Donald Markwardt Captures Four Tourneys Over Two Days; Heat Takes its Toll on Saturday Cards, but Meier and Nemetz Suffer No Ill Effects (Weekend Recap July 19-21)

Summer is the new Winter when it comes to racetrack cancellations. February’s snow and ice has nothing, it seems, on July’s heat and humidity. Fortunately, many of the weekend’s cancellations came with advance notice, so there was minimal damage suffered to our little tournament ecosystem here at HorseTourneys. Plus, everything was well-predicted in advance, so most of what went on was fairly easy to anticipate—Monmouth’s Saturday card notwithstanding.

It was sort of comical to think that one of the few places you could count on mild, temperate weather during a July weekend was South Florida. Anyway…if any of you wondered why we leaned more heavily on Del Mar and Gulfstream on Saturday and Sunday…and only went with three Monmouth races on Haskell Day and three at the Spa on Sunday…it was to minimize the chances of our multi-track featured schedules having to be scrapped due to our 70% rule. For those unfamiliar with that little-known codicil in the Faber constitution, our rules state that we march forward with a tournament provided that at least 70% of the scheduled races are run. So if we lose three out of 12 races, that means 75% of the races are still being run. No problem! If we lose four, then only 66% wind up being run. Problem!

There was no need to invoke double-secret probation on the weather on Friday. It was warm but not hot. Stephen Thompson was hot, though.

“The Undertaker” had four winners, including Claytnthelionheart ($26.60, $13.30) in the 10th at Saratoga. With winners like that one, Thompson didn’t need any place collections to close the lid on his foes and grab top money of $5,801 in Friday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Pick & Pray…which finished up with a total purse of $11,602.

All 12 of our featured-tourney races were run on Saturday—though not exactly as scheduled. The 10, 11th and 12th from Monmouth were supposed to be the first, third and fifth races of the contests. Instead they wound up being the ninth, eleventh and twelfth.

So what might have been an innocuous looking $5.80 winner (I’m So Fancy) in the 11th at Monmouth turned out to be the key difference maker for Steve Nemetz in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier at HorsePlayers.

Nemetz had four firsts and two seconds to edge Garry Adley by just $1.30 and take home the $10,000 entry to racing’s big weekend in November.

Before Nemetz competes in the BCBC, he has an obligation to keep in Saratoga.

Nemetz, winner Grier Bibby and third-place finisher Angelo Romeo each had First Star ($56.80, $24.00) in the 5th at Del Mar to show the way and grab $3,500 packages to the Saratoga Springs on-track Challenge on August 9-10.

Steven Meier (4 wins, 1 place) had First Star, and he also had War Story, the upset 7-1 winner of the better-late-than-never Monmouth Cup.

That led Meier to victory—and a $3,500 package—in our 1-per-25 qualifier to the Keeneland NHC/BCBC Challenge. This event drew just 19 entries—one fewer than the specified minimum for the event to go ahead. Given the crazy nature of the day, though, HorseTourneys President McKay Smith gave us permission to run the event with 19—and that turned out to be good news for Meier.

There was more good news where that came from.

Meier’s score in Saturday’s 2-seats-guaranteed NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers dipped by $3.00, but it was still sufficient to beat all but Jeff Sandler. So Sandler and Meier each “got qualified” to Vegas.

Saturday’s high score was posted by Mike Lazarus in our Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier.

Business was brisk in this one, allowing us to award $2,000 entries to the top four finishers. Lazarus and soon-to-be Spa/Surf opponents Joseph Rosen, Grier Bibby (the day’s Saratoga qualifier winner) and Joseph Karabaich all had First Star, but Lazarus also had 12-1 shot Perfect Beam in the 10th at Gulfstream to supercharge his total.

Another more-than-solid score was put up by Stephen McNatton.

He had four winners and another four runners up to roll home by $38 in our Orleans Fall Classic package ($500 entry + $500 travel) qualifier.

Matthew Baca had a relatively low score of $79.40…but therein lies the beauty of Super Low Ratio qualifiers.

This one was for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge over at HorsePlayers, and Baca (2 wins, 2 places) was the only one of 15 to have First Star, which did most of the heavy lifting for him in winning the coveted $10,000 BCBC entry. (Baca’s other entry in this event came in third.)

The weekend’s richest tourney, our Saturday $17,500 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, was won by the weekend’s most successful player Donald Markwardt.

Markwardt had five winners plus a place collection. He hails from Pasadena, Calif., so perhaps that explains why all five of his winners came at Del Mar, including 27-1 cap horse First Star. The tourney victory for Markwardt meant a payday of $8,858.

On June 30, Markwardt made $6,816 in capturing a $13,633 cash tourney, so he had been on a nice run. As it turned out, though, Markwardt was just getting warmed up.

Bidding to join Sally Field, Julia Child, Lance Ito and three-fourths of the original Van Halen (all but bass player Michael Anthony) on the list of famous people from Pasadena, Markwardt entered our Sunday qualifier to The BIG One.

He and Anthony “ATM” Mattera were the only two to score above $90 (a figure more easily reached after both had 29-1 winner Mominou in race 11, the Caress Stakes, at Saratoga), and so both won all-inclusive packages to the Sept. 21-22 event at Laurel where a field of no more than 57 will gather to compete for at least $75,000 in cash, 10 NHC spots, five BCBC entries and five Pegasus World Cup entries.

Flush with his recent cash-game successes, Markwardt had plenty of money in his HorseTourneys account to spring for a $500 entry in the NHC Low Ratio qualifier on Sunday at HorsePlayers.

His score dipped a little here, but Markwardt (3 wins, 1 place) was still best to get his ticket punched to Vegas for the NHC.

You knew it was Markwardt’s weekend when you looked at the results of Sunday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney.

Markwardt had two wins and four places in this contest, which carried a $1,150 entry fee. None of those collections was any kind of longshot, though. In fact, his two winners paid just $8.80 and $8.20. But there were just eight opponents in against him, and neither Markwardt nor any of his foes managed to turn a flat-bet profit. His score of $45.00 proved best, adding another $7,000 to his coffers in a game that went off at a mere 3.4% takeout to the players.

So that meant a total of $15,858 for Markwardt plus seats to The BIG One and the NHC in just over 24 hours. Not a bad weekend playing the ponies.

Ken Zelin had the top score in the $10,000 Guaranteed, $195-buy in tourney.

Zelin had three winners and three places to pocket $6,551 in a game that closed with a pot of $13,115. And there was Donald Markwardt, picking up another $786 for checking in fifth. Make his weekend cash total $16,644.

Michael Kavana had two of the nine entries in Sunday’s $1,000 Guaranteed Exacta tourney—which went off at a loss to HorseTourneys and at just a 1.1% rake to players.

The scores belied the low turnout. Kavana was best with five exactas out of 12 races on one of his tickets to win the top prize of $700. (His other entry came in fourth.) Kavana’s biggest collection came in the 12th at Saratoga when his three-horse, $1.00 exacta box returned $39.25.

The other cash game of the weekend was our $8 Pick Six Jackpot tourney.

Warren Coger claimed top honors in this one by nailing the last three winners after firing blanks on the first three. Since no one picked six correctly, next week’s jackpot carryover will be about $2,250.

Sunday was also our last chance qualifier to next weekend’s Del Mar Summer Handicapping Challenge. No leaderboard screenshot is available, unfortunately, but trust me when I say “Congratulations” to the two players who cracked triple digits…Daniel Zaretsky and Joji Mangubat. They were the winners of $8,000 entries to Del Mar plus another $500 for their travel expenses. Good luck to them next weekend!

There was an NHC qualifier here at HorseTourneys as well on Sunday, and it was won by “The Commissioner” Tim Smith and Ronald Richardson.

Both had Mominou ($61.50, $22.20) in the 11th at Saratoga to put themselves squarely into contention. Then both had Bombard ($9.20, $3.80) in the final contest race, the 6th at Del Mar, to seal the deal.

William Cullen (2 wins, 4 places) won the entry-only Orleans Fall Classic qualifier by a pole on Sunday.

It was a long way back to Robert Yurgionas in second…but he won a $500 Fall Classic entry too!

George “Ki” Bosch and Ken Jordan were the latest to join the roster of qualifiers to the August 3-4 Spa & Surf Showdown, a two-day online competition featuring only Saratoga and Del Mar races.

Jordan secured his $2,000 entry to the Showdown (current purse: $153,990) despite picking just one winner (Saratoga longshot Mominou) to go along with three place collections.

Last but not least, our BCBC Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers was a tight one.

Peter Strauss (2 wins, 3 places) won the $10,000 entry by just $1.80 over Spa & Surf Showdown seat winner Ken Jordan thanks to having Bombard ($9.20, $3.80) in the final tourney race, the 6th at Del Mar.

Finally, we want to say a big “thank you” to everyone who played this weekend…especially on Saturday, when schedules sort of became, ahem, a hot mess. May you have a week ahead that contains more moderate temperatures and more punctual off times!