He’s been playing the horses since the early 1980s. So where does Howard Welsh’s win—worth $40,000—in last Saturday’s $100,000 Guaranteed contest at HorseTourneys rank among his greatest victories?
“This one goes right to the top—both excitement-wise and financially,” said the 53-year-old Financial Planner for New York Life. “It wasn’t part of a contest, but I had the trifecta and exacta when Volponi won the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Classic. That was all worth about $20,000. And I’ve won $6,000 or $7,000 a couple of times at HorseTourneys. But nothing like this.”
Going into the $100,000 game, the Basking Ridge, N.J., resident had two small overall angles working in his favor: He prefers big-money cash tournaments, and he loves the Pick & Pray format which was in place for Saturday’s competition.
“Almost all of my play is in cash games,” Welsh said. “The takeout is so low, so favorable…you could travel somewhere, finish second and get $35,000, but you might have to beat 800 people to do that. Pick and Pray has always been my favorite format—almost to a fault in that I probably put my picks in earlier than I should. Or I’ll sometimes treat live-format contests too much like they’re Pick and Prays. But I have no problem taking chances with 15-1 or 20-1 shots—even early in a contest. I like to catch something big early in the day and create some separation if I can.”
Welsh got the perfect kind of early separation when his first selection of 15, 26-1 shot Bucchero, won Keeneland’s Woodford Stakes and returned $42.00 (for contest purposes) to win and $17.20 to place.
“That was a hidden turf form play,” Welsh recalled. “His last several races were on dirt, but he had some nice turf form going back.”
Like a lot of handicappers, Welsh is partial to horses with early speed. But unlike many, he is every bit as partial to forwardly-placed runners in grass races. It was that mindset—plus a push from the JCapper handicapping software that Welsh enjoys—that led him to his next key contest winner: Zipessa ($35.20, $12.00) in the First Lady Stakes at Keeneland.
“This one was more of a stab—a price play with a favorable pace scenario—but I definitely have a bias to horses with speed and on turf, you can get some great prices.”
Just six races into the 15-race affair, Welsh now had the gaudy total of $106.40. And with a bit more luck, his total could have been higher.
“I know it’s the typical horseplayer’s lament,” he said, “but I had lots of thirds. I was just really ‘on’ all day long.”
Indeed, sandwiched around Zipessa’s win were four selections that ran third, including True Romance at 38-1 (Keeneland 6th) and True Sailor at 17-1 (Keeneland 8th).
But Welsh still chipped up with a $14.80 place collection in Belmont’s 9th race and then with a win at 7-2 by the speedy Diversify—his best bet of the day—in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
With Diversify’s win, the normally calm Welsh allowed himself to start getting just a little bit excited.
He texted his daughter Hannah, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Massachusetts. And his wife of 20 years, Stacey, was now watching the races and rooting along with him.
Welsh then went on a brief, three-race dry streak, dropping him into third place behind Richard Grose and Eric Moomey . But then Oh Man’s win at 3-1 in the 7th at Santa Anita put Welsh back on top with just two races left.
Seemingly everyone whiffed on Santa Anita’s eighth race, leaving just the 9th race for Richard Grose or Eric Moomey to edge past Welsh. Everyone else was either too far behind or on the same horse as Welsh.
The “big three” were on three different horses. Welsh had 5-2 favorite (after taking all the late action) Just Kidding, #8, Grose had 7-1 shot Dadtaughtmewell, #3 and Moomey had 5-1 proposition Tribal Jewel, #1.
Showing no regard for the concept of ground loss, Just Kidding and Evin Roman powered up five wide around the first turn, then stayed pretty much five-wide around the second turn and still managed to prevail late for Welsh by a bit more than a length over Moomey’s Tribal Jewel. Grose’s horse, Dadtaughmewell ran a fair but ultimately non-threatening fourth. Welsh’s anchor-leg horse was tons the best, and Welsh was a $40,000 winner.
“I’m never cocky or confident,” Welsh said. “But that last race felt like the movie ‘Let it Ride.’ I was not exuberant. I didn’t say anything until the race was over. I just had a weird calm. It was almost like a moment of clarity. After the race, my wife and I opened a nice bottle of champagne that we had been saving for the right occasion. The fact that it was a family victory with my wife and daughter following along made everything even nicer.”
Moomey’s place money in the last race edged him up into second-place—worth $17,500. Roger Ball ($10,000) and Terry Wraight ($8,000) each had Just Kidding and snuck past Grose into 3rd and 4th places, respectively. Grose dropped back to fifth but still enjoyed a nice payday of $6,000.
Last Saturday’s $100,000 guaranteed tourney attracted 148 entries, which resulted in a takeout to players of just 2.8%.
Stay tuned for information on dates for the next six-figure tournament at HorseTourneys. In the meantime, you can look for Howard in the various five-figure games offered each weekend, or in Belmont five-player winner-take-all games, which are another favorite of his. Win or lose, he has great respect for his fellow players at HorseTourneys.
“I really admire those whose names are so consistently on the leader boards,” Welsh said. “When you play in a tournament with a $695 entry fee like this one, you know the best players are going to come out. You need to have a good day to do well, and to do well, you have to take chances. Saturday was just my day. I was very fortunate.”