Crowded Qualifiers Bump Saturday’s Flo-Cal Faceoff Purse up to $306,000; Dennis Montoro Captures Cash Contests on Consecutive Days; Heartbreaking Finish to Pick 4 Jackpot Tourney (Weekly Recap, December 30-January 3)

The field for Saturday and Sunday’s Flo-Cal Faceoff now numbers 231 as 17 qualifiers last week added 51 to the roster of participants. That means that the purse for the two-day, Gulfstream and Santa Anita full-card extravaganza now sits at $306,652, and there are still three solid days (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) of qualifying—and five solid days of buying in—still ahead.

The qualifiers have been so popular that they are too numerous to cite individually in this space. However, we want to give special commendation to William Roth, Gregg Kingma, Dale Hatfield and Justin Nicholson. Over the past week, they each won $1,500 Flo-Cal entries on two different days. Perhaps they are names to watch this weekend as they seem to be heating up at the right time. 

There was also plenty of featured-tourney action unrelated to the Flo-Cal Faceoff…starting on Wednesday.

Ryan “Suspicious” Meinz hit the last two tourney races at win mutuels of $17.20 and $8.80 to finish with 3 wins and 3 places and earn $2,861 in Wednesday’s $2,000 Guaranteed game, which closed with a final purse of $6,359. 

Tom Timlick did much the same thing.

Timlick nailed the final two races to end up with 4 winners (and no runners up) en route to victory in Wednesday’s Tampa qualifier, which takes place this Saturday. (Last chance to win a $1,000 entry for the Tampa onsite contest comes on Wednesday.)

Steven Meier (3 wins, 2 places) won the biggest prize on Wednesday.

On a day without a lot of big prices to be found within the featured schedule, Meier had Danville ($17.20, $5.60) in the 9th at Gulfstream to help him score a $6,500 package to the Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship—to be held at both Gulfstream Park and Xpressbet—on January 23rd.

On New Year’s Eve, Giuseppe Petrella was celebrating…but this was no run-of-the-mill December 31st revelry.

Petrella was celebrating his handicapping acumen—which earned him $3,203 in Thursday’s $1,500 Guaranteed Pick & Pray…a game that obviously went way past its guarantee. The final pot was $7,119, $3,203 of which belonged to Petrella after his 4-win day that included a $23.00 winner in the tourney opener and a $31.00 win price in the nightcap.

On Friday, Ken Jordan became another to win by hitting the “late double.”

Jordan’s last two picks connected at odds of 9-2 and 9-1, and that got him the top money of $9,875 in Friday’s $10,000 Guaranteed tourney, which had a final purse of $21,945. He finished the day with 5 firsts and 1 second. What was the name of Jordan’s winner in the final race of the Pick & Pray? Hear My Prayer.

It was a Happy New Year’s (Day) for Danny Chavez (4 wins, 3 places) and Stephen Lerma (4W, 0P).

Both had Heather’s Gold ($18.00, $6.60) in the 8th at Tampa as their top earner in Friday’s Pegasus World Cup qualifier. Chavez and Lerma now move on to the January 23rd Pegasus with paid-up $6,000 entries in their pockets, plus an additional $500 in their respective HorseTourneys accounts as a travel stipend.

Gregory Lewis also had Heather’s Gold as his key contributor.

Lewis finished with 4 wins and 2 places to capture a $1,000 entry in Friday’s Tampa qualifier.

Friday’s high score came—not shockingly—in the day’s $75 NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers.

Joe Perry performed the dazzling solo here with 6 wins and 2 places.

William Price’s prayers were also heard in the finale. He (5 wins, 2 places) had Hear My Prayer at the end to also advance to Vegas.

With the New Year, we welcomed the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge back into the mix at HorsePlayers.

G.T. Nixon was the one in Friday’s Low Ratio Pick & Pray. His total of $74.00 was built on 5 wins and a place, and it was helped most by Heather’s Gold at Tampa. Nixon prevailed by $3.00 over Joseph Parella.

We finish the Friday summary with the day’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray.

It was won by Dennis Montoro, who recorded 4 wins and a place to pocket $7,836 out of a final pot of $11,195.

If Montoro thought the New Year was starting out on a great note, he didn’t know the half of it.

Montoro recorded 6 wins and 2 places on Saturday to capture the day’s $25,000 Guaranteed game that ended up with $28,992 in the kitty. His share of that was $13,046, making a two-day total of $20,882. If Montoro continues at this pace throughout 2021, he will win $3,800,524 this year (allowing for a day off on Christmas).

No one showed a flat-bet profit in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray, but the money still spends, and Brett Wiener got the lion’s share of that money.

His four winners came consecutively, and he picked up $9,261 from a total final purse of $13,230.

Just like on Friday, the high score of Saturday came in an NHC qualifier over at HorsePlayers.

It was turned in by the pride of Bradley, Arkansas, Don Allen. For those who don’t know, Allen works as a lumberjack. Unlike most in his profession, however, he sleeps all night and he bets all day. In any event, he’s ok. Here’s a look at his Saturday scorecard:

Also picking up an NHC berth was runner up John Behnke, whose biggest collection among 3 firsts and 5 seconds came not via his winners but on a $16.80 place payoff.

Saturday’s BCBC qualifier at HorsePlayers came down to Bernard Moore and G.T. Nixon in the last tourney race.

Nixon had the runner up in the 6th at Santa Anita, but Moore had the winner (Tizamagician—$10.60, $4.40) and that allowed Moore to get up for the $10,000-seat victory by 80 cents.

Last but not least on Saturday was perhaps our most exciting $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourney yet.

The carryover going in was $6,831 and Saturday signups pushed that Jackpot amount to $7,377. Mike Ellis wound up grabbing first place…but that really wasn’t the story.

Going into the final race of the sequence, the 11th at Gulfstream, eight players were alive to a total of six different horses in the 12-race field. Rick Vasquez had two bites at the apple; Robert Seifert, three. Unfortunately, no one had the 7-1 winner (and slight second choice) #5 Light Fury.

The cruelest beat of the eight was clearly suffered by David Johnson, the only player to be alive to race favorite Blameless.

Blameless emerged from a typical Gulfstream turf-stretch scrum to look like a very likely winner with 100 yards to go. But Light Fury kept coming through a seemingly tiny opening on the fence to get up and nail Blameless…and Johnson.

The chart says the margin was a neck. It looked way closer to a head to me, but that’s splitting hairs. Either way, it was a tough way to not win $7,000. 

There wasn’t nearly the same drama in Sunday’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourney.

There WAS, however, nearly the same winner. This time Mike Ellis shared top honors with Charlene Hulcy. They were the only two to have 31-1 bomb Plenium in leg 2. That one knocked everyone out of Jackpot contention and set up an $8,058 carryover into this Saturday’s Pick 4 Jackpot.

Sunday’s high scorer of the day was Jeff Bussan.

His 5 winners and 2 runners up got him $9,707 in Sunday’s $15,000 Guaranteed cash tourney, which closed with a purse of $21,571.

The highest cash prize of the day was claimed by Robert Rosette.

Rosette hit 5 winners and 2 places en route to a $9,973 payday in Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks game which ended up with a pot of $14,248.

Sunday’s biggest overall profiteer strutted his stuff over at HorsePlayers.

Andrew Asaro’s five wins came in a row. He also had a place collection and that got him the desired result in Sunday’s live-format Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio qualifier.

Asaro essentially played that BCBC qualifier like a Pick & Pray because he used the same 12 picks in Sunday’s NHC Low Ratio Pick & Pray.

This time, Asaro defeated all but fellow seat winner Dan Shugar (5 wins, 2 places). Both players counted Plenium among their productive selections.

The other Sunday feature at HorsePlayers was an NHC play-in restricted to those who had yet to earn a 2021 berth.

Josh Reims punched his ticket to the big dance with 5 winners that included Plenium. He needed Roman Centurion ($17.40, $7.80) in the last race, though, to get over the hump.

Ryan Knottek was a close second behind Reims in that NHC qualifier, but he didn’t go home (stay home?) empty-handed.

Knottek (5 wins, 1 place) hit Plenium, then came back later with five consecutive cashes to earn a $1,000 entry to this Saturday’s onsite contest at Tampa Bay Downs.

Pete Acocella parlayed 3 Sunday wins and 1 Sunday place…

…into a Pegasus World Cup package worth $6,500.

For the first time in a while, the purse for the Sunday Exacta tourney exceeded the $1,000 guarantee.

Francis Niehaus hit a $48.50 exacta in the final race to get up and win the $765 first prize. Perhaps even more impressive than the last-race heroics, though, was that Niehaus had the exacta in 5 of the last 6 tourney races. 

Not sure we’ve seen that in one of these games before. His opponents were likely saying, “Lighten up, Francis.”

Stay tuned tomorrow for an announcement about featured-tourney purses that some of you will find noteworthy. In the meantime, good luck in your Flo-Cal qualifying and/or preparations. By this time next week, someone is going to be at least $120,000 richer.