It was the largest purse in the history of online horse racing handicapping contests, and it came around at a good time for Scott Fiedler of Babylon, N.Y.
The director of a sleep-away sports camp for kids in nearby Glen Spey, N.Y., Fiedler had seen his professional life—and much of his income—put on hold this year due to the effects of Covid-19.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Fiedler, 51, said. “Governor Cuomo won’t let us reopen. We’re still shut down.”
So on one hand, the decision to shell out $2,000 for a Showdown entry wasn’t one that Fiedler took lightly. He didn’t even tell his wife Pamela about his decision to play. On the other hand, he couldn’t resist the idea of competing for a record online pot of over $644,000, and when he made about $600 in a cash tourney on the day before the Showdown, he said to himself, “You know what? I’m playing!”
Of course, playing—and winning—is nothing new for the Fiedler family.
Scott was captain of the basketball team at Washington University in St. Louis, where the hoops team won more than 80 games during his time there. He later coached basketball at Division I schools and was the head coach at Suffolk County (N.Y.) Community College.
Scott’s father Dan coached basketball for 25 years at Springfield Gardens High School in Queens, winning two city championships along the way. His charges included future NBA star Anthony Mason.
Perhaps best known in the Fiedler family is Scott’s younger brother Jay, who was an NFL quarterback for 10 years—five as the starter for the Miami Dolphins.
“He plays the races too sometimes,” Scott said of his brother. “At one point he owned a couple of thoroughbreds when he was playing football. That gets expensive. I urged him to stick to betting!”
Day one of the two-day competition that required players to make mythical win-and-place plays on each race at Saratoga and Del Mar began pretty uneventfully for Scott. His first 14 plays resulted in a pair of 2-1 winners and three single-digit place collections. Then came Freedom and Whisky in Saturday’s 11th at Saratoga.
“I liked him from the start,” Fiedler said. “I thought it was a wide-open race and the favorite would get beat. That’s obviously a big starting point for a lot of handicappers. Freedom and Whisky had a trainer change to Chad Summers, and I thought that was a good upgrade. He had one or two nice works also.”
Fiedler’s thinking paid off. Freedom and Whisky got up to win by a head at 36-1, and the cap horse shot Scott all the way up to 8th place—$25.90 behind the leader Richard Reese.
Fiedler was out to dinner with Pamela and their 9-year-old twins at the time, sneaking checks of the race results in between bites (something Pamela was not unaccustomed to seeing). He didn’t know it at the time, but Fiedler was about to go on a run that most of us just dream about.
He hit four of the final five races at Del Mar to move into first place and lock up the $16,000 top Day Money prize for Saturday. (It was only at this point that he divulged his participation to Pamela and the amount of prize money at stake.)
Then, like a shooter with a hot hand, he opened up with three straight winners at the start of the Saratoga card. Over an eight-race span bridging the two days, Fiedler had picked seven winners.
“It was incredible,” Fiedler recalled. “I was almost coasting. I kept reminding myself of what Herb Brooks said to his Olympic hockey team—‘Play your game…don’t get dumb.’”
Fiedler never got dumb—but he did get a bit, well, frazzled at times on Sunday.
“My mother had recently fallen and broken her shoulder and so my wife and I spent Sunday afternoon with her,” Fiedler said. “I wanted to get home in time for the beginning of Del Mar and on the ride home, I was driving and checking my phone when I could.”
“Don’t kill us!” his wife had to shout at him at one point.
Unfortunately, Fiedler got home just in time to switch his pick from 10-1 winner JC’s Shooting Star to up-the-tracker Prairie Fire.
“With about two minutes to post, JC’s Shooting Star was 5-1, which I thought was too low. So I got off him. Then in the next race at Saratoga, I was between Antoinette and Speaktomeofsummer. I watched the backtracks and settled on Speaktomeofsummer. Another bad move. I was pretty low at that point. I thought ‘Can it get any worse?’”
Two more fruitless races after that, Fiedler had lost the lead…but he was only behind by $1.10. And he got it back with an $8.60 place collection on Mylittlerunaway in Race 4 at Del Mar. Then came Race 7, with Fiedler still nursing a razor-slim lead. He liked Signofthecross.
“I looked at the Form and I said ‘Leonard Powell is a sneaky, sneaky trainer.’ I checked out the backtracks [Fiedler’s term for “replays”] and thought Signofthecross’s last two races were better than they looked on paper.”
Signofthecross’s race on Sunday will look transparently good in the Form next time out…and it looked great in the result charts. The return of $21.80 to win and $7.60 to place gave Fiedler a $34.20 lead with four races to go.
The first of those four really didn’t affect the standings, but it certainly had Twitter buzzing.
What the heck?
“I was upstairs in my office…I liked the 6 horse, Charmingslew, who was 9-1…and I thought I had the pick in. That’s when my daughter came in the room to visit. When she left, there was about one minute to post, and just when I was about to doublecheck everything, my son—her 9-year-old twin brother—came in to talk about the phone charger. I was excited…I was distracted…when he left, the race went off and when I went to see who everyone else had, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that I never did enter my pick. All I could do was root like hell against the 6 who, of course, shot right to the lead and held it for quite a while. Fortunately, at the top of the stretch she tired and it wound up being a ‘favorites race.’ At that point, I locked the door!”
(Ironically, Fiedler had made the exact same mistake two weeks earlier at HorseTourneys when a longshot that he liked won the last race in a featured Sunday cash game, but he failed to enter his selection prior to the start because he was mowing the grass at his sports camp and lost track of the time. The omission cost him $11,000.)
Fiedler whiffed again on Del Mar’s 9th race, though at least this time, he got his pick in. Bill Alberg and Jon “Hurricane” Hurd did not whiff, though. They each had Wyfire ($15.80, $6.60) to move into 2nd and 3rd. Alberg was a particular threat, suddenly just $18.20 behind.
Neither Fiedler nor Alberg collected in the 10th, and that left just one race to go.
“I knew it would take 5-1 or better to beat me, so I was just in ‘protection mode’,” Fiedler said. “I said ‘Just let this be a favorites race.’ But Bill Alberg made a great pick.”
Alberg’s selection, Endless Tale battled for the lead all the way around the track at 25-1 before finishing third, beaten 4 1/2 lengths for the win but beaten just a head for second. Had he run second, would the place payoff have given Alberg the win over Fiedler?
Endless Tale left the gates at 30-1 and, no, this has nothing to do with CRW batch bettors knocking down the price with 10,000 different bets in the last three seconds. What happened was that the 3-1 fifth-place finisher Betito was retroactively deemed a non-starter for having broken through the starting gates a split second before the gates opened for the rest of the field. So all the money bet on him evaporated ex-post-facto from the pools.
No less an expert than top tournament player Tony “The Terminator” Zhou was kind enough to estimate for us that Endless Tale would have paid “about $16.00” to place had he gotten second. That was after the after-the-fact scratch of Betito. Without that scratch…who knows?
The scratch also loused up eventual 3rd-place finisher Jon “Hurricane” Hurd, who tried to inch past Alberg for second (a difference of $46,000) by going with what he thought was a 7-5 favorite in Poise to Strike…that became a 3-5 favorite after the race was over…and that paid $2.10 to place after the third-choice was deleted–rather than the $3.20 that Hurd needed.
When the smoke cleared, here’s what the leaderboard looked like:
On top of his $232,112, Scott Fiedler earned an additional $16,000 for his best-of-Day 1 finish. His total came to $248,112—also a record, of course, for an online cash game. When it was over, he couldn’t believe his good fortune.
“Did I really just win what I think I won?” he said to himself. He then went downstairs to see Pamela, calmly put one finger in the air, smiled and said, ”I’m guessing you don’t have a problem with me playing horses anymore.”
Indeed she doesn’t. Actually she never really did—except when he would check results at dinner…or while driving.
Scott and Pamela have no grandiose plans for the $248,000 windfall. They may resurrect plans that had to be put on hold due to Covid to redo their kitchen. They are definitely going to sock money away for the twins’ college funds.
He’s also likely to step up his online tournament play a bit.
“I think of myself as a really good handicapper and a really lousy bettor,” Fiedler said. “The $2 win-place format at HorseTourneys is perfect for me.”
Now if he can only remember to get all his picks in on time.
SPA & SURF SHOWDOWN NOTES:
Two of the biggest beneficiaries of the Spa & Surf “largesse” were The New York Racing Association and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. Those two organizations–and their horsemen–received close to half of the event’s takeout. We greatly appreciate their willingness to support contest play.
Of the 364 Spa & Surf Showdown entries, 136 were buy-ins. Fiedler bought in on the morning of the contest. Qualifiers for the Showdown began running at HorseTourneys in March.
Jorge Cruz-Aedo (who finished 5th overall) and Jerry Freeman (6th) won $9,600 and $6,400, respectively for having the second- and third-highest scores on Day 1.
James Politano (9th), David Ruge (10th) and Tanya Taylor (30th) won $16,000, $9,600 and $6,400, respectively, for having the three best scores on the Sunday races
Taylor had only $50.30 after Day 1.
Scott Fiedler is a distant relative of the legendary conductor of The Boston Pops, Arthur Fiedler. His brother, Jay, is the last quarterback to win a playoff game for the Miami Dolphins.
Spa & Surf champ Fiedler resides in Babylon, N.Y. Last year’s first winner of the Spa & Surf Showdown, Paul Shurman, lives just 10 miles away in Dix Hills, N.Y. The two Long Island handicappers have never met.