Raymond Riley Rules Friday; Glenn Gunter and Sean O’Malley Perform Multiple Festivus Feats of Strength; Pegasus Just the Latest Qualifier Win for Stephen McNatton (Weekend Recap December 21-23)

Raymond Riley’s motto on Friday was “Tis better to receive than to give.” That might not be much of a Christmas attitude, but it certainly was an effective one at HorseTourneys.

Riley had six winners and two places to raid the collection basket to the tune of $5,044 in Friday’s $5,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray—an event that closed with a pot of $10,089. On a day without a lot of big prices, Riley’s score of $75.90 was a formidable one and, fortunately for him, he played his 10 picks in more than just the cash tourney.

Riley was also king of the hill in our Horse Player World Series qualifier, where he and runner up Kevin Willett each earned $1,500 entries for the “March Major” at The Orleans.

In a rare display of unselfishness, Riley opted to let others win Friday’s Treasure Island NHC Last Chance tournament.

The beneficiaries of Riley’s absence were David Nelson and 2007 NHC Champ Stanley Bavlish, who each scooped up $500 entries to the NHC eve competition. For Bavlish, it was the second Treasure Island entry won in the last two weeks. Jon Van Niel finished a close but unlucky third, just 30 cents behind Bavlish.

There was a $75 NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers on Friday, and that meant even more holiday-season largesse for Riley.

Finishing first here was “Gambling Actuary” Dave Nichols, who is 19th in the NHC Tour standings and is already double-qualified to the NHC. Nichols obviously performed several complicated mathematical computations to determine that more NHC points could help ensure a nice NHC Tour bonus, so he was fine with leaving the NHC seats to others—in this case, Riley and Brent Sumja. It was the first 2019 NHC seat won by Riley and the second for Sumja, who is even higher up the NHC Tour leaderboard (11th entering last weekend’s action) than Nichols. The top 20 NHC Tour finishers as of the final tour-year day on January 12 earn cash bonuses and the top 40 finishers compete for a $25,000 bonus at the NHC. The bonus goes to whichever of the 40 finish highest at the NHC. So, in case any of you were wondering, that’s why so many double-qualified players keep playing in tournaments towards the end of the year.

Four more NHC seats were up for grabs on Saturday—two at HorseTourneys and two at HorsePlayers.

It was a battle of Las Vegans in the NHC Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers with Ron Ferrise (runner up in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge) getting the better of the redoubtable Sally Wang Goodall. Ferrise, a day early, pulled off the rather rare trick of winning a featured tourney despite picking just one winner. It was a good one, though—cap horse Razorback Lady in a turf sprint at Gulfstream (not a typical venue for success by Arkansas breds). Ferrise did augment his score with a pair of placings.

Meanwhile the NHC “Maiden Special” tourney, restricted to those who had yet to win a 2019 NHC seat, went to Richard Dahlgren.

Dahlgren recorded five winners and two places. His biggest and most important collection came in the final race with Chief Exchanger ($31.80, $11.20) in the 11th at Gulfstream.

Two more NHC tickets were punched in Saturday’s “regular” qualifier at HorseTourneys.

Michael Tomatz swept the final three contest races to close out a winning tally of five wins, two seconds and a score of $92.20. Joining Tomatz at The Big Dance will be Frank Perri, who had two selections visit the winner’s circle and two complete the exacta.

A dual winner on Saturday was Tony Martin.

He had the Patrick Biancone-trained cap horse Razorback Lady among his seven winners and two places to win $9,008 in the day’s $17,500 Pick & Pray, which closed with a final purse of $20,018.

Martin played those picks back in our Horse Player World Series Full Package qualifier and, not shockingly, he was much the best there, cruising home first over fellow package winners Joseph Loiacano and Joseph Gerard in the robust field of 77. Gerard got himself into “the money” in this Pick & Pray by hitting 14-1 shot Chief Exchanger in the contest nightcap.

The high score of the day—and weekend—belonged to Stephen McNatton in our Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier.

He posted an eye-popping tally of $152.40, built on an outstanding compilation of eight winners and a place. After losing Saturday’s first contest race, McNatton then took off like a department store Santa after a 12-hour shift, hitting six in a row. Here’s a look at his scoresheet:

So we now know that McNatton is heading to Keeneland next April. We knew last week that he’d be heading to the Horse Player World Series on a full-package scholarship. And on Sunday, there was more to learn about McNatton.

He’s heading to the Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship too! And so is Buffalo’s Russell Priola, the only player to best McNatton in a Pick & Pray that had an enthusiastic turnout of 68 entries. Priola and McNatton had similar results—four wins, two places for Russell and four wins, one place for Stephen—they had similar final scores…and they will head to Gulfstream with identical starting bankrolls ($12,000) to invest on January 25-26. (They also receive $500 each for travel.) Look for our next Pegasus World Cup direct qualifier on Sunday, January 6.

Sunday, December 23 was Festivus Day, of course, as all Seinfeld fans know. And what’s Festivus without a Festivus Miracle?

Gary Blair supplied us with that (or something close to that) from North of the border when he pocketed $9,261 with a somewhat pedestrian score of $54.30 in our Big Bucks tourney. Blair had just three collections from the 12 contest heats, recording winners in the 2nd, 10th and 11th races to secure the top prize in the $10,000 Guaranteed event, which finished up with a final purse of $13,230.

An always-important aspect of any Festivus is the Airing of Grievances. We won’t get into those because, as horseplayers, we know there always plenty of those to go around all year long. So in that respect, every day is like Festivus for the rest of us.

What we will focus on instead is a more positive Festivus tradition: Feats of (Handicapping) Strength. There were many of those on display, and a couple of the most notable were performed by the muscle-flexing Glenn Gunter.

Gunter had six winners—and a place for good measure—to earn $6,903 in our $10,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray with closed with a pot of $13,806.

Gunter then repeated the feat in our Horse Player World Series entry-only qualifier.

In this popular contest, Jorge Cruz-Aedo (who has been on a roll of late) and David Durham weren’t quite as strong as Gunter, but they too were bestowed with $1,500 HPWS entries for their formidable performances.

Sean O’Malley had a big Festivus over at HorsePlayers.

His two wins and two places got him a $2,000 package to the NHC Super Qualifier at Santa Anita on January 5. O’Malley did all his…heavy lifting…early on in this one, whiffing on the final five races, but still managing to hold on for the victory.

It was largely the same story for O’Malley in the “regular” NHC qualifier at Horse Players.

Here, O’Malley finished a dollar behind Zachary Ledford, but since this qualifier had a two-seat guarantee attached, it was a happy result for each. Like the runner up, Ledford had a pair of winners, but he added handsomely to his winning total via five place collections.

Back here at HorseTourneys, there was a tight battle in the qualifier for next Saturday’s Monmouth NHC qualifier.

The two players who managed to score in the 60s—June Reeves (five winners) and Michael Kavana (four wins and two places)—were the two who emerged with $400 entries and $500 each for travel to Oceanport, New Jersey on the 29th.

A week after Monmouth comes the two single-day tournaments at Hawthorne on January 4th and 5th. Last Sunday our Hawthorne qualifier, and the $800 in entry fees that went with it, was won by Mark Odorisio.

This past Sunday, the Hawthorne qualifier was won by Michael Odorisio. For the Odorisios, it looks as though Chicago is their “kind of town.”

In our $1,000 Guaranteed Exacta tourney, Mack McClyment started fast, hitting a $1.00 exacta for $77.30 in the first contest race, the 6th from Gulfstream.

McClyment added three more exactas thereafter to earn the $851 first prize in a tourney that wound up with a final purse of $1,216.

The holiday spirit of giving was in abundance in our Sunday qualifier to the Treasure Island NHC Last Chance tournament. No fewer than six $500 entries were handed out in this one.

Congratulations to winners Karen Richards, Richard Spring, Thomas Olsen, Tony Marzolla, Jon Van Niel and Micahel Tomatz (who won an NHC seat on Saturday). I was particularly pleased for Van Niel since some idiot on Twitter (me) had erroneously reported that he won a Treasure Island entry on Saturday. That’s what I call taking matters into your own hands. Nicely done, Jon.

We are dark on Christmas Eve and Christmas, of course, since…well…all the tracks are closed. But we’ll be back open for business on Wednesday when it is opening day at Santa Anita. (They have a really nice card on Wednesday too.)

In the meantime, we wish you and your loved ones safe travels and a very Merry Christmas.