Seeking the value in a six-horse grass race at Del Mar, Randall Miller zeroed in on Pulpit Rider in the Southern California track’s 7th race on Sunday, and when the daughter of Lucky Pulpit prevailed at odds of 7-1, Miller leapfrogged from fourth-place to first. The attorney from Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, held on from there over the final two races and captured the grand-prize of $235,764 in last weekend’s Spa & Surf Showdown at HorseTourneys.
The Spa & Surf Showdown—a two-day event featuring full-card, mythical $2.00 win-and-place selections on every race from Saratoga and Del Mar on each day—offered a record online purse of $659,005 and had a takeout rate of just 10.9%.
The $235,764 winner’s share pocketed by Miller is the largest single prize ever won at HorseTourneys—although last year’s Spa & Surf Showdown champion, Scott Fiedler of Babylon, N.Y., wound up winning a total of $248,112, a sum that included an additional Day-bonus payout of $16,000.
Finishing second and earning a runner-up prize of $94,305.60 was Alan Lahr of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Lahr moved into second on the strength of the same $16.60-to-win, $6.60-to-place payoffs on Pulpit Rider that propelled Randall Miller to the top spot.
ESPN’s popular college football “Gameday” personality Chris “The Bear” Fallica finished third after spending a significant portion of Day 2 in first place. Fallica earned $47,152.80 for his efforts.
The world of sports entertainment was also represented by the fourth-place finisher Basil DeVito. A former WWE executive and one-time commissioner of the XFL, DeVito was in the hunt for almost the entirety of the Spa & Surf Showdown, and he used a final-race $6.20 to edge his way into the fourth-place money of $35,364.60.
Rounding out the top five was Anthony “ATM” Mattera. A resident of Palm City, Florida, Mattera not only won fifth-money of $29,470.50, he also picked up an additional $16,372.50 in Day 1 bonus money for having the highest score at the conclusion of Saturday’s action.
Mattera was also the leader in the new Tourney Triple standings—a points-based ranking of top performers in January’s Flo-Cal Faceoff (429 entries, $1,500 entry fee, $570,373 total purse), April’s Players Championship (311 entries, $2,000, $555,346) and the Spa & Surf Showdown (296 entries, $2,500, $659,005). Remarkably, Mattera finished in the top 10 in all three events, having recorded a third-place finish worth $41,004 in the Flo-Cal and and 8th-place effort in the Players Championship that returned him $12,386. For leading the Tourney Triple points standings, Mattera earned a 2021 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry and a seat in the 2022 National Horseplayers Championship.
Douglas Schenk was another gem of consistency throughout the Tourney Triple series. He finished 19th in the Flo-Cal Faceoff, 11th in the Players Championship and 28th in the Spa & Surf Showdown to check in second in the three-event points tally. For that he received a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry for this November.
Third in the Tourney Triple standings was the aforementioned Basil DeVito, whose 4th-place Showdown finish was preceded by a 70th-place performance in the Flo-Cal and a 17th-place effort in the Players Championship. DeVito’s Tourney Triple prize was a spot in next month’s The BIG One here at HorseTourneys.
For Spa & Surf Champion Miller—a man who enjoys singing gospel music in his spare time and who has recorded nine such albums—there were no momentous miracles. Instead, he was strong in the beginning, strong in the middle and strong at the end.
He got off to a nice start by hitting Joe Sharp-trained second-time starter Flint Ridge ($25.40, $11.80) in the 2nd at Saratoga. A 7-2 winner followed a couple of races later and Miller found himself just $11 behind early leader Craig Kaufman.
Miller then went on a bit of a dry spell, catching just one more 7-2 winner over a seven-race stretch to fall out of the top 10. But then he start to heat up again, coming up in back-to-back races with Sweet Soulmate ($9.60, $5.00) in the 3rd at Del Mar and Got Stormy ($27.00, $8.90) in the Grade I Fourstardave at Saratoga. Miller was now up to fourth place. That was the good news for him.
The bad news for Miller…and the rest of the competitors…was that Anthony Mattera was in the midst of a run that seemingly threatened to blow the Showdown wide open.
Like a basketball team going on a 27-3 run, Mattera went off on a 6-race, 5-victory blitz that opened up a more-than-a-cap-horse, $72.00 lead.
Mattera cooled off from there, however, blanking on his final six Saturday picks. Meanwhile, Wendy Long got on a bit of a roll to get within $19.50 of the lead at the end of Day 1. Miller, on his end, connected with Seattle Breakout ($17.60, $7.00) and with a $4.80 place payoff in the next race to pull him up to 6th place, within $43.70 of the lead, by the end of Saturday.
One of the interesting, if not downright strange, things about this year’s Spa & Surf Showdown was that there were no gigantic prices over the course of the two days. The $27.00 triumph by Got Stormy was the weekend’s biggest. And when the second biggest came around…well…Miller was there for that one too.
Gimmick had been sent off at 1-2 and even money in her two previous career starts, both losses. This time, the Steve Asmussen charge was dismissed at 12-1, but Randall Miller hadn’t lost faith. The $26.60-to-win, $9.90-to-place return shot him up to second place, behind new leader (and fellow Gimmick supporter) Basil DeVito. Mattera was suddenly…shockingly…back in third.
You don’t finish in the top 10 of Tourney Triple events three straight times without an ample supply of staying power and toughness, however. Mattera took the lead back from DeVito and Miller with Customerexperience ($19.40, $10.20) in the 8th at Saratoga. Unfortunately, this would be Mattera’s final winner of the tournament.
Miller reeled in a nice $13.40 place payoff on the runner up (Viradia) in the Customerexperience race that allowed him, basically, to hold his position. He blanked on his next two races, and now only eight opportunities remained.
Throughout the whole tourney, Miller seemed disinterested in chalk. His unofficial line of demarkation, in terms of odds, seemed to be 7-2. Sticking to that general plan of attack, he landed Mirabel Mei ($10.40, $5.40) in the 10th at Saratoga. But he still couldn’t get out of 4th place, because others were making their moves too.
One of those movers and (tote)shakers was Chris Fallica.
Like Miller and Mattera, Fallica seemed an omnipresent figure on the lofty reaches of the leaderboard, and after he hit Star Devine ($17.00, $9.00) in the 9th at Saratoga and Paint Me Lucky ($4.00, $3.20) in the 4th at Del Mar, he found himself at the very top with five…and then three…races to go.
It wasn’t to be for Fallica, though. It may not have qualified, by Stanford Steve’s definition, as a bad beat, but The Bear’s selection of favorite Warren’s Showtime in the 7th at Del Mar could do no better than third in the pivotal race won by Pulpit Rider.
That result moved Miller from 4th to first and Alan Lahr from 5th to 3rd.
Miller and Lahr both chipped up in the next-to-last race, the 8th at Del Mar, with winning 3-2 favorite Causeididitmyway while Fallica swung for the fences and came up empty with an off-the-board 16-1 shot.
Here’s how things looked with one race to go:
The favorite in the finale, again at 3-2, was the #1 horse Vantastic. Despite the tightness of the leaderboard, no one higher up than Phil Hoedebeck in 9th place used Vantastic. When Vantastic won, edging away from 6-1 Best Chance late, victory—and $235,000—was Miller’s.
A few side notes:
–Vantastic is probably the best 3-2 shot that Phil Hoedebeck has ever played. The chalky winner moved Hoedebeck up three spots from 9th-place to 6th at the end—a difference in prize money of $8,841.
–Vantastic paid $5.00 to win and $3.20 to place. Randall Miller’s winning margin was $6.20 over Alan Lahr…who used 7-2 second choice (and 5th-place finisher) Liar Liar in the last race, perhaps thinking that Miller would be on Vantastic. But Miller’s pick was 9-1 Sea of Liberty who ran 7th. More often than not, late-game strategy can be an exceedingly difficult puzzle to solve.
–No one did better on Sunday than Mark Mitchell. After scoring just $48.50 on Saturday, he added $173.40 to his total on Sunday to move all the way up to 9th place in the final standings (worth $14,735.25). Even better, his best-of-day Sunday score earned him another $16,372.50 in Day 2 bonus money. So Mitchell finished with more than $30,000 despite having a pretty forgettable Day 1.
–Two players headed into the Spa & Surf Showdown alive for $1 million bonuses if they won—Flo-Cal Faceoff winner Alan Levitt and Players Championship victor Dan Wilde.
Levitt didn’t do badly, but never gained any serious traction and wound up 89th in the field of 296 with a score of $149.10.
–Wilde, meanwhile, gave cause for the HorseTourneys accountants to sweat a little bit.
Wilde only had four winners across the two days, but each of them paid $22.40 or more to win, and he spent pretty much all of Day 2 within one cap horse of first place. That cap horse—and the million dollar bonus never came, but Wilde played great nonetheless and wound up in 15th place, good for a payday of $5,894.10.
–Last year, Scott Fiedler topped the list of Spa & Surf Showdown cashers. This year, he was at the bottom of that list, finishing 24th by 10 cents.
–The 2021 Spa & Surf Showdown was obviously the best Tourney Triple event ever in terms of purse. And it was probably at or near the top in terms of excitement given the absence of bombs…which led to a very tight leaderboard largely throughout (other than when Anthony Mattera was in the zone late on Day 1).
Thanks to all of you for making the Spa & Surf Showdown the record-setting event that it was. As we say goodbye, here’s a look at the top 24 (the cashing positions) in the standings: