Gary Blair Picks Nothing but Losers but Still Collects $2,000; Ryan Flanders Picks Up Pair of Treasure Island Entries Plus $6,000; Yet another Hawthorne Seat for Michael Odorisio (Weekend Recap December 28-January 1)

There were 21 featured tournaments over the extended New Year’s Eve/Day weekend—and the most interesting competition, as it turned out, may have been saved for last.

We don’t normally run featured tourneys on Tuesdays, but last Tuesday was New Year’s Day, so we posted a $15,000 Guaranteed, No Limit Pick & Pray and players came out in droves, resulting in what was a final pot of $21,226. The large turnout wound up being great news for victor Joe Musacchio.

Musacchio had six winners and a place out of 11 races to finish with a leading score of $97.10. That earned Musacchio first-place money of $9,552. He finished strong in the first five-figure cash game of the new year, connecting in the last three races on winners at odds of 9-5, 13-1 and 3-2 to account for $60.00 of his $97.10 overall total.

Special mention in this one, however, has to go to third-place finisher Gary Blair, who finished less than $12 behind Musacchio. The 60-year-old bowling center manager from Toronto received $2,122 for his “bronze-medal” finish. Would you believe, that he racked up that $85.40 score without picking a single winner?

Here, five place collections—two of them cappers, none of them less than $12.00—added up to quite a lot. It’s understandable to feel disappointment when you pick a longshot and it runs second, but sometimes these runners up can be your friends…and very good friends at that.

Kevin Willett took a more conventional route to success in our big Friday cash game.

Willett hit Oblio’s Wish ($51.20, $18.60) in the 11th at Gulfstream, plus three more winners (and no places!) to pocket $6,040 in Friday’s $5,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a purse of $12,080.

Jon Petoskey was the only player in Friday’s Horse Player World Series entry-only qualifier to use Oblio’s Wish.

That longshot pick essentially clinched a $1,500 entry for Petoskey, who added just two other collections (one first, one second). Mike Yurczyk (3 wins, 3 places) did the best of the non-Oblio’s Wish backers to snatch the other available HPWS entry.

Friday’s high-score, built on the strength of four wins and a runner up, was posted by Thomas Kirchoff.

Kirchoff and his closest pursuer, Shawn Heron, both received $500 entries to the Treasure Island NHC Last Chance tourney thanks to their Friday feats.

Friday’s $75 NHC qualifier was a closely-contested affair. In fact, it finished in a tie.

This was one tie that didn’t need breaking, however, as two packages were guaranteed. Mark Richards and Anthony “ATM” Mattera got to their totals in different ways (Richards with Oblio’s Wish; Mattera without her), but both received the coveted NHC prizes thanks to their $95.60 totals.

One player likely sorry to see December come to an end is Jobby Blevins.

Blevins hit Gleyber and Competitionofideas in the final two contest races to go with three earlier wins and two other runners up. It all added up to $93.70 and top money of $8,801 in Saturday’s $17,500 Guaranteed game that had a final pot of $19,558. It wasn’t the first big win of the month for Blevins. On December 1, he hit the cash register to the tune of $16,500 by winning our “Gulfstream Opening Day” $35,000 Guaranteed tourney.

Joseph Costello, like Blevins, also had Gleyber ($14.60 to win) and Competitionofideas ($12.20) in the last two tourney races.

Those late hits helped put Costello (5 wins, 1 place) over the top in our Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier—and en route to Lexington with a $3,500 package in hand for the April 14 contest.

Paul Aussenhoffer (4 wins, 1 place) and Wendy Long (3 wins, 2 places) were the two contestants to score in the 80s in our Horse Player World Series Full-Package qualifier on Saturday.

Aussenhoffer and Long will both be headed to The Orleans in March where they will enjoy a complimentary four-night stay, plus $500 for travel and a $1,500 entry in the HPWS.

The big event at HorsePlayers on Saturday was the NHC Online Super Qualifier, which awarded NHC berths to the top 10 finishers.

Showing the way in this special, 15-race tourney was George Henning who had five wins, one place and a score of $149.30. His big win was with 38-1 cap winner Elevated Vision in the 9th at Laurel. Also punching their tickets to the NHC in this one were 2018 Horse Player World Series winner Bob Montgomery, Michael Pirrung, Alan Hoffman, Dan Churilla, David Sullivan, Dino Baccari, Ross Gallo, Chris “The Bear” Fallica of ESPN College Football fame and Joel Wincowski.

The Online Super Qualifier put a finishing touch on what had to be a bittersweet day for George Chute. The New Englander did manage to cash for $1,173 by finishing fifth behind Jobby Blevins in our $19,558 tourney. But he was 19th and 21st in the NHC Super Qualifier, he was second in a one-prize Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier and he was third in a two-prize Horse Player World Series qualifier. It was certainly not a bad day for Chute, but oh what another winner here or there might have done for him!

During a weekend with primarily live-format featured tourneys, there (predictably) weren’t many multiple grand-prize winners…but we did have one on Sunday—Ryan Flanders.

Flanders not only had six winners but he closed with a bang by hitting Bern James Bern ($17.20, $8.40) in the final contest race, the 10th at Gulfstream, to leave his opponents in Sunday’s $10,000 Guaranteed tourney both shaken and stirred. Flanders cashed for $6,040 in the game that closed with a pot of $12,080.

Flanders then used the exact same slate of six winners to similar success in our Treasure Island NHC Last Chance qualifier.

This event offered five $500 entries to the NHC eve competition…so Flanders will be joined in the second-floor ballroom on February 7 by Joe Scanio, Daniel Edwards, Jon Van Niel and Howard Johnson. In “HoJo’s” case, he finished tied for the last “in-the-money” spot but won a tiebreaker by having four first-place finishes to Jared Black’s three.

Sunday was our Last-Chance qualifier to next weekend’s NHC qualifiers at Hawthorne (the land of Slippin’ Jimmy for you Better Call Saul fans). If the result has a familiar ring to it, it should.

For the second consecutive Sunday, the Hawthorne qualifier was won by Michael Odorisio. (The week before that, it was won by Mark Odorisio.). Michael nailed the first four race winners en route to a six-win day. Among those looking to top the Odorisio clan in the two single-day Cicero, Illinois, tournaments on January 4th and 5th will be Matthew Ransdell who also checked in with a sextet of winner’s circle visitors on Sunday to claim the second available prize of $800 in Hawthorne entry fees.

There was also a pair of winners in Sunday’s Horse Player World Series entry-only qualifier.

Daniel Kaplan had five wins and three places to take top honors. Kelly Breckner, meanwhile, recorded seven winners, including five in a row in contest races four through eight, to report home second and take the other available $1,500 entry.

Sunday’s $1,000 Guaranteed Exacta tourney was captured by Neal Thomas.

Thomas connected on four three-horse exacta boxes—including a $98 for $1 score in the 7th at Gulfstream—to outdo the recently red hot Brian Graziano and take home the winner’s check of $1,084 in an event that closed with a purse of $1,548.

Three more NHC seats were earned on Sunday—one at HorseTourneys and two at HorsePlayers.

It was William Degnan who prevailed in the Lower Ratio qualifier at HorseTourneys thanks to a steady stream of eight collections (five on top, three down below).

The Sunday feature at HorsePlayers was a “regular” NHC qualifier with two seats guaranteed.

Both Matthew Vagvolgyi and Shona Rosenblum hit the “late double” in this one, registering winners at 7-1 and 4-1 in the final two contest races to get themselves into the top two and punch their tickets to Vegas.

The other featured Sunday tourney at HorsePlayers was a Last Chance play-in to this Saturday’s NHC Super Qualifier at Santa Anita where one NHC berth will be awarded per every 15 entries attracted. (There will also be a cash component to the prize pool as well. Go to or for further details.)

Kirk Tesar and Joseph Rosen each had five winners and four runners up to earn the $2,000 packages in this one. Tesar collected in each of the last nine races; Rosen added to his scoring total in each of the first eight. Streaks like those are never easy to pull off…even on chalky days.

Three more NHC berths flew out the door on Tuesday, New Year’s Day.

Only one spot was guaranteed in Tuesday’s $500 Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers—but enough entries were received for us to be allowed to award two seats. Brian Herrity had four wins and two places, while Mark Aylward did only half as well (two wins, one place) from a strike-rate standpoint. But Aylward had longshot Tikkan Olam ($28.20, $13.60) in the 5th at Santa Anita to get where he needed to be.

In the NHC “Maiden Special” restricted to non-winners of a 2019 NHC seat, Steven Schmidt took time out of his busy MSNBC schedule (just kidding) to take part in—and win—this event.

Things weren’t looking too great for Schmidt heading into the final minutes of this Pick & Pray. However, Schmidt had each of the final two contest race winners—Tikkan Olam and Pound Note (3-2 victor in the last at Gulfstream) to earn the seat. For Schmidt, his “double” had to feel even more exhilarating than normal given that the two races went off in one-after-the-other, rapid-fire succession.

There were two other featured tournaments at HorseTourneys on Tuesday in addition to the Joe Musacchio/Gary Blair $15,000 Pick & Pray. One was a Treasure Island NHC Last Chance qualifier.

Christopher Dewey and Karen Richards grabbed the first two of the three available $500 TI entries. Sneaking in for third was Ryan Flanders, who had won a Treasure Island seat just 24 hours earlier (along with a not incidental $6,000).

There was something of a happy ending to the weekend in the other Tuesday featured event at HorseTourneys.

Ted Cifaldi came in first here with five winners and two placers to grab one of the $1,500 entries up for grabs in the Horse Player World Series qualifier. Though we’re sure that was a very happy result for Ted, that wasn’t the happy ending we were talking about. We were referring to the second-place finish—also good for a $1,500 HPWS entry—recorded by George Chute, who finally got a desired result after so many close-but-no-cigar results on Saturday. (He also cashed for another $1,485 for finishing fourth behind Joseph Musacchio in Tuesday’s $21,000 tourney.

Win or lose, it’s always impressive when players have strong handicapping days more than once during the course of a weekend. Here’s hoping that many such days and weekends are in store for you in 2019.