Stephen Curtin loves playing tournaments, but between his job as a grocery industry consultant and taking his 12- and 9-year-old boys to baseball and hockey games almost every weekend, the Quincy, Mass., resident really doesn’t have time to travel to onsite handicapping contests. So the 51-year-old largely sticks to cash games at HorseTourneys.
Curtin was looking forward to Whitney weekend, and was hoping to squeeze in perhaps a bit more handicapping time than usual when his wife Andrea posed an unexpected question to him early last week.
“Do you mind if I take the boys camping to Maine with me this weekend?” she asked.
Stephen had no objections. He figured he could certainly entertain himself by diving into the races that made up the featured events at HorseTourneys.
“It wound up being just me and the dog,” laughed Curtin. “But to have the opportunity to pull out my IPad and really dig into the races was a big help.”
That “alone time” proved to be a big help to Curtin and a big detriment to everyone else. In what is believed to be an unprecedented HorseTourneys sweep, Curtin captured the weekend’s two big cash games, taking the $40,000 Pick & Pray on Saturday, and then the $15,539 Pick & Pray on Sunday. His total winnings in the two tournaments–$24,911.
“This weekend was pretty much near the top of everything for me,” he said. “There’s the birth of my kids; getting married; playing at Pebble Beach…this is creeping up that list. It’s more than just the money. I know how hard it is to win just once. More often than not, you get your heart broken at the end. I’ll enjoy this weekend for a long time to come.”
Curtin got off to a fast start in Saturday’s $40,000 Guaranteed tourney, hitting winners in the second, third and fourth contest races at mutuels of $11.80, $28.20 and $14.80. After a $5.00 placing in the next race, Curtin was in the lead in the race for the $18,000 top prize.
“To get a start like that was important,” he said, “especially when Saratoga canceled its last two races, making it a 10-race contest instead of 12.”
Curtin cooled off a bit thereafter, whiffing on three races in a row, which cost him the lead. He regained it, by $3.50, in the next-to-last contest race, though, when Cajun Firecracker won at 7-1 and brought him $25.00 in win/place collections, though.
The good news for Curtin was that he had the lead and there was just one race left. The bad news was that he was up by only $3.50, there were 10 players within $30 of him and the final contest race, the Desert Vixen Stakes from Gulfstream had a field of 14 with plenty of long prices that would help people make up ground.
Post time approached, and Curtin got nervous. It was a Pick & Pray so there was no changing his selection of the 4 horse (at odds of 12-1), but still, he just didn’t feel comfortable.
“I’ve been in this spot before and got the rug pulled out from under me,” he said.
So Curtin did the only thing that made sense to him at the time. It was unconventional, but to Curtin, it felt right.
“I went out and walked the dog. I didn’t want to drive myself nuts watching the race.”
When Curtin returned, he saw that 3-5 shot Capture Your Dream had won. None of his close pursuers had used him. First-place and $18,000 was his!
“I was so relieved,” he said. “There were a bunch of horses that could screw things up for me. Chalk is your friend in that situation.”
The happy ending also changed Curtin’s plans for Sunday.
“I wasn’t originally going to play, especially if Saturday was a disaster, but I figured, ‘What the heck?’ I have money in my account, I have time to look at the races, I’ll play.”
He entered the richest Sunday game available, the $10,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray which ultimately closed with a purse of $15,359. A few races into the contest, things were not going well.
“I wasn’t hitting anything,” Curtin said.
Indeed, through the first seven races of the 12-race contest, Stephen had just two place cashes worth a total of $11.80.
“The good news,” he said, “was that there was one good price early in the sequence, and only Sarah Wiener had it. Usually in those situations, a price comes, 10 people have it, and you think to yourself, ‘I’m done.’ At least now, I was thinking, ‘She has a big lead, I might not catch her, but I might hit the board.’”
Curtin began his comeback when 10-1 shot Royal Intrigue won the 8th at Woodbine. Curtin was disappointed to see about 10 others on the longshot, but he desperately needed the $34.00 in win-place collections.
He followed that up by connecting on a more modest 7-2 shot at Del Mar and a 5-1, Charlton Baker-trained winner in the 11th at Saratoga. The two wins shot him all the way into second place. Somewhat remarkably, the Saratoga winner was Curtin’s first of the weekend.
“I was wrong about Saratoga the whole weekend,” he laughed. “The funny thing is, that’s the circuit I follow the closest, and I was at Saratoga the weekend before.”
Curtin’s pick in the next-to-last contest race, the 5th at Del Mar, finished up the track, and that left him just one more chance to catch up…the 6th race at Del Mar. By now the leader was Raymond Riley. Curtin was still in second place, behind by $20.00.
Fortunately for Curtin, he and Riley were on different horses in the Pick & Pray. However, Curtin’s—Spring Lily—sat at 4-1 or 9-2 for most of the betting. That wouldn’t get it done. Only as the horses were about to load into the gate did Spring Lily (who was 5-1 in the morning line) rise to 6-1. It looked like Curtin was still alive after all.
The race started and this time Curtin was watching live…not walking his dog.
As the field entered the stretch, Curtin’s horse, Riley’s horse and one other were all head and head with a good distance back to the rest. Riley’s horse gave way first and would finish third. Spring Lily under Gary Stevens kept grinding and won. But the morning line favorite finished second. Would Curtin collect enough to pull off the consecutive-day sweep?
Yes! Spring Lily had drifted all the way up to 6.90 to 1 and paid $15.80 to win and $7.60 to place. Curtin won the Sunday top prize of $6,911 by $6.20.
Curtin couldn’t believe his good fortune. Some of the $24,911 that he won was immediately “reinvested” by Curtin in tickets for him and his wife to see Billy Joel this Friday night at Fenway Park. (Andrea is a big Billy Joel fan and had expressed interest over the years in seeing him, but it never quite worked out. Stephen thought it would be a nice surprise for her when she got back home.)
Still, while Curtin admitted that winning $24,000 will make a real financial difference to him and his family, the HorseTourneys victories meant as much to him for the accomplishment as for the money.
“There are so many great players at HorseTourneys. To do well against them is exciting. For me, horse racing is just a hobby, and when things go right, it’s great. I’ll remember this weekend for a long time. And now, things are back to normal.”
Because Andrea and the boys are home from their camping trip?
“No,” Curtin replied. “Because I finished 45th in a $12 tournament today.”