Ray Arsenault Wins $24,000 Tourney; John Meola Leads Parade of Late World Series Qualifiers; Christopher Podratz Grabs First Online NHC Seat (Weekend Recap, February 16-19)

Eric Wing blog pic

Contest players really do a great job of jumping right back into the saddle after a big event like the NHC. We hosted 20 featured tourneys over the now-immediately-after-the-NHC President’s Day weekend and virtually all of them drew large—and pretty salty—fields. Many of those “week-after” tourneys even took on something of an NHC “feel.”

The weekend’s opening act came on Friday and included the first of four consecutive Horse Player World Series qualifiers.

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Earl Pratt picked four winners (“on top,” as the tout sheet hawkers like to boast) to secure the first of what would be 18 HPWS prizes up for grabs during President’s weekend. Also winning a $1,500 entry in this opening tilt was Joe Koury, who has enjoyed a very strong start to 2018.

Friday’s high-profile cash game was a $6,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray that ended up with a final, pool-style pot of $8,742.

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Gary Machiz broke to the lead by hitting a longshot in the contest’s first race (the 7th at Laurel), and he only improved his position from there, adding three more winners and three more runners up from the remaining nine races of the 10-race tourney. For his efforts—and his smarts—Machiz earned $4,371.

Saturday marked the year’s first online qualifier to the 2019 NHC. So that brought HorsePlayers back into the weekend mix.

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Christopher Podratz and Bill Shurman (by 40 cents) are two top tournament players who already know they’ll be part of the 20th renewal of the NHC, thanks to their big performances on Saturday. Each had four winners, including the instrumental 40-1 shot Horse Greedy in the 8th at Santa Anita.

Given the existence of that first 2019 qualifier, we thought the day, overall, might have an NHC feel. It turns out, we didn’t know the half of it.

0217 20K Gtd.

Check out the in-the-money finishers in this $20,000 Guaranteed game, which finished with a final purse of $24,850. Right there on top is 2017 NHC Champ Ray Arsenault, who can now add another $11,182 to his career contest bankroll. Finishing in second and fourth positions were only a pair of NHC Hall of Famers—Paul Shurman (Bill’s brother) and Steve Wolfson Sr. (now also the sire of an NHC Hall of Famer). In 8th place was Garett Skiba, who earned $125,000 for his third-place finish behind Chris Littlemore in the most recent NHC (runner up Keith Fenton was prominent early in this tourney before fading slightly). And, hey, down in 10th was the aforementioned 2019 NHC qualifier Christopher Podratz.

Twitter put it more succinctly than I could:

Tough ass field tweet

Finishing third in this star-studded $24,000+ tourney was Steve Abelman. He won $2,485 for doing so, which we are glad to see…because he had some bad luck in Saturday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier.

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The three winners of $3,500 packages were Marc Stateler, Bob Montgomery (whose name constantly reminds me of the old Red Sox backup catcher and much-loved TV broadcaster who was sort of the precursor to Jerry Remy) and Robert Ruocco. Abelman actually finished in a dead-heat for third with Ruocco, but the third and final available prize went to Ruocco since he had selected four first-place runners to Abelman’s three. Still, it was certainly a winning day for Steve.

It was also a nice day for the five (four?) Saturday winners of Horse Player World Series entries.

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Finishing with a triple-digit bankroll essentially got you the top prize. The always-dangerous Brett Wiener (1st) did so. So did Myles Richards (2nd) and George Henning (5th). And Jared Black did it twice, finishing 3rd and 4th to earn a pair of $1,500 entries. (Coming close to also winning a pair of entries was Wiener, who also checked in 6th.)

Seven more Horse Player World Series entries—plus hotel accommodations and travel stipends—were awarded in Sunday’s HPWS Full Package Blowout.

0218 HPWS Full Blowout

There were seven winners in all: Francis Boustany, Tom Dillon, Ron Ricciuti, Chad Sears, John Meola, Stewart Butler and John Standiford. As you can see, scores were tight up and down the leaderboard. While we didn’t have a dead-heat at the bottom of the prize cut line as we did in Saturday’s Keeneland game, that was nearly the case here as well, with John Standiford nosing out 8th place finisher Lucas Van Zandt by just 20 cents.

The day’s big cash game came down to the final race.

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When Ransomed ($10.80, $3.60) reported home first in Santa Anita’s 7th race, that meant good things for Al Roehl and Marty DeRoin, who both had Ransomed and wound up finishing first and second, respectively in Saturday’s $12,000 Guaranteed event that finished with a total pot of $15,531. For Roehl, the 4-1 return on Ransomed helped safeguard a contest pay day of $6,989.

There were a trio of “first chance qualifiers on Sunday. One was for the March 11 TSG Ultimate Betting Challenge taking place concurrently at Gulfstream and Santa Anita.

0218 TSG Ult Chall.

Sean O’Malley had just two winners and two runners up from 12 races, but he made them count, taking home first place and the $5,000 package. Brian Herrity garnered the other available package for coming in second.

The other two first chances were for a pair of $500 buy-in Aqueduct tournaments—one on Gotham Day (3/10) and one on Wood Memorial Day 4/7).

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Louis Mellone had Ransomed in the last race to edge past Ken Seeman at the end.

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Fortunately for Seeman, he took a shot in the Wood qualifier as well, and while his picks weren’t identical, his scores were, and this time $79.20 got him home first. So on April 10, look for Seeman at Aqueduct—a place he has spent a day or two in the past.

John Fisher and Bob Bandzwolek will be seen a bit farther down the eastern seaboard in June, having won packages Sunday to the Monmouth Pick Your Prize tournament.

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Fisher and Bandzwolek took different paths to their prizes. Fisher had three winners (including last-race Ransomed) while Bandzwolek had a gaudy six winners. Obviously, Fisher’s were a bit longer in price than Bandzwolek’s, but there’s always more than one way to attack, and win, a contest.

Just ask Kyle Fitzgerald and Ted Hanna.

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They finished one-two in Sunday’s $2,000 Guaranteed Exacta tourney that closed with a final purse of $2,357.

Hanna was a veritable winning machine, cashing six exactas out of 12 races, to claim the $589 runner’s up prize.

Hanna Ex sheet

Fitzgerald took a different approach.

0218 Fitzgerald Ex sheet

Fitzgerald was like Earl Weaver, sitting back and waiting for the three-run homer, and the one he got early in the game wound up holding up—though just barely. Had Hanna’s final race exacta paid just 80 cents more, the top two spots would have been reversed. That’s baseball.

The Laurel Champions tournament on March 3 is now less than three weeks away. Three players who will definitely be on hand are Joseph Cuppy, Garry Mannion and Don Allen.

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We hope our friends at Laurel have better weather for their March 3 tournament day than they had for their all-too-accurately named Winter Carnival of Racing on Saturday. They did a great job to get the card (and two of our Saturday featured-tourney races) in, though.

Over at HorsePlayers on Sunday, Jim Meeks (six winners, including the first four) was the first to use a Super Qualifier to qualify for the 2019 NHC.

0218 HP NHC Super Q

And John Howland, James O’McKenna Jr., Christy Moore, Michael Pink and Kevin Harrell filled the top five spots in the day’s free NHC qualifier. They will all win NHC seats pending verification by the NTRA that all were duly signed up as 2018 NHC members.

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On President’s Day, Kevin Engelhard was cold early, cold late, but red-hot in the middle.

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During the 4th and 5th at Santa Anita and the 11th and 12th at Gulfstream, he hit four winners in a row at odds of 5-1, 8-1, 4-1 and 8-1 to take down the $6,583 top money in Monday’s $8,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray that wound up with a final purse of $14,629.

Monday also saw three more qualify to the Keeneland Grade One Gamble.

0219 KEE Grade One

Congratulations to $3,500 package winners Peter Osella, Pat Stich and Gary Wright. Stich unleashed a furious stretch rally to gain his spot. He hit the last three winners, including 6-1 Moonlight Drive in the final contest race (the 9th at Santa Anita) to get up for second.

The final four winners of Horse Player World Series entries during the weekend were decided in Monday’s qualifier.

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Leading the quartet was 2013 HPWS winner James Henry. Also winning were Jon Van Niel, Howard Johnson and John Meola—who was also one of our seven Horse Player World Series Blowout winners the day before.

A big name also won Monday’s Laurel Champions tournament qualifier.

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Topping the charts here was 2007 NHC winner Stanley Bavlish. On March 3, he can win a seat to the 20th NHC…or an entry to the BCBC…or The BIG One. With the same opportunity is David Sferra, who also secured an entry to Laurel for finishing second behind Bavlish.

At HorseTourneys, sometimes there’s as much to gain by being Vice President as by being on top of the ticket. Thanks for being a part of our fun.