Gary Blair Does it Yet Again, Adds Two More Cash Game Conquests; Agnello and Barnier Win Twice; Fourgate Settled! (Weekend Recap March 15-17)

For the second straight week, we lead with Gary Blair. With the exception of those who cashed big at the NHC, it seems fair to say that no one has had a better 2019. Certainly no one has been as consistent.

Back on February 23, Blair cashed for $10,250 by finishing first in a $22,779 Pick & Pray. He was quiet the following weekend, but came back strong on Sunday, March 10, earning another $7,765 for leading the way in a $17,257 Pick & Pray and then, for good measure, grabbing a $2,000 seat to the Spa & Surf Showdown in August.

The pins just kept falling this past weekend for the 60-year-old bowling center manager from Toronto.

He added another $4,455 U.S. (that’s worth even more in Canadian dollars!) to his bank account by picking five winners in Friday’s $8,911 Pick & Pray, including three in a row at odds of 7-1, 3-2 and 12-1 in the 7th, 8th and 9th races of the 10-race affair.

Gary Blair

Sunday’s cash games offered a different format, obviously a different set of races…and it turned out that hiding in there was a 60-1 shot at Aqueduct that not many Sunday players had. But Blair did.

New York cap horse Manifest Destiny was one of just two winners on the day for Blair, but it took him to a familiar spot—the top of the heap—in Sunday’s $10,000 Guaranteed cash tourney, which closed with a purse of $14,151 and further enriched Blair with another $6,368. Total earnings for Blair over the last 23 days: $28,838…plus that $2,000 Spa & Surf Showdown. Next weekend offers predominantly Pick & Prays. I may have to take a look at who Gary likes before I make any of my own wagers!

I may also want to “consult” Matthew Vaglolgyi’s selections next weekend.

The 37-year-old from Albany, N.Y., finished third and made $125,000 in his first-ever NHC last month, and he’ll definitely be back to try and do even better thanks to his triumph in Friday’s $75 NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers. Joining Vagvolgyi (easy for YOU to say!) on the Las Vegas Strip next February will be runner up Joe Johnson.

Both Vagvolgyi and Johnson recorded a super-strong five winners and three places from the 10 contest races. For Vagvolgyi, however, it was almost like he had eight winners because that’s how good those place payoffs of his were.

The other Friday feature was our Horse Player World Series entry-only qualifier.

Adam Lewis hit the final two race winners at odds of 12-1 and 10-1 to propel himself clearly into the top spot. Also winning a $1,500 entry were the two players who managed to score in the 80s—Scott Pulcini and everyone’s favorite gambling actuary, Dave Nichols.

Saturday’s offered a number of lucrative events, but the most anticipated contest was one that almost none of us could play—the Fourgate tiebreaker.

This, of course, was a continuation of the March 2 free NHC qualifier that resulted in a seven-way tie among players who had picked nothing but 4s in that Pick & Pray. This time around, no one opted for all fours…or all of any single number. The plays were spread around as in any typical tourney, and it was 40-year-old father of three Kevin Kilroy who cinched his NHC berth with a very solid tally of $77.40, built on fourwinners and two runners up. His biggest hit was America’s Tale ($24.40, $12.40) in the Inside Information Stakes—an aggressive play in an event in which you only had to beat two players to win an NHC seat. He was the only one to have the Bernie Flint-trained longshot in the field of seven, and led the group of five NHC seat winners that also included Jerry Stone, Jerald Siegel, Kenny McMahan and Michael LaMorte. Joseph Green and Nick Bristow didn’t win NHC seats in the tiebreaker but did each receive $500 in HorsePlayers credit as a consolation prize.

Incidentally, neither Green nor Bristow need to feel bad about having abandoned the fours that had worked so well for them two weeks earlier. An across-the-board usage of #4 in this tourney would have resulted in a final score of $25.00.

Joining Kilroy, Stone, Siegel, McMahan and LaMorte at the NHC will be Robert Yurgonias and David Barnier, who earned their seats on Saturday in a more conventional way.

Yurgonias (4 wins, 4 seconds) and Barnier (4 wins, 2 places) were the only players to reach triple digits in Saturday’s “regular” qualifier.

The story gets even better for Barnier. Even though, this was a “live-format” weekend, he played the exact same picks that got him the NHC seat in Saturday’s richest event, the $17,500 Guaranteed cash tourney.

Here Barnier took a backseat to no one, and he pocketed $9,088 in a game that closed with a pot of $18,200. And for those of you scoring at home, the second biggest headline of this contest may have been that Gary Blair played in it and only managed to finish 43rd. Dreadful!

We mentioned earlier that Kevin Kilroy was the only one of seven in the Fourgate tiebreaker to have 11-1 winner America’s Tale. But the Gulfstream longshot (the longest priced winner of the day in our contest races) was a very popular horse among those who did well on Saturday…owing at least in part to the fact that there were only seven horses in that race and, thus, there were fewer other places for a player to go.

Tom Dillon (3 wins, 3 places), John Vail (4 wins, 2 seconds) and Peter Osella (3 firsts, 3 seconds) all had America’s Tale on their scoresheet, and she helped lead the three to a full-package Horse Player World Series berth in Saturday’s qualifier.

Both of our Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier winners had America’s Tale as well.

Congratulations to Nick “529” Fazzolari (4 wins, no places) and Daniel Gallagher (4 wins, 1 place) who now have a trip to Keeneland in their near futures.

Back at HorsePlayers, the Saturday main event (besides the Fourgate Classic) was a “regular” Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier.

This was a nip-and-tuck battle between Ryan Carey and Greg Kingma that was decided by just $1.60. It was a little less nip-and-tuck in the final contest race, though, when Carey blocked Kingma by using the Chad Brown-trained favorite (who wound up finishing second to a Todd Pletcher runner).

There were other winners besides Gary Blair on Sunday. In fact, there was a multiple winner besides Gary Blair on Sunday.

The horse that would have been really nice to have on Sunday was 60-1 winner Manifest Destiny in the 7th at Aqueduct. Not many players had him, though. Perhaps it was the lack of an in-the-money finish in his last 10 starts. Perhaps people just don’t fully appreciate the talents of trainer William Younghans and jockey Tzeonn Chang. In any event, neither of our two winners in the NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers had the Aqueduct bomb.

John Agnello drew clear with 6 wins and 2 places. Dan Richards finished second with 3 wins and 5 places to also earn a seat. A couple of their foes did have Manifest Destiny, but it is only Agnello and Richards whose, ahem, Westward expansion is certain to reach Las Vegas in 2019 as a result of this qualifier.

When Agnello decided to use very similar picks in Sunday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier, his destiny was to win that event as well. And he did…again without Manifest Destiny.

Perhaps it was also destiny for runner up Brett Wiener to earn the second available $2,000 Spa & Surf Showdown seat. My understanding is that Wiener is not only a big baseball fan, but was also quite a good player back in his younger days. So perhaps it is more than a coincidence that three of his seven contest collections (and in consecutive races, too) were on Roseboro (1st), Schott (2nd) and Conforto (1st).

Horse Player World Series entries continue to be a popular item, especially with the event less than two weeks away, and Sunday’s HPWS Blowout attracted enough players for us to award a whopping 16 $1,500 prizes.

With a modest winning score in a 160-entry tournament of $72.90, George Chute of Massachusetts led the way, thanks to five wins and two seconds. He also grabbed a second $1,500 entry for finishing 13th. Sunday was St. Patrick’s Day, of course, so maybe it was fitting that Sean O’Malley finished second despite hitting just one winner (Manifest Destiny) and one runner up. Thomas Blosser (not Irish, to my knowledge) won an entry for hitting Manifest Destiny but not a single other thing.

Another New England resident, Joel Wincowski of Maine, ironically won our qualifier to The BIG One with the exact same winning score as his “neighbor” George Chute ($72.90).

Like Chute, Wincowski did not take advantage of the powerful Chung/Younghans combo, but he did make up for that omission with four wins and five place collections. Joel played in the 2016 The BIG One with his wife and son present to provide moral support. We look forward to seeing the Wincowski clan back at Laurel in September. We also hope that the victory helps Wincowski, a college administrator, take his mind off the highly distasteful Lori Loughlin/Felicity Huffman scandal.

For Glenn Bechtel, the big horse of the day wasn’t Manifest Destiny, but Empty Sky in the final contest race of the day at Gulfstream.

The win by Empty Sky (who paid $14.40 to win and $6.40 to place) shot Bechtel from out of the money in 5th place to lots of money in first place as the winner of Sunday’s Big Bucks Pick & Pray tourney. Bechtel pocketed $7,836 in the $10,000 Guaranteed high-roller event, which closed with a purse of $11,195.

On Sunday, we offered the first qualifier to the Steve Sexton Mile Day Challenge at Lone Star Park on April 28.

Michael Schalewski (5 wins, 1 place) and Steve Arrison (3 wins, 3 places) each earned $1,000 entries to the tournament named after the much liked and respected general manager at Lone Star (and later president of Arlington Park and then Churchill Downs) who passed away in 2016 at age 57 after a battle with brain cancer.

Sunday’s high score—even including the Exacta tourney—was turned in by Jason Alonzo in our Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier.

Alonzo had Manifest Desting plus three other winners and two places to accumulate his gaudy total. Jeff Bussan had nine collections, including four winners, to grab the second available $2,500 package to New Jersey.

The winning Exacta tourney total was a pedestrian $82.50…but pedestrian is as pedestrian pays for Joe Pettit, the 2018 winner of The BIG One.

Pettit connected on five exactas including a $35.10 (for $1) hit in the first contest race and a $25.40 collection in the nightcap to move himself into first place, which was worth $1,393. The $1,000-guaranteed game’s total purse ended up at $1,991.

$64.20 got the job done for Eric Gielata.

As a result, he won $700 in entry fees for the single-day tournaments at Hawthorne on March 29 and 30.

In the other Sunday feature at HorsePlayers, Jennifer Chenvert had blanked on her first five picks. Then came Manifest Destiny.

Another winner and three more places later, it was next stop, Breeders’ Cup Betting Challeng for Chenvert, who topped the leaderboard in this Low Ratio qualifier.

Next stop for us next weekend is the last chance to qualify for the upcoming Horse Player World Series. We hope that you can join us for those and some of the other exciting tourneys that we have scheduled. Have a great week.