Jim Herron Earns NHC Seat in Very First Attempt; Tyler Okasaki Captures Saturday’s $25,000 Tourney for Second Time in Three Weeks; Ryan Flanders Picks Up NHC and Players Championship Entries (Weekly Recap, January 27-31)

Winning an NHC seat always feels special. Chances are, you will remember the key horse that won it for you for years to come. This is especially true for your first NHC seat. Imagine how it would feel to win an NHC spot in your very first qualifying attempt.

Jim Herron knows this feeling.

Playing in his first qualifier ever, the Scottsdale, Arizona, Tour rookie had a debut to remember. Halfway through the HorsePlayers competition, it seemed like he may never lose a race.

(Apparently these 455-entry qualifiers are too easy for Herron. Perhaps he will find the NHC more challenging.)

Joking aside, this was an exciting competition on a number of fronts. It was the first qualifier to the 2022 NHC (to be held 362 days from now on January 28-30), and there were enough entries to award three seats. The other two went to Stephanie Schmidt (6 wins, 1 place) who got up with the last two winners and Kirk Keever (5 wins, 1 place) who prevailed in a tiebreaker over Greg Knepper thanks to having five winners compared to Knepper’s four.

Mark “Santana” Tabakman is no rookie, but he delivered a headline-worthy performance of his own on Wednesday.

Tabakman got the featured-tourney week off to an impressive start by posting six winners out of 10 races in Wednesday’s $4,000 Guaranteed cash tourney, which closed with a pot of $7,258 and a winner’s share of $3,266. The best winner of Tabakman’s six-pack was Meade ($23.60, $9.20) in the 8th at Gulfstream. 

The $200,000 Guaranteed Players Championship here on April 2-3 is already up to 54 qualifiers. Three players joined that group on Wednesday.

Matt Sawyer (3 wins, 2 places), Henry Karsen and William Henderson all had Meade in their portfolios en route to earning their $2,000 entries to the middle leg of the Tourney Triple. The finish was especially dramatic for Henderson, who got himself “into the money” by having Eighty Seven North ($17.80, $6.40) in the final contest race, the 10th at Gulfstream.

Another newly-minted Players Championship contestant is Jared Henry.

Henry rattled off all three of his collections (2 wins, 1 place) consecutively during the middle of Thursday’s Players Championship qualifier. His biggest cash came with Rocco Strong ($20.40, $9.80) in the 7th at Aqueduct.

Scores were considerably higher in Thursday’s $2,500 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

Mike Lazarus had 4 firsts and 1 second to draw off and win by $13.90. His payday came to $2,384 in a game that was ultimately worth a total of $4,769.

On Friday, Timothy Jacobs had 5 wins and 2 places to earn $8,528 in the day’s $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray (final purse: $18,952). In victory, Jacobs had two things in play—excellent handicapping…and a little bit of luck in the first contest race.

That first contest race was the 6th at Laurel. It was supposed to go off at 2:58 pm, but it went off at 3:09 pm—though not because of “post drag.” Jacobs’s pick in the race was #8 Wings of Fire, who was anything but fire-like when it came to her willingness to enter the starting gate. The Laurel gate crew tried and tried for what seemed like an exceedingly long time before the stewards finally scratched the horse. Jacobs hadn’t listed an alternate selection, so he wound up being assigned the narrow post-time favorite #1 Solea, who went on to win at 2-1, paying $6.00 to win and $3.80 to place. That $9.80 turned out to be the difference for Jacobs in finishing first. Good thing that none of those 52 attempts to load Wings of Fire worked!

The final scoring total for Jacobs was $65.40—which was also the winning total in Friday’s Players Championship qualifier.

In this one, it was James Morgan (5 wins, 2 places) who did the $65.40 honors. Both Morgan and fellow $2,000 seat winner Anthony “Doczilla” Trezza had the final-race 5-2 winner to secure their “PC” berths. Morgan also had the day’s highest-priced winner Mayrhofen ($14.60, $4.80) in the 9th at Tampa

The winner of Saturday’s $25,000 Guaranteed cash game was Tyler Okasaki.

If that last sentence has a familiar ring to it, it should—because Okasaki won this same event two weeks prior on January 16. Okasaki won $13,875 that day. This past Saturday, he did even better, pocketing $15,117 from a total final purse of $33,594. This was an All Optional Live tourney with players making 10 picks from among 25 eligible races. Okasaki only had 3 collections, but they were good ones—winners that paid $21.60 and $34.00 and a runner-up that returned $14.60 to place.

The other All Optional Live event on the Saturday slate was the multitrack Players Championship qualifier.

The winners of $2,000 here were Brian Johnson (3 wins, 2 places), Chris Bertolucci, Ray Arsenault and Chris Littlemore—the last two of whom, of course, were back-to-back NHC Champions in 2017 and 2018, respectively. When you succeed in a featured event at HorseTourneys, it’s always an excellent achievement. There are seldom soft spots to be found around here in the marquee games—as this Players Championship qualifier attests.

There was also a Players Championship qualifier just on the Saturday Gulfstream card.

Heyden Leibrock had 2 winners, including 16-1 race 7 winner King of Dreams (owned by former major leaguer Victor Martinez) to “walk off” with the $2,000 entry here.

The richest 12-race feature of the day was the $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney.

This one was a sellout, resulting in a final total purse of $22,390. David Nelson had 4 wins and a place to make off with the $15,673 grand prize. His last winner, Blameless ($12.40, $6.80) was the narrowest, taking a tight, bob-of-the-head photo from Troubling Moon in race 11 at Gulfstream.

The lone feature at HorsePlayers on Saturday was a $179 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier.

It was won by Seth Morris, who turned in a scorecard replete with 4 winners and 1 runner up. His gaudiest tally came with Seven Lilies ($40.20, $9.40) in the 8th at Aqueduct.

As for the weekend’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourneys, Brian Black had 2 winners on Saturday…

…and Robert “Makin’ Copies” Schneider had 3 on Sunday…

…but no one managed to go 4-for-4 over the weekend, so next Saturday’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot will begin with $1,037 in the kitty.

The Sunday Pick 4 game was a little bit unusual in that there was a dead heat for first in one of the races, meaning that there were two “correct” horses in that leg. The longest price in the Sunday sequence (which took place entirely at Sam Houston) was the $7.60 that Fast Boat returned in Leg 1. That was the only blemish on Robert Schneider’s ticket. (And kudos to Brian Black for finishing tied for second on Sunday a day after his Saturday victory.)

Last week we reported that $205,000 Flo-Cal Faceoff winner Alan Levitt had earned a spot in the April 2-3 Players Championship. This week we can tell you that $80,000 Flo-Cal runner up Ryan Flanders has done likewise.

Flanders collected in the final three races to finish with 2 wins and 3 places in Sunday’s Gulfstream-only Players Championship qualifier. That $2,000 PC entry wasn’t all that Flanders won on Sunday, however.

He was also on top of the heap over at HorsePlayers in the 2022 NHC qualifier where Flanders came through with 7 wins and 1 place.

Neal Metzger (6 wins, 3 places) wasn’t very far behind Flanders and he, too, earned a 2022 “Bally’s Berth.”

In the other Sunday feature at HorsePlayers, Cameron Radis had Morning Molly ($7.80, $3.60) in the final contest race, the 10th at Sam Houston.

Morning Molly moved Radis…on…from 3rd-place to 1st in Sunday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio qualifier. He finished with 5 firsts and 2 seconds.

There were two All Optional Live tourneys on Sunday. Morning Molly made the difference in one of those as well…our $20,000 Guaranteed game.

Here it was Kris Andaur who had the Sam Houston 5-2 shot to round out a 4-win, 2-place day and took home $11,942 from a final overall pot of $29,855.

Jerome Linderman (3 wins, 1 place) led the way in Sunday’s other “AOL” game.

There were four winners of $2,000 Players Championship seats in this qualifier. Behind Linderman were NBC’s Eddie Olczyk, Peter Rogers and David Bloom. Those three all had Morning Molly in the last race to secure their winning positions.

The other two Sunday features at HorseTourneys were traditional, 12-race affairs…including our first qualifier to the March 6th TSG Ultimate Betting Challenge.

Evan Trommer and John Macklin each came up with 6 wins and 3 places to emerge with the sought-after $3,000 entries. Among Trommer’s winning horses was the day’s biggest-returner in our 12-race features, She’s a Dime ($14.80, $6.20) in the 7th at Santa Anita.

Last but not least, Joe “Tex” Scanio was another who got a small but much-needed push at the end from Morning Molly down at Sam Houston.

The 5-2, final-tourney-race victor was the last of 5 winners and 1 runner up that enabled Scanio to collect $9,261 in Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks game, which finished up with a total prize pool of $13,230.

We hope your January was a winning one. If not, there are 11 more months to get even for the year. Next weekend, qualifiers for the Nyrabets Gotham Challenge become part of the mix. Hope to see you then.