Tournament Strategy: Contenders List for Saturday at Keeneland

October 14th, 2023

TwinSpires’ has a National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) handicapping tournament this weekend and it covers the entire Keeneland card on Saturday, Oct. 14. The TwinSpires $2,500 NHC Qualifier Feeder is one of seven opportunities to win a seat to the TwinSpires $5,000 NHC Qualifier on Nov. 25, which will award two seats to the NHC. Log in to your TwinSpires account and opt in to play. 


Unlike many other tournament formats, in the TwinSpires $2,500 NHC Qualifier Feeder it doesn't matter the odds of the horse you use in each race. Points are earned if your pick runs in the top three, with heavy emphasis on finishing first. Once you opt in, place a $10 win bet on your selection, if your horse wins you get 100 points. If your horse finishes 2nd, you get 50 points; 3rd, you get 25 points. Whether the horse is 3-5 or 53-1, it doesn’t matter. If your strong suit as a handicapper is picking winners, regardless of price, then this is the tournament for you.  


I’ve been following along and if you simply picked the post-time favorite in every race on the card, then you would have finished in the top 10%--and that’s all you need to do to advance to November's qualifier. So should we simply attack accordingly? Here’s a strong strategy for ensuring you finish in the top 10% in Saturday’s feeder. 

  • Make a list of contenders who you think are live in each race. If you can, narrow it down to two or three horses. If the horse is 20-1, don’t shy away at this point--include it if there is an angle you like.
  • Ahead of each race, watch the odds to see which of your contenders are taking money. If one of your contenders is chilly on the toteboard, take that as a signal against their likelihood of running their best race. Cross those out. 
  • Why not simply take the morning line favorite in each race? You absolutely could. Make it easy on yourself and put $10 on each morning line favorite and then go watch some college football. But here’s the thing: morning lines are hard to make, and few are more difficult than Keeneland. I see plenty of entries on Saturday’s card that will be at least half the morning line price when the windows close. Where the money goes will be more accurate than the oddsmaker’s opinion of where the money will go. Capiche?
  • We want to veer towards favorites as part of our sound strategy to finish in the top ten, but we don’t want to take all the fun out of it. Whichever two horses from your list are taking the most money, choose the one your handicapping tells you to choose. Bet $10 to win, make sure it is your first win bet in that race, and rack up the points.

My Logical Contenders List

If I could play in this tournament, this is the list I would have in hand as I watched the races. Notice some horses are even-money in the morning line; some are in that 6-1 to 12-1 range, and I’ve even got a 30-1. #7 Animal Fries in Race 5 is cutting back after a sharp effort on the lead going longer. If he goes off at 15-1, I don’t want to use him for this contest. But if he goes off at 5-1, then I might, all depending on the odds of these other horses. 

Race 1: #1 Stand for Freedom (9-2), #3 Canavall (7-2), #5 Creative Way (5-2)

Race 2: #5 Jilly's West (9-2), #7Andy's Candy (3-1)

Race 3: #2 Astronomico (10-1), #3 Seize the Grey (7-2), #5 Stretch Ride (6-1), #​​6 Lightline (6-5), #7 Edified (9-2)

Race 4: #5 Maotai (6-1), #8 It Takes Heart (5-2), #9 Street Jam (2-1).

Race 5: #2 Catmint (5-2), #3 Zipadoo (9-2), #4 Boltoro (8-1), #6 Blessing the Flag (8-1), #7 Animal Fries (30-1), # 8 King's Secret (10-1), #9 Heckled (3-1). 

Race 6: #2 Dornoch (7-2), #3 Lat Long (5-1), #4 Django (8-1).

Race 7: #1 Nineeleventurbo (6-5), #4 Sharar (12-1), #6 Foreign Relations (9-2). 

Race 8: #2 Pumpkin Scone (9-2), #9 Zeitlos (3-1) #10 Accede (7-2). 

Race 9: #2 Elusive Princess (3-1), #4 Mawj (2-1), #6 Lindy (6-1). 

Race 10: #1 First Mission (1-1) 

As a bettor, I will be in the opposite mindset with a horse like #5 Creative Way (5-2) in Race 1. I think his form is muddied up with bad trips and I want to play him to win only at 7-2 or higher. In this tournament, if he is 8-1, I would not use him. If he is 3-1 or below, assuming no scratches, then I would.

Let the tote board be your guide and take the horse from this list, or one similar, you like best that is taking live money. Follow this strategy and you’ll have a strong chance of being in contention to finish in the top 10%.