Eric Kurzhal Sweeps Friday; The Fours Sweep Saturday (Weekend Recap March 1-3)

They say March comes in like a lion. Well it sure did here. The star of the weekend, thanks to his Friday performances, was Eric Kurzhal who scored a hat trick from a total of just four featured tournaments. Kurzhal’s exploits will havt to wait slightly, however, because the lead story was Saturday’s free NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers.

There were five NHC spots up for grabs in this one, and…well…there still are…because the seven-way tie has yet to be broken. (The NTRA is expected to do so later this week.)

Many of you (1,898 of you at least) know what happened because you played in the event. Others may have heard about it on social media. For those otherwise engaged on Saturday, there were two cap horses on the day. Thinkingofglenn in the 6th at Aqueduct and Jeltrin in the 12th at Gulfstream, the Davona Dale Stakes. Both were #4 in their respective races. And the other 10 fours didn’t do too badly either, accounting for a collective additional score of $48.90. So if you played all fours in this free contest, you finished with $176.90 and wound up in a seven-way tie for the lead.

First off, congratulations to Nick Bristow, Joseph Green, Jerry Stone, Jerald Segall, Michael LaMorte, Kevin Kilroy and Kenny McMahan.

Congratulations are also due to 8th-place finisher Joseph Eckert for a great day of handicapping.

And condolences go out to Charles Hartshorn, who elected to use the 4 horse in all races except one.

Some may ask whether congratulations are truly in order to the top 7. Didn’t they just get lucky? Well…yes, they certainly did. But they did way better than the many who registered but didn’t bother to enter any picks at all. And there were 130 (yes, 130) of them.

The one unsolved mystery to me (besides who the lucky 5 from the lucky 7 will be) is why so many people were on the four horse. Initially I assumed that there would be a like number of people who played the other numbers straight across the board. This was not the case.

One person had ones all the way across. One entrant used the number 2 in every race. Another played nothing but sixes. One used the 2 in every race but one. One used the six in every race but one—and that was it in terms of single-number (or near-single-number) picks.

How did this happen? Did players survey the entries and conclude that #4 offered the most longshots? Is 4 the new 7 as far as being a universal lucky number? These are questions for minds greater than my own.

At any rate, tiebreaker rules (given that all seven had the exact same picks) call for a random draw to determine this. It is now all in the hands of the NTRA, which is expected to settle the matter later this week. So stay tuned.

Obviously, luck is needed to win almost any tourney—even head-to-heads. The more players there are—and the higher the winning ratio—the more luck one needs to win. (Just ask Joseph Eckert, who unfortunately sits on the opposite side of this theorem.)

No one has won a free NHC contest before strictly by picking the same number in every race, but an NHC seat HAS been won before in a paid online tournament by doing that.

So perhaps the real surprise isn’t that seven players finished at the top of Saturday’s free NHC contest by playing a single number…but that it hadn’t happened prior to Saturday. Regardless…playing a number blindly is better than not entering any picks…but it isn’t exactly optimal game strategy.

The NHC contest monopolized the social media chatter—but it didn’t monopolize the excitement or the showcase performances…especially that of Eric Kurzhal on Friday.

Kurzhal had five winners plus a runner up to take top honors in the day’s Horse Player World Series qualifier. Also earning $1,500 entries were the second- and third-place finishers Brent Sumja and Tom Dillon.

Happily for Kurzhal, he played those same selections in Friday’s $5,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

Here the score of $106.60 was redeemed for the top cash prize of $5,633 from a final total purse of $11,266.

Kurzhal wasn’t done collecting, however.

He tripled up on those same picks to capture the top spot in Friday’s $75 NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers as well. Finishing second, to also earn an NHC spot, was Tom O’Connor. It should also be noted that Brent Sumja played three entries in this event, and finished 3rd, 5th and 8th with them. Obviously Sumja would prefer to have won an NHC spot, though he did receive a total of $600 in breakage prizes (plus some hefty NHC Tour points for the third-place finish) as some consolation for his strong overall performance.

Perhaps surprisingly, Kurzhal elected not to enter Friday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier and, wouldn’t you know…

…it turns out he wouldn’t have won it.

The winner was $75 NHC qualifier runner up Tom O’Connor, who recorded five winners (including hits in the final two contest races) plus two places and improved upon his NHC qualifier score by $7.20 to $108.70. Therefore, had Kurzhal turned in another $106.60 score here, he would have gotten the middle of a donut. So not only did Kurzhal handicap remarkably well on Friday, he spotted himself brilliantly!

Moving back to Saturday, there was a pair of pay-to-play featured tourneys at HorsePlayers.

No one in the paid featured games at HorsePlayers had both Thinkingofglenn and Jeltina like the “Lucky 7” did. Anthony “ATM” Mattera had Thinkingofglenn, though. And he added 9-1 Fountain of Youth winner Code of Honor later to win Saturday’s BCBC qualifier.

Steven Doodnauth (4 wins, 1 place) and Ernest Powers (4 wins, 2 places) were also in the Thinkingofglenn camp.

That got each of their tickets punched to the 2020 NHC. No random drawing needed here!

Back here at HorseTourneys, Alistair Wallbaum did have both Thinkingofglenn and Jeltina in Saturday’s $17,500 Guaranteed cash tourney. Was he just playing numbers??

After the first eight races, it appeared it was possible…since his picks, sequentially were 8-3-4-4-8-3-4-4. Granted this would have been a much higher-level mnemonic…way more advanced than a mere 4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4. But then Wallbaum shot our conspiracy theory to hell by playing 1-8-2-5 in the final four races. (Or maybe this is all just part of a more complicated number sequence that our minds can’t comprehend.) In any event, “AW” can afford plenty of root beer at his local grocery store after cashing for $10,147 in a game that had a closing pot of $22,549.

Of all the Saturday winners to just have either Thinkingofglenn or Jeltrin, Buffalo’s Russell Priola was the only one to have picked Jeltrin.

Jeltrin was one of Priola’s three winners en route to victory—and a $3,500 package—in Saturday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier. Also earning a Keeneland junket was runner up Bob Montgomery, who will be at The Orleans later this month to defend his Horse Player World Series title.

The other two Saturday featured tournaments were both won by Roger Cettina.

Cettina will be making a short drive down I-95 from his New Jersey hom in two weeks after winning our first qualifier to the March 16 Laurel Champions tournament. Joining him there at Laurel will be runner up Coleen Curley.

Cettina will have to head to Newark Airport to redeem his other prize—a full-package berth to the Horse Player World Series (now less than four weeks away).

Finishing not far behind Cettina in this one—and also earning full HPWS packages—were second- and third-place finishers David McCarty and Dan Brockman.

On Sunday, Eric Bodley only used one 4 horse…

…but he still racked up the day’s high score and got his ticket punched to the NHC. Runner up John Strichek also won a seat, and he didn’t use a single 4!

Last week, William Smith won a $2,000 entry to the Spa and Surf Showdown. He may have been even luckier this week.

Smith had four winners, but nothing higher than 5-1. His score was a modest $56.10 in our $10,000 Guaranteed “Big Bucks” Pick & Pray. But only seven others showed up, so the game went off as an 8.6% overlay to players, and Smith was the main beneficiary of the entitlement. His $56.10 brought home the top prize of $7,000.

Craig Hom had but two winners and one place.

One of those winners, though, was 19-1 shot Majestic Luna in the 8th at Gulfstream, and the long price propelled Hom to victory in our qualifier to the September 21-22 The BIG One at Laurel.

Four was a lucky number for Glenn Bechtel…at least in terms of him having four winners plus a place horse.

That combo got him the first-place prize of $6,523 in Sunday’s $10,000 guaranteed cash tourney, which closed with a pot of $14,496.

Gary Bain (5 wins, no places), Wayne Collier (3 wins, 2 places) and Steve Pavich (2 wins, 1 place) were the three winners in our last-chance qualifier to next Saturday’s TSG Ultimate Betting Championship.

Collier and Pavich caught 7-1 winner Rage Away in the contest (and race card) finale at Gulfstream to snatch $3,500 packages. They, along with Bain, will have the option of playing next Saturday at Gulfstream, Santa Anita or via

Another last-chance offering was our qualifier to the March 9 Aqueduct Gotham Challenge.

There were five winners here: Marc Racenstein, Pete Acocella, Patrick Runyan, Robert Pennell and David Harrison. They can play their $500 entries either at the Big A or through

Donald Kloehn turned a modest score of $61.00…

…into a nice victory worth $700 in entry fees for the March 29-30 Hawthorne March (appropriate) contests. Kloehn had three firsts and two seconds to get to his winning score.

Howard Schwartz and Eric Pineiro became the 22nd and 23rd players to qualify for August’s $100,000 Guaranteed Spa & Surf Showdown.

Schwartz recorded 3 winners and 2 runners up en route to his daylight victory. Pineiro 2 wins and 2 seconds. Both will now be in the Spa/Surf starting gate with paid up $2,000 entries in the two-day online tourney.

Dan McCormick was one of a few who won a grand prize thanks to final-race 7-1 shot Rage Away.

McCormick snuck in by a scant 70 cents to claim his $2,500 package to the Monmouth Pick Your Prize tournament.

Do you have a bunch of public handicappers that you enjoy cross-checking your top picks against? Me either.

But one such handicapper I do sometimes do that with is Kenny Peck of Daily Racing Form. Perhaps I should have done that on Sunday.

Peck led the way in our Horse Player World Series qualifier (an event Peck has cashed in…and blogged about…in the past). Joining the accomplished New Jersey-based youth football coach (and handicapper) at The Orleans will be Robert Blake (it would be cool if he showed up with a cockatoo), Carl Rasak and Marc Wlodkowski.

Tim Catlett got the money—in this case, $1,239—in our $1,000 Guaranteed Exacta tourney.

Catlett connected on four exactas in this $1,770 game. His biggest came in the 12th at Gulfstream ($77.40 for a buck).

Over at HorsePlayers, there was one featured tournament. Jared Henry did all his scoring over the first eight races.

When you rack up $137.90, you can often afford to cool off a bit. Henry did, but it didn’t cost him. His five winners, including 28-1 shot Sean’s Idea in the 8th at Tampa—secured him the coveted $10,000 entry in Sunday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio qualifier.

Whether you played names, numbers, jockey’s colors, the alphabet system or some other highly scientific method for doping out your plays, we hope you had an enjoyable weekend. Thanks for reading.