Gary Blair Wins BCBC Seat Saturday, Then Gets Really Serious on Sunday; John Nichols and Steve Arrison Double Up; Bob Montgomery and Joe Pettit Turn Saturday Into Champions Day (Weekend Recap October 26-28)

There are a lot of racing observers who sort of morph into workout analysts or students of horseflesh during major weeks like this one. A great many of them do not really “know what they’re looking at.” John Nichols is not one of those people.

Nichols is a clocker at Churchill Downs, and also an excellent tournament player. His eye is not focused on horses taking baths or (my favorite) horses stepping off of vans, but on how horses look in the mornings where it counts…on the racetrack. When all of the big horses gravitate to Churchill Downs—like on Derby week…or this week…his senses seem to grow even more acute, and he becomes an especially dangerous player. That was reflected in Friday’s results.

On a day without a lot of bombs, Nichols selected seven winners out of just 10 races to capture the BCBC Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers by about $20 over Joe Hyerczyk and Elio Imbornone, who also won $10,000 BCBC entries. Both Hyerczyk and Imbornone cinched their prizes thanks to a $10.80 place return in the final contest race.

Getting back to Nichols, in case the BCBC doesn’t work out for him, there’s always the NHC.

His same, 7-for-10 picks got him first place in Friday’s $75 NHC qualifier. The runner up was Bill Shurman, who is already double qualified to the NHC and, thus, playing for Tour points only. That left the other NHC seat in the 2-seats competition to third-place finisher Darryl Lacy who mixed in three places to go with his three winners.

Lacy also figured prominently in Friday’s $5,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

Lacy had the same three wins and three places in this event, which finished up with a total pot of $10,425. Unfortunately for Lacy, Alan Denkenson had those very same six horses. It was a finish perhaps worthy of a Hollywood script, and Hollywood scripts are not altogether unfamiliar to Denkenson.

A famed Las Vegas gambler equally adept at sports and the ponies, Denkenson was portrayed by no less than Bruce Willis in the 2012 movie “Lay the Favorite.” (Vince Vaughn and Catherine Zeta-Jones were also in the movie, playing the lesser roles of people who didn’t go on to win events at HorseTourneys.) Anyway, since Denkenson and Lacy were on the same six that provided all of their win/place returns, the HorseTourneys stewards were roused from their afternoon naps and forced to invoke the seldom-needed “Most Show Horses” tiebreaker.

As the above graphic shows, Denkenson won the tiebreaker by a count of 2 to 1, earning him the top prize of $5,212. We’re sure that Denkenson has won countless sports bets over the years by half a point thanks to him getting “the best of the number.” Still, this has to be one of the narrowest margins of victory in his storied gambling career. Meanwhile, for his efforts in serving as the Rocky Balboa to Denkenson’s Apollo Creed, Lacy received $2,085. For a player of Darryl’s caliber, however, future leading roles are undoubtedly still to come.

A couple of this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup runners may be exiting races at Britain’s Champions Day at Ascot. Saturday was like Champions Day at HorseTourneys.

The day’s richest tourney, our $17,500 Pick & Pray was won by Joe Pettit, thanks to five winners, including Acker ($9.80, $5.00) in the final contest race, the 8th at Santa Anita. Pettit pocketed $9,088 for the triumph, and if his name sounds familiar, it should. The Charleston, S.C. resident was also the victor in last month’s The BIG One at Laurel. Here he is holding the coveted The BIG One trophy.

Pettit wasn’t the only 2018 champ to ring the bell on Saturday. Last March’s Horse Player World Series winner Bob Montgomery did so as well in our NHC Low Ratio qualifier.

The Canadian ‘capper hit the first two races at odds of 13-1 and 15-1, then added a $4.20 place collection to seal the deal. If he goes on to win the NHC, it would represent quite a 12-month period for Montgomery. If he doesn’t, there’s always a shot at repeating in the HPWS.

And Montgomery won a full-package entry to that as well on Saturday, finishing behind only Chad Sears (5 wins, 1 place) in this qualifier, which had enough entries to bestow two grand prizes.

Montgomery actually did $22 better in the HPWS Pick & Pray than in the NHC live-format game. It was that kind of day. Sometimes the outcomes of featured tourneys are largely tied to players having one or two of the day’s big longshots (see Sunday). Saturday was the converse of that, and not because the day was all chalk. The day’s 12 winners ranged in price from $5.40 to $33.60. No odds-on horses, but also no cap horses. Beyond that, the place horses also offered a bevy of double-digit payouts. What it meant was that there were seemingly as many routes to victory on Saturday as there were players. Just ask Charles Baldini.

Chucky B totally whiffed on the last four races of our Aqueduct Challenge qualifier—but he racked up $103.80 on two wins and three places in the eight races before that to secure a $1,000 package to beautiful Ozone Park.

Over at HorsePlayers, there was not one, not two but three BCBC qualifiers on Saturday, including an “Elite” qualifier that carried a hefty buy-in of $2,300 but a winning ratio of just one in five.

There were enough entries to award two $10,000 entries and the beneficiaries of the low winning ratios were Pat Gianforte, who had three winners and two places; and David Nelson, who focused on shorter-priced horse and registered a whopping six winners plus a place. As we indicated earlier, the day was like a freestyle skating event in which competitors could do whatever they liked and still succeed.

Ken Zelin and Jon “Hurricane” Hurd were the two $10,000 seat winners in our $1,000 BCBC Pick & Pray.

In this event, the difference was made not by any gale-force winds, but more like a zephyr. Zelin had three out of the first four winners, but sewed things up thanks to hitting two place horses in the final two races. Similarly, Hurricane Hurd caught a gentle $4.60 place horse in the last race to make his three earlier winners really mean something.

Lastly on Saturday, there was our “regular” BCBC qualifier with a $179 buy-in.

Gary Blair (remember the name) finished first with a somewhat traditional looking stat line of three wins and two places. Coming in second was Brian Chenvert. Remember how we said there were many paths to Saturday success? Chenvert tested that doctrine to the max.

Chenvert hit the first race, then picked no further winners over the final 11 races. In fact, he didn’t collect a red cent in the final five races. Not only did he finish second, though, he recorded a triple-digit score thanks to four place horses that returned $22.00, $9.00, $13.90 and $19.90. Chenvert’s wasn’t the highest score of the weekend, but it was one of the most fascinating.

What WAS the highest score of the weekend was that posted on Sunday by Gary Blair, who was apparently just getting warmed up with his Saturday BCBC qualifier win.

Whereas the key winners on Saturday could have come from pretty much any race on the 12-race contest card, on Sunday, there were three key bombs. One was 56-1, another was 23-1 and the other was 25-1. If you had one of the three, you were in decent shape. If you had two, you were in great shape.

Gary Blair had all three.

The payoff for this mind-numbing, $231.60, Pick & Pray score was $5,263 in our $10,000 Guaranteed cash tourney. It was quite a weekend for Blair. Here’s hoping he has one more of those in him this weekend.

Nicole Cox and Craig Hom (second behind Gary Blair’s runaway-and-hide win in the $10,000 game) each had two of the three cap horses.

That got them over the $150.00 mark and into the “money” in Sunday’s “regular” NHC qualifier.

Howard Welsh had two winners and two winners only.

But they were the $49.40 and $52.80 ($42.00 for contest purposes, of course) longshots in the 5th and 7th at Santa Anita. And that was more than enough for Welsh to scoop $7,000 in Sunday’s Big Bucks tourney. In fact, Welsh ultimately only needed one of the two. He won the nine-player event by $77.00!

George Bosch also had two wins—topped by $49.40 horse Smokin B in the 5th at Santa Anita.

That gave Bosch top honors—and a $3,000 entry—in our first qualifier to the Gulfstream Park Conquer the Crown tourney on December 1.

Jim Gills had one of the bombers in our qualifier to the November 23-24 Hawthorne NHC Super Qualifier.

To secure the $1,300 package, Gills added a $13.00 collection ($9.00, $4.00) in the final race.

Michael Kavana had a similar road to victory in our Monmouth qualifier.

Kavana had one bomb, one modestly priced winner, and one place collection to win a $900 package to the Jersey Shore (which we hear is lovely in late December).

Nicholas Waryas won a featured tourney on Sunday with a score of just $56.80.

His Lone Star qualifier triumph was a departure from the Sunday norm. His collections were exclusively modest ones—three wins and two places in all—and that bested his 12 competitors. Next stop, Dallas!

Our $2,000 Guaranteed Exacta tourney featured the type of finish you’d think we see more often than we do.

Both Neal Thomas and Joe Rodgers had just one winning exacta out of 12 races. It paid $194.30 for a dollar, and that left both of them to share the top spot and the $1,974 that went with it.

As has been noted in this space earlier (I think), Steve Arrison always liked the Horse Player World Series in part because it affords him the opportunity to get in some future bets on the following month’s Masters.

He’ll be at The Orleans again next March thanks to his three wins and two places in our Horse Player World Series entry-only qualifier. Two years ago, Arrison’s Masters picks were Justin Rose, who lost in an excrutiating playoff to Sergio Garcia, and Patrick Reed, who won THIS year’s Masters. This year he liked longshot Charley Hoffman, who was in it well into the final day. We’ll certainly be endeavoring to find out who he likes in 2019. The man clearly knows his Augustas.

He’s also not bad at horse racing.

Yes, that’s Arrison’s name also at the top of the Sunday standings in the BCBC Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers. Arrison (4 wins and 1 place in this one) will be joined at the BCBC by runner up Jim Trepinski who had three winners, including $52.80 winner Hard Arch in the 7th at Santa Anita.

It was certainly a weekend filled with interesting winners and winning styles. If the BCBC has still eluded you—or if you’d love to have a second entry in your arsenal—keep in mind that we will have four final qualifiers at HorsePlayers this Wednesday and Thursday (Breeders’ Cup eve).

There will certainly be a lot riding on those Wednesday races at Mahoning Valley—though I suppose it’s doubtful that many at the suburban Youngstown oval will be aware of it. Mahoning Valley to the BCBC…now there’s yet another unconventional path to success!