Robbie Courtney and John Kimove Capture Three Friday Grand Prizes; Carl Rasak Sniffs Out the Sunday Bombs in All Optional Live Tourney (Weekend Recap January 3-5)

Robbie Courtney’s three-month saga seems to get even more remarkable with each passing week.

We earlier chronicled in this space how Robbie’s wife Molly passed away at home on October 31st after a long and courageous battle with cancer. The 53-year-old from Fort Worth, Texas, put his life on hold those last several weeks to care for Molly and to cherish those last moments together. Before she died, Molly made Robbie promise her that he wouldn’t abandon his hope of someday qualifying for the NHC. She knew how much that quest had meant to him. Maybe she even knew that her husband would eventually need something that would cause him to look forward…and not back.

Robbie Courtney

Three weeks after Molly’s death, on November 22, Robbie gave a 10-race NHC qualifier a whirl and—wouldn’t you know it? — he picked eight winners out of 10 races and got his first-ever NHC seat. He and his kids couldn’t believe his good luck and somehow felt that a higher power was in play.

Courtney continued to enjoy success in December at HorseTourneys, picking up a contest seat here and a contest seat there. Then came last Friday.

Courtney had six winners and a place to finish second behind the already-double-qualified Howard Blumberg to pick up another 2020 NHC seat. So in six weeks’ time, he’s gone from dreaming about the NHC to having the maximum number of entries to it. At the same time, he has fulfilled his promise to Molly not once but twice. If there is a bigger sentimental favorite at next month’s 21st renewal of the NHC, we’re not aware of who that is.

The third-place finisher in the above-referenced $75 qualifier at HorsePlayers, Bob Engelhard, was also double-qualified, so the second available NHC spot went to Canada’s John Kimove (winner of the 2018 Keeneland Grade One Gamble).

John Kimove

If Courtney and Kimove meet each other at the NHC in February, they can renew their acquaintance the following month at the Horse Player World Series.

Courtney and Kimove were the only two players to score in the 60s here and that got them each $1,500 HPWS entries…but (as they say on television informercials) that’s not all!

Courtney and Kimove (sounds like a law firm…or a TV series) were two of Friday’s six winners in Friday’s qualifier to the NHC Last Chance tournament at Bally’s on February 6. Also winning $500 entries were Chuck LeFevre, John “The Clocker” Nichols, Mike Martin and Joel Wincowski.

Before we cover the other Friday features, we’ll jump ahead temporarily to Saturday’s Last Chance qualifier to the Tampa Bay Downs High Rollers Contest…because the three winners included a very familiar name.

Yep, there’s Robbie Courtney again…this time using the same combination of 6 winners and a place to finish third behind fellow $1,000 entry winners Anthony “ATM” Mattera and John Garofano Jr. Fortunately for Courtney, the Tampa contest this Saturday gives winners the option of a 2020 or a 2021 NHC seat!

Getting back to Friday’s action, Gene Stewart turned a modest final score of $65.20 into something quite rewarding.

Stewart (3 wins, 4 places) caught a $6.60 place collection with Bruder Bob in the final contest race, the 8th at Hawthorne to get up late and take the top prize of $6,137 in Friday’s $7,500 Guaranteed cash tourney, which closed with a final purse of $12,274.

Derek Lapikas had just $60.40, but that was enough to defeat himself (in second place) and the 28 others in Friday’s qualifier to the January 25th Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship.

Lapikas’s biggest collection among his 3 firsts and 3 seconds came with Payntdembluesaway ($16.00, $5.80) in the 9th at Gulfstream.

Obviously Friday’s payoffs were on the chalky side, and so we certainly never mean any disrespect when we mention that a small score won a big prize. You can only collect what the winners return! The biggest score on Friday belonged to Ronnie Ogle.

Thanks to his total of $74.40, Ogle will now be taking a long look at the past performances on February 29 and March 1 when he’ll be competing in the $100,000 Flo-Cal Faceoff. Here’s how Ogle’s Friday went:

Jumping back over to Saturday, Mark Gluckstern and Craig Dixon will both now be heading to the NHC after running 1-2 in Saturday’s regular qualifier at HorsePlayers…but they took completely different paths to victory.

Gluckstern (6 wins, 1 place) hit four of the first five races en route to six winners and a place. Dixon had six winners in his own right, but needed to catch fire late and sweep the last three races in order to get up for second.

The other two featured events on Saturday were All Optional Live tourneys that required players to make 10 plays from among 25 eligible contest races.

Jon Van Niel and Sean O’Malley did the best job of picking their spots in our full-package Horse Player World Series qualifier. Van Niel came up with 6 winners and a runner up, while O’Malley doped out three winners and a place to each earn $1,500 entries plus four nights at The Orleans and $500 for travel to Vegas next March.

Saturday’s $15,000 Guaranteed tourney didn’t just come down to the last race…it came down to the last couple of jumps of the last race.

Happily for Mark “Santana” Tabakman, that last jump or two allowed his final race pick, An Eddie Surprise, to get up on the outside for a neck victory that propelled him to a victory over James Lisowsky in our All Optional Live cash game that finished up with a nice pot of $23,470. An Eddie Surprise paid $10.60 to win and $4.40 to place. And that paid Tabakman $10,561. Lisowsky had to settle for $4,224.

There were two big cash events on Sunday. One was our “regular” $10,000 Guaranteed tourney (the one with the $195 entry fee). It was run in All Optional Live mode.

Alistair Wallbaum took the winner’s share of $5,867 here thanks to four winners and no places. Actually, Alistair had three winners and a place, but the stewards (at Santa Anita…not at HorseTourneys) turned his runner up in the 6th race at The Great Race Place into a winner—and quite a winner it was. Devils Dance, elevated from second to first in the turf sprint, returned $95.00 to win and $31.40 to place. (That’s $42.00 and $22.00 to you and me.) Price caps notwithstanding, the “move-up” meant victory for Wallbaum in a game that closed with a pot of $11,735.

The other lucrative-currency contest on Sunday was our bi-weekly, $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks competition (entry fee: $1,150).

Mike Martin (winner of a $500 NHC Last Chance entry on Friday) prevailed by just 70 cents here in what was a traditional, 12-race Pick & Pray. Both he and runner up Gene Cahalan had final-race winner Bear Chum in this high-end Pick & Pray…so the difference essentially came down to Martin’s $4.40 place collection in the next-to-last race—the 8th at Golden Gate. Martin made $7,836 from a final, overall purse of $11,195.

Martin was also one of eight (!) to pick up NHC Last Chance entries on Sunday.

Also grabbing $500 spots for NHC eve were Joe Scanio, George Bosch, Tony Calabrese, G.T. Nixon, Pete Acocella, Howard Johnson and Mark Stovall.

Another 12-race Sunday Pick & Pray was the first qualifier to the April 19 Keeneland Grade One Gamble.

Rick Vasquez (4 wins, 1 place) must have been doing a dance when Devil’s Dance got elevated to the 6th race Santa Anita win at 46-1. Vasquez will show up at Keeneland this spring with a paid-up $3,500 entry in his pocket (plus $500 for travel).

Sticking with the Sunday “12-racers” at HorseTourneys, a “favorite son” won our qualifier to the Sam Houston NHC qualifier on January 26.

Texan Jorge Cruz-Aedo turned his $80 entry fee into a $1,000 Sam Houston entry thanks to a pair of winners and three almosts.

Sunday’s $1,000 Guaranteed Exacta tourney only drew seven entries and, thus, went off at an 8% overlay to players.

The main beneficiary of the overlay was David Bloom (2 winning exactas). If it had been a fight, this one would have been stopped after Bloom cashed a $144.10 (for a buck) exacta in the 3rd at Santa Anita. Bloom’s first prize was $700.

In Sunday’s $8 Pick 6 Jackpot tourney, David Wilganowski’s two winners came in the final two races, and that landed him in first place.

Since no one went six-for-six, the Jackpot rolls over to next Sunday…when it will be $4,374.

There were three other All Optional Live tourneys on Sunday (in addition to Alistair Wallbaum’s cash-game win). One was a battle for a $6,500 package to the Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship.

Bruce Pratt proved best here thanks to 2 wins and 3 places. He didn’t have Devils Dance in the 6th at Santa Anita…but he did have Lincoln City ($33.60, $13.80) in the 1st at Santa Anita.

Earning a seat to the $100,000 Guaranteed Flo-Cal Faceoff was Joe Scanio who recorded four wins and a place.

Scanio’s biggest hit was with Charmaine’s Mia ($27.60, $7.00) who got up late over the chalk in the 9th at Gulfstream.

The biggest score on Sunday was posted by Carl Rasak in our All Optional Live Horse Player World Series entry-only qualifier.

Rasak sort of did what lots of us hope to do in an NHC or Horse Player World Series scenario—identify races that could offer big payouts, then zero in on a horse that will deliver them.

He only had two wins and a place on the day. His first cash came with an innocuous-enough $8.00 place payoff. But then he hit Ollivander ($77.00, $19.40) in the 8th at Tampa and, later, DQ beneficiary Devils Dance ($95.00, $31.40) in the 6th at Santa Anita. That’s a pretty good day from just 10 plays…and especially when there are 15 other races to potentially distract you from the 10 races that you DO like.

The Ollivander race, race 8 at Tampa, is a good example of why some people really like All Optional Live tourneys…and why others don’t care for them. The 8th at Tampa didn’t make the cut as a contest race in our 12-race featured tourneys due to how cheap it was (an $8,000, non-winners-of-three-lifetime claimer on the dirt). On balance, our players have told us they prefer classier races in mandatory-race contests. All Optional Live tourneys, with their 25-race minimums, don’t typically afford us the opportunity to weed out the bottom-rung races, though, due to time considerations. So an $8,000 claimer can find its way into an All Optional Live event pretty frequently. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Race 8 at Tampa was obviously meat for Rasak.

Before we sign off, congratulations go out to Daniel Zaretsky.

He won Sunday’s NHC “Maiden Special” at HorseTourneys with a very nice 12-race score of $132.40 that was built on four victors and a runner up. Zaretsky is a 2020 NHC maiden no more!

Thanks for joining us for the first weekend of 2020. It wasn’t a good weekend for 40-year-old NFL quarterbacks…but we hope it was a good weekend for you. See you next week.