Christmas Comes Early for James Lisowsky; Kevin Willett Records Wednesday and Friday Victories; Jeff Van Drie Picks Eight Winners; Another Week Without Bombs…Almost (Weekly Recap, December 16-20)

Last week we commented how rare it seemed to have no cap horses come into play in any of the featured tourneys. We may have been incorrect in describing it as rare, though, because almost the same thing happened this past week.

The previous week, the only winning featured-event horse that went off at more than 20-1 came in a single-track Flo-Cal Faceoff winner at Gulfstream—but no one had it. This past week, the only “capper” again came in a single-track Flo-Cal play-in. Except this time someone capitalized.

Jamaal Barnett may have had the hots for Wayne Potts, who sent out Jackie Milton to win Sunday’s 5th at Aqueduct at odds of 37-1. That earned Barnett a $1,500 Flo-Cal entry—and it was the only big bomb that landed in these featured parts all week long.

Speaking of the Flo-Cal Faceoff, the purse for the January 9-10 cash game here is all the way up to $184,552 as 17 more players punched their ticket to the 2-day, all-Gulfstream-and-Santa Anita tourney. The first three of those 17 came on Wednesday.

It was a tight leaderboard in the Wednesday Faceoff qualifier that saw Julie Martha hit the last two races to finish with a 4-win, 1-place day and grab the top spot. Also garnering $1,500 entries were Alexa Zepp (2W, 2P) and Edward “The Wright Stuff” Wright.

Reminder, in addition to the possible $1 million and $2 million bonuses available should anyone win two or three of the Tourney Triple legs, there are three bonuses prizes that will definitely be given away. If you finish in the top 100 of any of the Flo-Cal Faceoff, Players Championship (April) or Spa & Surf Showdown (August), you get points. The top points earner gets a 2022 NHC seat and a 2021 BCBC entry. The runner up receives a BCBC entry. The third-place points getter wins an entry to the 2021 The BIG One.

One of the most anticipated live-bankroll tournaments of the year is the Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship on January 23rd at Gulfstream/Xpressbet. In the field will be Jeffrey Carucci.

That’s because Carucci had 3 wins and a place, including Delovely Hips ($10.60, $5.80) in the final tourney race (Zia Race 10) to get up and capture the coveted $6,500 Pegasus package.

Incidentally, we don’t use Zia all that often in featured schedules, but the New Mexico track sure came in handy on Wednesday, because weather was an issue around the country that day. We passed on including Mahoning Valley in the Wednesday featured schedule. Here’s how things looked there near the end of their Wednesday card.

Amazing that they got all their races in!

We DID use Tampa on Wednesday, and weather turned out to be an issue even there. At the end of their card, they actually raced right through a Tornado Warning that was put out in the area.

Hopefully, Tampa area weather will be more customarily hospitable on January 9th.

Kelly Frost will be at Tampa Bay Downs that day thanks to her 4 wins and 4 places in Wednesday’s Tampa onsite tournament qualifier. 

The day’s big winner on Wednesday—at least in terms of multiple victories—was Kevin Willett.

Willett started fast in the day’s $2,000 Guaranteed cash game, striking with 9-1 and 4-1 winners at Gulfstream right out of the starting gate. He ended up with 5 wins, 2 places and a winner’s share of $2,212 in a tourney ultimately worth a total of $4,424.

Willett’s score was slightly lower in Wednesday’s Santa Anita Opening Day Challenge qualifier, but he still achieved the desired result.

Here he defeated all but Linda Rodriguez, who put up an impressive 6 winners out of 10 races. “LRod” and Willett will be joined at Xpressbet for the Opening Day Challenge by the other player to surpass the $70.00 mark—2020 NHC Final Table-ist Eric Bialek (5 wins, 2 places).

At this point, we’ll jump ahead a bit to Friday…because Willett was at it again.

Four wins and a place got the job done for Willett in Friday’s Tampa qualifier. So he’ll join Kelly Frost and the others walking into the Oldsmar, Fla., track on January 9th with a paid-up $1,000 entry safely in pocket. 

On Thursday there were a pair of Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifiers. In the multi-track play-in, Eric Brothers only picked one winner…

…but he had five places. And that one winner was powerful—Billy K. ($33.20, $10.40) in the 4th at Los Al. It all added up to a $1,500 Flo-Cal entry for Brothers.

There was also a Gulfstream-only Faceoff qualifier on Thursday.

Rick “I-65” Broth heated up early with a couple of smallish winners, then he came to a boil with Yamato ($14.80, $6.00) in the 9th to drive off with the $1,500 Flo-Cal entry.

Thursday’s $1,500 Guaranteed cash game more than tripled its guarantee (perhaps due to snow in the East that kept many inside).

While the weather outside was frightful, Albert Tiernan’s handicapping was delightful. He selected three winners that paid $33.20, $10.60 and $18.20, respectively, and he pocketed the top money of $2,453 in an event that closed with a purse of $4,907.

Another day (Friday) meant another Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier…and that’s where the day’s high scorer plied his trade.

This one wasn’t close. Nor should it have been given that Jeff Van Drie had an incredible 8 winners out of 10 races.

The race was for place (and third and fourth in this four-seater). That race was captured by Roger Cettina, Evan Trommer and Robert Childress, who each won $1,500 entries along with Van Drie. Childress got his by prevailing in a tiebreaker thanks to having picked more winners.

Evan Trommer also picked up a $6,500 Pegasus World Cup package on Friday to go along with his Flo-Cal seat.

Trommer (4 wins, 1 place) started a bit slowly…but he reeled off three winners in a row in tourney races 7-9 to get up.

David McCarty and Brendan Snodgrass were the two winners in Friday’s qualifier to the Santa Anita Opening Day Challenge.

McCarty had 3 wins and a place in the 10-race competition. Snodgrass had 2 wins and a place. Here’s the funny part (at least in my mind)—they didn’t have a single collection in common.

A total of $49.20 got it done for Neal Thomas in Friday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray.

Only six showed up, which means an 8.6% overlay situation for players. Thomas had 2 wins and 2 places to earn the grand prize of $5,250. His biggest collection came with the day’s highest-priced winner, Classical Magic ($19.60, $11.00 in the 7th at Tampa)—a horse somehow shamefully missed by Jeff Van Drie!

The big horse on Friday for Andrew Walker was No More Fireball ($18.40, $7.60) in the 2nd at Los Alamitos.

That one was among 4 winners and 2 runners up that earned Walker the biggest prize of the day…$7,406…in Friday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which had a final closing purse of $16,458.

No More Fireball was also a key horse for both Matthew Thomas and Edward Chambers over at HorsePlayers.

The Los Alamitos 8-1 shot helped propel Thomas (5 wins, 1 place) and Chambers (4W, 1P) to the NHC in Friday’s $75 qualifier. The two also combined to have both winners of the 9th at Gulfstream…which ended in a dead heat.

The week’s richest battle was won by Derek Isenberg.

Isenberg collected in the first 4 races to get off to a good start. He needed Cozy Bear ($17.60, $8.40) in the 9th at Los Al at the end, though, to get up and win Saturday’s $25,000 Guaranteed event (final pot: $26,001). Isenberg’s share of that was $11,700.

Richard Gorzkowski saw three of his selections visit the winner’s circle on Saturday.

They paid $23.40, $10.40 and $24.00, and that meant that Gorzkowski was the winner of $13,536 in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray. The purse at closing time wound up being $19,337.

Steven Burnite cashed tickets in the final four races on Saturday.

Burnite finished with 4 wins and 3 places and picked up a $1,500 entry on Saturday to the December 26th Santa Anita Opening Day Challenge to be held at Xpressbet. Last chances to qualify come up later this week.

Saturday’s high scorer was at HorsePlayers in the day’s $210 NHC qualifier.

David Santoni had 4 firsts and 3 seconds to punch his ticket to Vegas along with the only other player to crack triple digits, Mark Simonovic (3 wins, 1 place). 

Santoni posted that high score because he had the day’s two biggest prices…in Aqueduct’s 8th and Los Al’s 7th.

Four more players won their way into the Flo-Cal Faceoff on Saturday.

Congratulations to Kevin Engelhard (4 wins, 1 place), Robert Turner (6W, 0P), Sean Nolan (2W, 2P…also known as “the Chuck Woolery”) and Dane Moore (3W, 1P).

Moore also took top honors in Saturday’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourney.

Alas, Moore only had 3 winners. (He missed 5-2 winner Always Shopping in Leg 2).

And alas, no one went 4-for-4 in the Sunday Jackpot Pick 4 tourney that Steven Okpych won with 2 winners.

So next Saturday’s day-after-Christmas $15 Pick 4 game will start out with a Jackpot of $5,614.

One word you’re not hearing at the moment in the James Lisowsky household is “Alas.”

Lisowsky had 5 wins and 2 places that included victors Royal Act ($13.40) and Play Chicken ($29.00) in the 8th and 9th races at Los Alamitos. That got him the winner’s share of $10,483 in Sunday’s $15,000 Guaranteed tourney, which closed with a purse of $23,297.

His score of $134.80 was the day’s highest.

Lisowsky used those same selections in Sunday’s Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier.

Here the transplanted New Yorker living in Texas led a parade of $1,500 seat winners that included Christopher Dewey (5 wins, 3 places), Gary “Macho Man” Machiz (3W,3P) and Eric Gielata (2W, 4P…with the winners coming in the final two races).

In the Pegasus qualifier, Lisowsky didn’t use Play Chicken at the end…but it didn’t cost him.

He and Willam Roth (3 wins, 1 place…including last two contest race winners at odds of 5-1 and 13-1) ran one-two to each pick up $6,500 Pegasus packages.

Lisowsky and Roth also made up the winning exacta combination in the Sunday qualifier to the Santa Anita Opening Day Challenge.

They will be joined at Xpressbet by the 3rd- and 4th-place finishers Ryan Mueller and Travis Foelsch. 

It was quite a Sunday before Christmas for Lisowsky. He ended the day with $10,483 in cash plus seats worth $9,500. And it was a pretty good day for William Roth as well. The value of his prizes for the two runner-up performances was $8,000.

Like Lisowsky, Roth and Eric Gielata, many Sunday winners got what they got thanks to having not just Play Chicken in the last contest race (race 9) at Los Alamitos, but also Royal Act ($13.40, 6.20) in the race before that at Los Al. That was the case with David Harrison at HorsePlayers.

Harrison had a win and 2 places prior to hitting the “late double”. The five collections got him a win in the NHC qualifier that was for non-winners of one 2021 seat…other than maiden, claiming or starter.

Another who played the Royal Act-Play Chicken combo was Dan Lytwynec (3 wins, 2 places).

Lytwynec was the Lytwinner of a $1,000 Tampa entry on January 9th.

Terry “The Price is” Wraight didn’t use Royal Act…but he had Play Chicken.

That got Wraight past Rob Henie at the conclusion of Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney, which closed with a pot of $17,301. Wraight’s share of that was $12,111. Henie had to settle for $3,460.

Michael “Copa” Kavana also connected in the Play Chicken race.

He had the $1.00 exacta worth $86.10 as his last of four successful three-horse boxes in our $1,000 Guaranteed Exacta tourney. Kavana got the top prize of $700 in an event that ran with no takeout to players and at a loss to Horse Tourneys after credit card deposit fees and track payments are factored in. (Tracks—rightfully—get paid a percentage of total entry fees in a given tourney…not a percentage of what we make. It’s not their fault if we don’t reach or exceed a guarantee.)

We had 31 featured tourneys last week—which might be an in-house record. We won’t have that many this week because we’ll be “dark” on Christmas. We’ll have action on Christmas Eve, though, with Gulfstream and Tampa both open. And Saturday is opening day at Santa Anita, so there’s that to look forward to as well.

All of us at HorseTourneys wish you and your loved ones a wonderful Christmas. May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmas handicapping be right.