The featured-tourney days last week seemed to take on one of two distinct patterns. Either there weren’t many longshots to be had (Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday) or there were so many (Friday, Sunday) that one bomb alone wouldn’t get you where you needed to be.
This meant there were numerous pathways to success on each and every day—and that meant 51 available top prizes went to no fewer than 48 different contestants. The exciting, “Spread the Wealth” week got started on Wednesday.
When a brief equine herpes scare at Gulfstream necessitated several scratches on Wednesday, one might have predicted that prices would be on the low side. Gary Wright (3 wins, 2 places) and Kevin Willett (3W, 3P) shrewdly went to Parx to nail their big horse (which wasn’t all that big) — Luscious Lulu ($13.20, $4.20) in the 10th at Parx. That helped both Wright and Willett nail down $3,500 packages for the April 10th Keeneland Grade One Gamble.
Scores were also in the 50s in Wednesday’s first qualifier to the March 27th Florida Derby Challenge at Xpressbet.
Actually Scott Roberts was the only one to score as high as $50 thanks to his 3 wins and 2 places. Kirk Tesar also gained a $1,500 entry with his similar mark of 3 big one and 2 little ones. None of their combined 10 collections were held in common.
Our first and only qualifier of the week to the Club Hawthorne OTBs contests (March 27-28) went to George Smith, who racked up a score of $68.20.
Smith’s 5 winners and 4 runners up were led off by favored Roadhouse Blues—who blew the doors off her opponents in the 5th at Gulfstream.
Wednesday’s $4,000 Guaranteed cash tourney went to David Decauwer (3 wins, 4 places), who had the high score of the day with $75.60.
Despite the lofty (for the day) score, Decauwer still needed to have Cotltonstheadmiral ($7.40, $4.00) in the final contest race to escape with the $3,390 top payout. That selection wound up blocking Charles Myers, who had to settle for second-money of $1,356.
Charles Myers (5 wins, 2 places) did no settling in Wednesday’s Players Championship qualifier.
Myers led a pack of three $2,000-entry winners that included Gary “Left Right” Leff (4W, 1P) and Robert Turner (3W, 4P), who got up for 3rd with a $6.00 place collection in the finale.
With roughly three weeks of qualifying/buying-in still remaining, the Players Championship field is up to 141 and the prize pool has already reached $249,000.
Derek Isenberg had 3 Wednesday winners that paid $10.00, $10.60 and $5.20.
That trio, plus a quartet of runners up, earned Isenberg a $2,000 entry to the Monmouth Pick Your Prize Challenge on June 12th.
On Thursday, things started off pretty quietly for Frank Marcyan in the day’s $2,500 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.
Marcyan vaulted himself into contention in the next-to-last race, however, with 15-1 winner Desert Fog at Golden Gate, then he sealed the deal with Themanbehindtheman (3-1) in the 10th at Turf Paradise. That earned Marcyan (4 wins, 1 place) the winner’s share of $2,581 in a tourney that closed with a final pot of $5,737.
Alexa Zepp was the winner of Thursday’s Players Championship qualifier.
It was nobody’s fault but Zepp’s that she didn’t pick Desert Fog in the 7th at Golden Gate. However, she overcame the three players who DID select Desert Fog by having built a stairway to the Players Championship with 6 winners over the first 7 races.
Friday saw our first double-winner of the week, and it was none other than 2021 Flo-Cal Faceoff winner Alan Levitt.
We already know that January’s $205,000 winner has secured a spot in next month’s Players Championship. Now there’s a seat with his name on it at the 2022 NHC.
Also securing 2022 Bally’s Berths were Matthew Nixon (4 wins, 0 places) and John Behnke (3 wins, 2 places). It’s actually somewhat amazing that Levitt and Nixon managed to outdo Behnke. After the first three contest races, Behnke was on pace to set some sort of unofficial world’s record by hitting winners that paid $34.00, $55.80 and $26.20, respectively.
It was not at all amazing that Levitt won Friday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier after submitting the same set of selections that earned himself the NHC seat.
It was a good way’s back to Truls Engelbretsen (3 wins, 1 place) in second, but that finish was also good for a $2,000 Monmouth entry.
Here’s a look at Levitt’s imposing, dual-threat scorecard.
Actually the Baltimorean (by way of New York) would have had a triple-threat scorecard—had he not had the misfortune of running into Anthony “Doczilla” Trezza in Friday’s $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.
We mentioned that there were plenty of prices out there on Friday—and Trezza found a couple that Levitt didn’t.
For the best-of-day performance, eye doctor Trezza saw $8,079 enter his HorseTourneys account. The final purse for the high-scoring game was $17,955—$3,231 of which went to runner up (for a change) Levitt.
John Farrar was a wire-to-wire winner of Friday’s Lone Star Million Betting Challenge qualifier.
Farrar (4 wins, 1 place) had the $34.00 and $55.80 winners of the first two contest races and never looked back, coasting home by $47.30 to earn the $3,000 Memorial Day package.
The leaderboard was tight at the top for Friday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier.
Thomas Michael Abinanti (4 wins, 2 places) and Ilan Cuellar (3W, 0P) each took Policy Option ($19.60, $7.60) in the final contest race (the 10th at Gulfstream), and that moved them into the winning spots to claim the $3,500 packages.
The two players to clear triple figures were the two to earn $2,000 Players Championship entries on Friday.
Shad Walton and Charles Welch both had Well Defined ($26.20, $9.40) in the 6th at Gulfstream en route to eclipsing the century mark and joining the Players Championship field here on April 2-3.
Rich Nilsen (3 wins, 1 place) came up with Spend Benjamins ($31.20, $8.80) in the next-to-last race to lead the way in Friday’s Florida Derby Challenge qualifier.
Joining Nilsen in the Challenge a week from Saturday at Xpressbet will be runner up Brian Callaghan (2 wins, 2 places).
Unlike Friday when boxcar mutuels abounded, longshots were derailed on Saturday. The day’s biggest win price in our featured tourneys was $15.80.
Michael “Copa” Kavana didn’t have that $15.80 “bomb” (Tobacco Road in the 6th at Santa Anita), but he came up with 6 other winners—including a couple of 6-1 shots—to finish with the day’s high score and win Saturday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier.
Michael Caposio ran second behind Kavana and also picked up a $2,000 Monmouth entry, which the Californian can play onsite or through Xpressbet.
“The Commissioner” Tim Smith led the way in Saturday’s Players Championship play-in.
Smith put up two places followed by 4 winners, including tallies in each of the final three races to top a quintet of $2,000-seat earners that included Mark Simonovic, Phil Hoedebeck, John Gaspar and Salvatore Simeone.
Another Smith won Saturday’s Big Bucks tourney.
“Battlin’” William Smith (no relation to Tim…or Wednesday Hawthorne winner George…or McKay) had Sadie Lady ($13.00, $7.10) as his highest returner among his 2 firsts and 3 seconds. The five collections added up to a payday of $12,823 for Smith in the high-end event that closed with a final purse of $18,319.
An even higher grand prize was on the line in Saturday’s $25,000 Guaranteed cash tourney, and this one was a real barnburner with just 70 cents separating the top three finishers.
By the thin margin of 20 cents, Craig Rowe escaped with the grand prize of $15,221 over runner up Jon Petoskey. Only 50 cents behind Petoskey was Stephan Gravina. If the 2nd- and 3rd-place finishes don’t look painful enough just on the face of things, consider this: Petoskey picked the 3-1 runner up in the final contest race, but the place return ($4.20) wasn’t quite enough to get up for first. Gravina, meanwhile, had the final-race winner in Bench Judge ($7.20, $3.60) but those mutuels also came back lighter than Gravina hoped. On his side of the street, Rowe could be forgiven if, immediately after the 9th at Santa Anita, he thought he would finish 3rd. The difference between 1st and 3rd wound up being almost $12,000.
Over at HorsePlayers, Bill “BC” Chenvert captured the day’s featured tourney, a $179 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier.
Chenvert’s largest collection among 4 wins and 3 places came via Danzing Dunhill ($14.20, $6.40) in the 12th at Gulfstream. However, he needed to nail the last two contest-race winners—at odds of 7-5 and 5-2—before the $10,000 BCBC entry safely belonged to him (BC).
Philip Webber landed in the top spot with 2 wins and 2 places in Saturday’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourney.
Peter Deys also had a pair of winner’s circle visitors to take top honors in Sunday’s Pick 4 game.
Since no one went a perfect 4-for-4, however, next Saturday’s $15 test will start out with a carryover of $5,749. Interestingly, in the Sunday game, four tickets were alive heading into Leg 3. All four were eliminated, though, following that Leg 3 race 8 at Aqueduct—in which no one had the victorious 3-5 shot.
Daniel Kovalesky had a near-miss on Friday, finishing third in a two-seat Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier. On Sunday, he had the same result, but experienced a much better outcome.
Kovalesky was bested here by Jeff Bussan (3 wins during a 4-race stretch in mid-tourney) and Paul Weizer, but this time there were enough entries for Kovalesky, finally, to get the $3,500 package he was after.
Of course, you never have to worry about entry count when you finish first.
Daniel Kovalesky turned in a significantly higher score in Sunday’s live-format qualifier to The BIG One, checking in here with 3 wins and 3 places. Kovalesky, thus, became the fifth of what will be no more than 57 qualifiers to September’s “High Expectation Tournament.”
Kovalesky wasn’t Sunday’s only multiple-grand-prize earner.
Chick Matties (who knows a good handicapper when he sees one…or sires one) and Bill Kellish took the top spots in Sunday’s Florida Derby Challenge play-in. Matties ended up with 5 wins and 3 places, including the final two race winners at odds of 9-1 and 3-2. Kellish recorded 3 wins and 3 places.
Despite having fewer plays at his disposal (10 vs. 12), Kellish got a higher score in Sunday’s All Optional Live Players Championship qualifier.
Again, Kellish spotted himself well, doing just enough to get the desired result in this three-seater. Leading the way—and also earning $2,000 seats of course—were Mark Detro and Brian Graziano.
The richest game of the day was Sunday’s live-format, $20,000 Guaranteed cash tourney.
Donald Markwardt (2 wins, 3 places) took home the top money of $10,406 in large part due to the exploits of Hot Box ($58.40, $12.20) in the 4th at Santa Anita. The final pot for the game came to a total of $23,125. Daniel Kovalesky finished 2nd to pick up $4,162 in addition to his Sunday Keeneland and The BIG One seats.
Hot Box was also central to Ryan Carey’s triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio Pick & Pray at HorsePlayers.
Of the three players to use Hot Box, Carey (2 wins, 4 places) did the best, finishing $16.00 clear of 2015 NHC champ John O’Neil.
The other Sunday feature at HorsePlayers presented us with the two highest scores of the day.
Fittingly, those scores—put up by John Kimove and Jerome Linderman—were both rewarded with NHC seats. Here’s a look at how Kimove’s and Linderman’s respective days went.
One of the big winners that Kimove and Linderman had in common was La Babia ($34.60, $12.20) in the 9th at Gulfstream. That was Dennis Montoro’s only winner of the day.
Fortunately for Montoro, he augmented that La Babia score with 5 runner-up collections, and those got him to the top of the heap in Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks event. Montoro earned $9,973 from a total final pot of $14,248.
Thanks also to La Babia, Chris Inman is in at Lone Star.
The Michael Matz trainee was one of 3 winners and 4 runners up on which Inman collected. He receives a $3,000 package to the Memorial Day contest that is expected to award NHC spots to one of every 10 competitors. (Great ratio!)
Thanks to all for participating in what was, for me, a particularly fun week to write about. Looking forward to doing it all over again this coming. Hope you can join us.