$12,000 Jackpot Eludes Charles McLaughlin Following Last-Race Near Miss; Mark Stillmock Records Friday Hat Trick; Russell Priola Records Bookend Victory to Begin and End the Week (Weekly Recap May 27-31)

With two races left in Sunday’s $8 Pick 6 Jackpot tourney, there were six entries still alive for a $12,633 windfall, and Charles McLaughlin owned two of the six. McLaughlin survived that next-to-last race but, in doing so, made a difficult tactical decision that may have ultimately proved costly.

McLaughlin opted to split his two chances in that penultimate Race 8 at Santa Anita by going with both the 3-2 favorite Tonahutu and the 4-1 fourth choice Miss Flawless. Tonahutu won by 2 3/4 lengths and—somewhat surprisingly—McLaughlin was the only one of those alive who was on the favorite. However, by spending his “extra horse” on the 8th at Santa Anita, he was left with just one live ticket in the anchor leg, Race 8 at Golden Gate.

You can probably guess how the rest played out. McLaughlin had the even-money favorite Odessa, who led almost the entire race before being run down late (by half a length) by the 5-2 second choice Moonshine Annie.

The consolation for McLaughlin is that his “dead” entry had Moonshine Annie and also a $4.40 place collection in the previous race from Miss Flawless…and THAT entry wound up finishing first. His alive-until-the-last-race entry finished third. The combined returns of $629 for first and third places was an excellent return on a $16 investment. One has to assume, however, that if McLaughlin had “doubled up” on Tonahutu, he would have had a live ticket with Moonshine Annie in the nightcap and, thus, captured the Jackpot.

What can’t be denied is that McLaughlin put forward a truly outstanding performance.

Charles will undoubtedly be among those vying again next Sunday for the Jackpot which, as alluded to earlier, will begin at $12,633.

Russell Priola also had a pretty memorable Sunday—and Wednesday too.

The Buffalo, N.Y.-area punter nailed 10-1 shot Diva’s Diva in the first at Fonner. Then, nursing just a 20-cent lead into the final race, he came up with Our Annabella ($11.60, $5.20) in Fonner’s 7th to close out a 4-win, 1-place day that earned him not just an NHC seat but $1,640 in cash in Wednesday’s “Seat + Cash” qualifier.

Priola reinvested a portion of those cash winnings very wisely on Sunday.

Priola’s Sunday had a similar flow to his Wednesday. He hit a price early ($54.00, $19.20 with Portando in the 2nd at Santa Anita) then finished up strong by cashing in the final three races. The end result here was 2 wins, 3 places and a paid-up entry in The BIG One, where Priola will be one of no more that 57 competing for 15 contest seats and at least $75,000.

Getting back to Wednesday featured-tourney action, Michael Marlaire registered 5 wins and a place…

…to take home $2,488 in the day’s $2,000 Guaranteed cash tourney, which closed with a purse of $4,977.

Joseph Vida was also living the life on Wednesday. Like Marlaire, he had 5 firsts and a second.

Vida’s complete-game gem left his opponents blue in Wednesday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier. Vida now joins the field for the $150,000 Guaranteed online cash tourney right here on August 15-16.

On Friday, Mark Stillmock’s success knew no bounds.

Just four days after winning $15,255 in our $38,000 Memorial Day cash game, Stillmock was tops in Friday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray. Here, he pocketed $8,603 from a final pot of $19,118 thanks to 4 wins and a place including Cloud Charmer ($62.20, $24.80 in the 7th at Tampa) and I’m Leaving You ($15.60, $5.80) in the last contest race, which elevated Stillmock from second to first.

Cloud Charmer and I’m Leaving You also did most of the heavy lifting for Stillmock in Friday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier.

Stillmock also made his presence very much felt over at HorsePlayers on Friday.

Stillmock used the same picks here as in his big cash-game triumph. He and NHC Hall of Famer Paul Shurman used I’m Leaving You to jump up from 5th and 7th places, respectively, and grab coveted NHC seats in Friday’s $75 qualifier. The other contestant to earn a “Bally’s Berth” was Paul’s brother Bill (6 wins, 1 place) who was the longtime leader in this one after firing off four consecutive winners right out of the gate.

Getting back to Stillmock, here’s a look at his best-of-day scorecard:

Paul Cush did not have Cloud Charmer on Friday and, as a result, he had to settle for 8th ($477) behind Stillmock in the $19,000 game and 3rd behind him in the Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier.

No one had Cloud Charmer, though, in Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers, and Cush was able to draw away to a resounding $38.20 victory—good for a $10,000 entry to the world’s most prestigious live-bankroll handicapping contest.

It was an “All Optional Live” weekend last week and two of the six “AOL” games (which require players to make 10 plays from among 25 eligible races) took place on Saturday.

Part of the strategy inherent in All Optional Live tourneys is the question of whether to spend your 10 plays on what you perceive to be your 10 best picks…or to save a play for the end. With one race to go in Saturday’s $25,000 Guaranteed tourney (final purse: $33,594), Joel Wincowski was the leader in the clubhouse with $133.40, but he was out of bullets. Mark Aylward, however, still had one in reserve. It turned out to be a good one—Reprobate ($16.80, $9.80)—and it allowed Aylward to walk away with the $15,117 grand prize.

Lucas Van Zandt had a pick in the last race of Saturday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier, but he was so far in front that he used it more as a blocking device.

Van Zandt’s damage was done earlier with Bramble Queen ($35.80, $7.00) in the 7th at Tampa and Tomlin ($31.60, $12.80) in the 8th at Golden Gate. Those two winners, plus two place collections, earned him the $2,000 entry to the August 15-16 cyber-competition.

The other two features at HorseTourneys on Saturday were more traditional, 12-race contests.

David Nelson had 3 firsts and 1 second to capture the day’s sold-out, $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray. The total final purse was $25,443. Nelson’s share of that was $17,810. His margin at the end was a sizable $43.60.

Kirk Keever wasn’t “saving” a pick for the end, but similar to Mark Aylward, he had Reprobate in the final tourney race.

The winning 7-1 shot propelled Keever (3 wins, 2 places) to victory—and a $1,000 entry—in Saturday’s Lone Star Park Spring Betting Challenge qualifier.

The two features at HorsePlayers on Saturday were both 12-race, live-format play-ins.

Ryan Knottek earned himself a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry by connecting with 16-1 and 5-1 shots in the first two races and then 14-1 Tomlin in the next-to-last race of this $179 qualifier.

Rich Nilsen and Steve Simonovic were the two winners of NHC spots in Saturday’s regular, two-seat qualifier.

Nilsen (3 wins, 0 places) had Bramble Queen (16-1) at the beginning, Atakan ($105.60, $37.80 in the 11th at Gulfstream) and Reprobate (7-1) at the end. Simonovic (2 wins, 3 places) made do with “just” Bramble Queen and Atakan.

Shifting our sights back to Sunday, one of the weekend’s most dominating performances was turned in by Samuel “In Through the Out” Doerr in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio qualifier.

Not only did Doerr double up his competition here, he had them doubled up for good by the 9th race of the 12-race tourney. He finished with 8 winners and 2 places, including cashes in the first seven heats.

In the other Sunday feature at HorsePlayers, Sean Nolan and Jeffrey Banks were the winners of NHC seats in a “regular” Pick & Pray.

Nolan motored to victory thanks to 4 wins and a place. Banks grabbed the second available seat by 20 cents following a $2.80 place collection with the even-money favorite in the contest finale (Golden Gate’s 8th).

Michael Jordan put up 61 points in Sunday’s NHC Low Ratio qualifier.

Granted, that’s not that big a score in our world—but the result still had Jordan walking on air. He had 4 winners (none of them going off at more than 9-2) and 3 places. Two of those runner-up collections came in the final two races. Clearly the moment was not too big for Jordan when it came time to take the last shot with the game on the line.

A fourth consecutive Exacta tourney victory was not to be for Rhonda Graziano.

An $8.60, second-favorite-over-first-favorite exacta in the last race tipped the scales and gave Frank Fosbre (3 wins) the unanimous decision worth $995 in this $1,000 Guaranteed event that finished up with a purse of $1,421. Unfortunately for Graziano, she just never got any traction on Sunday and failed to score in any of the 12 contest races. She did, however, wear the championship belt for most of May with great dignity.

Meanwhile, it was Glenn Bechtel who wore the Sunday Big Bucks belt.

Bechtel had just two winners—but one was Portando ($54.00, $19.20) in the 2nd at Santa Anita. He also had two placings among his 10 All Optional Live selections to win $12,111 in Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks event (the first ever conducted under the AOL format). The tourney closed with an overall purse of $17,301.

Terry Wraight had a different bomb that led him to victory.

The 7th at Laurel wasn’t part of our 12-race schedules, but the first-time-starter-heavy contest was a big part of this $15,000 Guaranteed All Optional Live tourney. It was won by Golden Can ($92.40, $32.80), and Wraight was all over the victorious filly—owned, bred and trained by Hassan Elamri. The longshot helped Wraight to a payday of $10,423. The final pot wound up at $26,059.

Last but not least, Sunday’s All Optional Live Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier had an interesting conclusion.

Raymond Riley and Robert Schmidt finished tied with $53.80. Riley won the tiebreaker—and the $2,000 Spa & Surf seat that went with it—thanks to having more winners (4) than Schmidt (2).

What’s interesting, though, is that it was an All Optional Live tournament…Riley was out of picks heading into the final race…Schmidt had one left…and Schmidt used that pick on the 6-1 fourth choice (Live it Well) who wound up running fourth behind the victorious 5-2 second choice and the even-money runner up.

Perhaps Schmidt put all his picks in ahead of time. Perhaps he just really liked Live it Well. In any event, we hope that this setback serves to make Robert’s next success all the sweeter.

Thanks to all for playing. Featured tourney action will be back on Wednesday—and so will Belmont Park. See you then.