Rhonda Graziano Takes Third Straight Exacta Tourney; Spa on Friday, Surf on Monday for Sean Alvarez; Ken Jordan Wins $11,000 Plus NHC, Spa & Surf Seats on Sunday (Weekly Recap May 20-25)

The recap blog is a day later than usual due to the Memorial Day holiday. So there’s more ground than ever to cover—25 featured events, to be exact. The first of them was a brand new contest combining the best of two different worlds.

It makes sense that a college administrator might thrive these days in an online environment. Joel Wincowski may have said “Lookie here!” when Lookie Loo took the 10th at Will Rogers Downs. The 7-2 victor was the last of Wincowski’s 5 wins and 3 places that earned him not just an admission to the NHC but a $1,944 merit scholarship as well in our first-ever seat-plus-cash NHC qualifier. This class meets weekly on Wednesdays, so the next one is tomorrow.

A quick note of appreciation to Will Rogers Downs, if we may. Last Wednesday was the final day of their meet. While their camera work may have been shaky (literally), they really helped fill a Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday void for us…and for the sport. Kudos—and thanks—to all involved there.

Michael Lynch Jr. certainly appreciated the final day of racing at the Claremont, Okla., track.

Kottoncandy Kisses ($27.40, $11.00 in the 7th at Will Rogers) was the major collection for Lynch among 3 wins and a place. Those plays landed Lynch top money of $2,519 in Wednesday’s $2,000 Guaranteed cash game, which closed wit a purse of $5,599.

Last week, it was a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat for Howard Schwartz. This week it was a Spa & Surf Showdown entry.

Schwartz had five winners—at prices of $3.00, $15.40, $3.40, $27.40 and $10.40—to earn a $2,000 entry to the August 15-16 online contest offering a guaranteed pot of $150,000. Numbers crunchers will note that the three winning scores on Wednesday fell within a very narrow range—$85.20 to $86.00.

Sean Alvarez has apparently had his eye on the Spa & Surf Showdown. He finished third behind Howard Schwartz on Wednesday. On Friday, he found himself at the top of the medal stand.

Alvarez finished with a flurry, cashing in each of the final four races en route to 5-win, 2-place day that saw him collect the $2,000 ticket to the Showdown.

It took Alvarez however long to get Spa & Surf Showdown seat number one. It only took him three days to pick up Spa & Surf Showdown seat number two.

Alvarez (4 wins, 3 places) had Keeper Ofthe Stars ($16.60, $7.40) in the final tourney race, the Grade I Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita, to move up from third-place to first in the Memorial Showdown qualifier…thus giving Alvarez a full complement of two Spa & Surf entries. The leader heading into the final race, John Gaspar, held on for second to grab the second available Showdown spot. Gaspar (2 wins, 4 places) had an important score in the next-to-last race with Lucky General ($15.20, $7.20) in the 10th at Golden Gate.

Getting back to Friday action, the high score of the day was posted by Dylan Donnelly in the $10,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

The leaderboard, alone, doesn’t really do Donnelly justice. His first prize of $9,501 from a final overall pot of $21,213 came via 7 winners—including the last 6 in a row!

Over at HorsePlayers, there were again enough entries in Friday’s $75 NHC qualifier to award three seats in the 2-seats-guaranteed event.

The skillful trio were Cody Bartlett (3 wins, 2 places), James Connors (4 firsts, 1 second) and Laura Arth (5 wins, 1 place). Bartlett got there by nailing the first three races early and adding his place collections late. Connors had the same three early winners as Bartlett. While Arth kept her powder dry for late in the game, collecting in the final four races to snatch third.

Friday’s BCBC qualifier at HorsePlayers had a tight and exciting finish.

Russell Priola trailed Chris Cennamo by 40 cents going into the last race, the 6th at Santa Anita. Cennamo had the winner of that nightcap (which paid $4.40, $3.00), but flying home late for second was the 10-1 Rick’s Dream, which was Priola’s horse. When the place payoff came back at $9.00, Buffalo native Priola had captured the $10,000 BCBC entry by a margin of $1.20.

Major League Baseball has a Player of the Month Award. We don’t. But we’re going to make a one-time exception and declare Steve Arrison the HorseTourneys Player of the Month for March.

This was actually an off weekend for Arrison. He only won a single featured tourney in a week’s time. (Shameful!) Arrison’s victory on Saturday was in a BCBC Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers thanks to 4 wins and a place. Both Arrison and fellow $10,000 seat winner Justin Kudla (3 wins, 4 places) had Key Biscayne ($47.20, $18.00) in the 11th at Gulfstream.

Just during the month of May—which isn’t even over yet—Arrison has won:

2 NHC seats
2 BCBC entries
2 Spa & Surf Showdown entries
1 entry to The BIG One…and
A grand prize of $9,501 in a $21,000 Friday cash game

Even a frequent winner like Steve Arrison had to be impressed by Jerry Fialkowski’s day on Saturday.

Fialkowski captured the other Saturday feature at HorsePlayers by booking 5 winners and a runner up in the first NHC “Maiden Special” qualifier of the year. (These qualifiers are restricted to those who have yet to earn a 2021 seat.)

The NHC Maiden Special was a live-format tourney. Fialkowski did even better in Saturday’s $25,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

Fialkowski had 6 wins and 2 places here to draw off and win by $26.60. His reward was $14,634 from a final prize pool of $36,585, and his score of $122.80 was the day’s best.

Like Steve Arrison, Justin Kudla and Jerry Fialkowski, Rick Vasquez (6 winners) and Nick Kochanski (3 wins, 2 places) also used Gulfstream longshot Key Biscayne as a springboard to success.

The 22-1 shot sprung Vasquez and Kochanski all the way to the NHC next February.

Key Biscayne was also key for Kirk Tesar.

Tesar finished with one winner and two places. Despite whiffing on the final five races, Tesar held on by $1.60 and earned his second seat to the Lone Star Park Spring Betting Challenge on June 27.

Saturday was an extra special day insofar as it was the first Saturday on which we’ve ever offered a Big Bucks tourney.

Congratulations to Peter Osella (4 wins, 3 places) who was our inaugural Saturday Big Bucks hero. He was the only player in the sold-out field of 20 to use Key Biscayne among his Pick & Pray selections. The end-result: a payday for Osella of $14,248 from a total final purse of $20,355.

So the bottom line on Saturday was that you couldn’t win without having Key Biscayne, right?

Wrong—because no one had Key Biscayne in Saturday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier.

Matthew Nixon picked 6 winners and 2 runners up to earn the $2,000 Showdown entry. He finished up strong by nailing the last three races, and not a single one of his first-place finishers went off higher than 3-1. His scorecard many not have been the loftiest, but it serves as a nice reminder that “slow-and-steady” can win races around here too. Here’s a look at how Nixon’s day went:

We don’t usually lead off our Sunday recaps with the Exacta tourney, but sometimes you just can’t keep a good woman down.

What’s unusual here is that Rhonda Graziano won for a third straight Sunday. What’s not unusual is that she again had a monster $1 hit on her scorecard. This week, a $291.20 tally in the 5th at Santa Anita was among her two winning, three-horse-box gimmicks. Last week she had a $153.70 exacta as one of her two victories. The week before that, it was a $189.60 crushing of the 6th at Gulfstream.

Graziano added $1,225 (from a total purse of $1,750) to her war chest on Sunday. Her exacta-only total over the last three weeks amounts to $4,210. Will anyone dare to take her on next Sunday?

The big winner of the day on Sunday was Ken Jordan.

Jordan had Drop Kick ($40.20, $14.60) in the first tourney race (GP7), Manila Mischief ($66.20, $33.00) in the last tourney race (GG8) and a win and three places in between to earn $11,260 in Sunday’s $12,500 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a purse of $25,023.

Jordan played the same picks back in Sunday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier.

Joining Jordan in the Showdown will be Michael Somich, who got second in this “two-seater”. For Somich, it was the second Spa & Surf seat won in as many weeks. (Somich also picked up $12,356 that Sunday for his triumph in the $12,500 game.)

Jordan’s “Last Dance” of the weekend was Sunday’s regular NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers.

Jordan actually stepped up his game by $5.80 here (with 4 wins and 2 places), and it took the high score of the day by Colin Cummings (4 wins, 2 places) to beat him. No matter. Both Cummings and Jordan earned “Bally’s Berths”…as did third-place finisher Kirk Tesar (winner of the Lone Star qualifier on Saturday).

Here’s what Cummings did to finish best of 188 in that NHC play-in:

In the other Sunday feature at HorsePlayers, Paul Kimos and Edward Diamond walked away with $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entries.

Kimos (2 wins, 4 places) and Diamond (3W, 3P) each had winning 32-1 cap horse Manila Mischief in the last leg of their Pick & Pray selections. Diamond also hit the next-to-last race to help power his late charge into second place.

Back here at HorseTourneys, Pete Acocella didn’t have Manila Mischief. That omission aside, he still only had one winner and one runner up.

Yet he still earned a full ride to The BIG One on September 19-20. Acocella’s collections came with 19-1 Drop Kick in the opener and a $15.60 place payoff in the 8th at Santa Anita.

Robert Ruocco has been on a nice little run of late. On May 15, he won a $2,000 Spa & Surf Showdown entry, and in Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney…

…he caught Manila Mischief in the finale to leapfrog much of the field and take home the top prize of $12,823 (out of an $18,319 pot) in a very-nicely-attended game with 18 entries that was right on the heels of a sold-out Big Bucks competition on Saturday. It was a tough result for Vineet Sharma, who led going into that last race at Golden Gate.

California radio personality Jon Lindo also had Manila Mischief at the end.

Lindo won Sunday’s NHC Low Ratio qualifier. He finished with 2 wins and 4 places, including cashes in the final three heats.

Sergio DeSousa had 3 winners to take top honors in Sunday’s $8 Pick 6 Jackpot tourney.

Since no one went 6-for-6, next week’s Jackpot will start out at $12,071. Maybe Luis Lorie should give it a try.

Lorie swept the card in a 6-race, Santa Anita head-to-head tourney on Sunday. (Thanks to Allan Gregory for the heads up on this one via Twitter.)

In the Memorial Day feature that we didn’t touch on earlier (see Sean Alvarez), Mark Stillmock was the big winner.

Going into the final race here, Stillmock had entries sitting in 2nd and 6th places. Ultimately, it was his 6th-place ticket that rose to the top, though, thanks to Keeper Ofthe Stars ($16.60, $7.40) in the Gamely at Santa Anita. It turned out to be good timing for Stillmock to be on his game. This $20,000 Guaranteed, Live-format tourney wound up being the richest of the weekend with a final pot of $38,139. Stillmock’s share of that was $16,590 ($15,255 for winning and another $1,335 for coming in 8th).

Since today is Tuesday, featured tourney action ramps right back up again tomorrow with a seat + cash NHC qualifier, a $2,000 Guaranteed cash game and (of course!) a Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier. And note that many of the featured tourneys on Saturday and Sunday will be run in All Optional Live format. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to offer that format, since there weren’t really enough tracks in recent weeks to build a 25-race schedule.

We hope that’s a thing of the past…and that success is a thing of your future. In the meantime, thanks to all of you for making Memorial Day weekend such a busy and fun time around here.