and I think, if I’m in the same position next year, I’d do what you guys did. I thought it was an expert approach. All you can do is put yourself in the best possible spot in this game, which I thought you did this weekend. It doesn’t always work out, but you can’t win if you don’t put yourself in that spot to begin with.
Other than the obvious — winning — what did you like about playing in Huddie and about contests in general?
I take a lot of pride in winning this contest. There are a ton of SHARP guys in this, industry guys, guys who devote a large amount of time to this game and guys I have a ton of respect for, so for me to outlast them all was pretty cool. Don’t get me wrong, the money is awesome, but the thrill of winning itself is a damn close second. Over the past two years I think I’ve stumbled upon 10-12 people I didn’t know who were in this contest, so it’s kind of taken on a life of its own. So to win it is pretty sweet.
Did you have a specific monetary goal every week and / or overall? Or were you more playing day to day?
I can’t say I ever had a dollar amount in mind. I just wanted to pick fast horses. You and I talked a lot early in the meet about the contest and I always said you can win this by banging out 4-1s all day. And while that’s right in theory (a 2-1 average would have likely won this year) it’s just impractical because you need a bomb or two to make up the difference because of the inevitable losers and it’s still not easy to pick 2-1′s consistently, especially at Saratoga. So I just used whoever popped up in my Stablemail, while leaning to the longer prices if I had multiples horses on one day or over eight on the weekend.
What was your toughest beat of the meet?
Toughest beat? You’re seriously going to ask me that when you stood 7-feet away from me and watched it? A car crash in slow motion. Clearly it was Moreno, for a million reasons. For weeks before I told anyone who’d listen he was going to win and I gave that horse out to our clients, so it would have been a huge coup for me if he won. I didn’t just like Moreno because speed was good Travers Day. It’s a sick game, this sport we love, because I was 1000% right in why I loved him yet I was still essentially wrong, because he didn’t win.
As for the actual case for the horse, I had a huge note on him after the Jim Dandy, I thought he ran huge: “7/27 Rail speed, forced to quicken by eventual winner through VERY snappy 2nd quarter, overhauled early stretch, ran on gamely, tired late; sneaky good two-turn debut (since blinkers were added).”
He’s bred to run long, that was never going to be an issue. And then, the more I thought about it, the more I figured he’d get loose over a speed-favoring track because they just expected he’d come back to them. I knew Verrazano wanted no part of 10, so he wasn’t going to press and Palace Malice had just beat Moreno handily, so why would he press him? I got a kick from Shug’s quote after the race where he said something like “I never thought they would go that slow early.” Really? Did he think they would go faster than the 47 and change Moreno went in the shorter Jim Dandy? That quote really cracked me up. That one still stings and will for some time.
As a trip/notes handicapper, how do you balance the horses you find with the fundamentals? I found when I was doing a lot of notes that it greatly reduced the amount of actual objective handicapping I was doing, sometimes to my overall detriment. How do you find a balance? Or, do you find you come up with enough good notes horses that fundamentals take a backseat and you end up with an edge on notes horses regardless?
I love this question because you’re right, it’s the give and take of the trip ‘capping versus the overall paper ‘capping. I’m going to be honest, unless I’m sussing out a Pk4 for clients on a Saturday or playing one myself, or Pk6′ing, I don’t handicap that much anymore. I simply rely on my eyes. Like I said, every pick in the Huddie pool was a trip horse.
A lot of people will say “Well, if you combined your trip horses with handicapping it could be even more lethal.” And, on the face of it, that’s a very sane argument. But how often do you get good looking horses on paper at 27-1 like Ready Signal? In-form, clean horses on paper are 4-1, not 27-1. And if you handicap too much, you probably say something like “Why the hell do I like Ready Signal, she was just beaten a furlong and a half last time?” And then you don’t play Ready Signal. And then you get sick when she wins for fun at 27-1.
The one thing I will do, to a certain extent, is handicap a race if I have more than one horse pop up. Other than that, I trust my eyes, no matter what the circumstances. You mentioned “objective handicapping” but I would counter by saying ‘What’s more objective than what your eyes told you after actually watching a horse run?’ So, to me, that’s the most objective thing I can come up with. Me looking at a bunch of names on paper that I haven’t seen run isn’t as objective as knowing I’ve watched them all and if they had something worth noting, I noted it.
Any plans on what you’re going to do with the money?
No real plans with the money, I’ll pay some bills and get ahead (for once). I’ve been hearing a lot about these Derby Wars tournies, so I think I’ll devote a portion of the money to that. Maybe take a swing at a nice Pk6 carryover, I’m a sucker for those now and again. Or maybe I’ll put it under the mattress and try and sleep for a week after another great Saratoga season!
Great idea, Brian!
OK, this Pete back in the roman text again. So this was my seventh year of doing bankroll plays for Saratoga in blog format. The first three were via the Horseplayer mag website, the last four right here. I’m proud to say that after an off year last year we got back in profit this year, making that five of seven SAR seasons to the good (though in two of them it took my last play to get me out). On one hand, a winning year should be expected. But hey, try doing it yourself some time, it ain’t easy.
As for yesterday, we were at -$780 after putting $300 in. Fortunately, when STRONG MANDATE ran away and hid in the Hopeful we got back $1003.75 for a total win of $223.75 on the meeting. Can I get an Amen?