Drew Keaton Scores a Friday Hat Trick and Then Comes Back for More; Sunday Takes Two to Tang; Nineteen New Qualifiers Swell Players Championship Purse to $313,000 (Weekly Recap, March 24-28)

It’s not uncommon to see players win multiple tourneys on a given day. What was unusual last week was how many captured grand prizes on multiple days.

G.T. Nixon had bookend victories during the week—one on Wednesday in a Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier where Nixon had the day’s high score…

…and then on Sunday he became the seventh to earn a spot in September’s The BIG One. 

Nixon took the lead with two races left, then blocked his nearest pursuer, Drew Keaton with favored runner up Velvet ($2.20 to place) in the final contest race.

Don’t feel too bad for Keaton, however, for this was one of his few disappointments. Two days earlier, on Friday, he began an all-out assault that would take multi-day exploits to another level.

Keaton hit four winners in a row, starting with 12-1 shot Three Two Zone in the 7th at Aqueduct, and that allowed him to squeak out a 60-cent victory worth $8,004 in Friday’s $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a final purse of $17,788.

Here’s a look at Keaton’s Friday scorecard (although, to be honest, his Friday opponents quickly grew tired of seeing it).

That’s because the same picks won him Friday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier…

…and also Friday’s Players Championship play-in—which also saw Neal Thomas and John “The Clocker” Nichols also grab $2,000 entries for their silver and bronze finishes.

That Friday Players Championship qualifier turned out to be a “live race”…because John Nichols came out of it to achieve great things in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray.

Nichols earned $12,111 from a final pot of $17,301 for his 5-win, 1-place Florida Derby Day effort. 

Keaton and his connections, meanwhile, chose to wait for Sunday. 

Keaton’s first of three winners on Sunday was the key Gulfstream longshot Cuestion de Tiempo ($88.00, $27.40—which, of course, translated to $42.00, $22.00 for contest purposes) in race 7. That helped Keaton take down the $5,699 first prize in Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney, which finished up with $8,142 in the till.

Keaton had the same score en route to recording his second Sunday victory (and fifth of the week) in the Santa Anita Derby Challenge.

Ronald Tang got up for the place spot to also gain a $1,500 seat for this Saturday’s Xpressbet contest

Tang got a second grand prize on Sunday by leading the way in Sunday’s Low Ratio Players Championship qualifier.

Tang (1 win by Cuestion de Tiempo and 1 place) and fellow $2,000 spot recipient Terry Jerge (3 winners, topped by 11-1 shot Waiting for a Star in the 12th at Tampa) were the only two in this event who showed a flat-bet profit.

Rewinding things back to Wednesday, Paul Cush and Patrick Gianforte became the first two of 19 last week who would secure their berths in the starting gate for this Friday’s Players Championship.

Cush registered 5 wins and a place. Gianforte did almost as well with 4 wins and a place. In the 10th at Parx both had 5-1 winner Bronxville (namesake of the tony community that is called home by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose father Charles served out the New York Senate term of Robert F. Kennedy following Kennedy’s 1968 assassination).

I digress. What you really need to know is that the Players Championship field is now up to 177 and the all-cash purse has reached $313,290. Qualifiers continue through Thursday, and buy-in will be cheerfully accepted right up until the contest start time on Friday.

There’s more Wednesday featured action to report. Igor Mirambeau (5 wins, 2 places) swept the final three races at odds of 5-1, 5-2 and 9-2…

…and that got him the top prize of $3,670 in Wednesday’s $4,000 Guaranteed cash tourney, which finished up with a purse of $8,156.

Kevin Englehard took the opposite approach. He swept the first three races—at odds of 4-1, 7-1 and 3-1.

Engelhard finished with 4 wins, 3 places and a $3,500 package to the April 10 Keeneland Grade One Gamble.

On Thursday, Giuseppe Petrella hit it big with Beauty Boss ($44.20, $12.40) in the 10th at Gulfstream.

Beauty Boss was one of four Petrella winners to go along with a Petrella place. The five collections added up to a triumph worth $2,892 in Thursday’s $2,500 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a pot of $6,426.

Meanwhile, Tim Downs (2 wins, 2 places), Robert Childress (4W, 0P) and Ronnie Ogle (2W, 1P) all punched their tickets on Thursday to the Players Championship.

All three had Beauty Boss in their respective portfolios.

On Friday, Nicholas Luca was so confident in his featured-tourney selections that he didn’t bother to make all 10.

It’s not a strategy we recommend to you youngsters out there just starting out, but it worked well enough, earning Luca a $2,000 Monmouth Pick Your Prize entry.

Luca had 6 firsts and 2 seconds. That’s great consistency in a tourney of any length—but extra impressive when it comes from just nine picks!

Keith Castleberry and Bill Shurman elected to make selections in all 10 mandatory contest races of Friday’s $75 NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers.

Good move! Castleberry booked 6 wins and a place; Shurman 5 wins and a place. Both used Three Two Zone ($27.80, $9.00) in the 7th at Aqueduct to speed their way to Vegas next January.

Saturday’s high score was turned in by Steve Combs.

Nothing too fancy on its own—just six solid winners all paying between $10.00-$16.00. For that performance, Combs was well compensated.

Because it was Florida Derby Day, we upped the usual Saturday cash-game guarantee from $25,000 to $45,000. When the cash drawer was fully counted, the tally came to $50,852—$20,340 of which went to Combs.

In addition to the elevated feature purse (which was a live-format game), we added a $10,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray to the Saturday festivities.

Steven Okpych was the primary beneficiary here, booking 5 firsts and 2 seconds. Okpych’s biggest collection came with Control Group ($16.00, $6.80) in the 7th at Aqueduct, and he walked away with $6,566 out of a total final pot of $13,133.

Four people earned $2,000 Players Championship berths on Saturday.

Neal Metzger did so in the full-card, Gulfstream-only qualifier. There weren’t really big prices in Saturday’s featured schedule, but Metzger was able to nail one in race 2 at Gulfstream. He had Textpectation ($37.60, $15.40) in race 2.

Gary “Macho Man” Machiz, Rex Robinson and Peter Osella were the three who emerged with $2,000 entries to the middle leg of the Tourney Triple in Saturday’s multi-track qualifier.

For Robinson, the grand prize came just six days after he cleaned out the $15 Pick 4 Jackpot pool to the tune of $7,387.

Speaking of which, no one hit the Pick 4 Jackpot on either Saturday or Sunday. So next Saturday’s Jackpot game will begin with a carryover of $370.

David Bloom came up with 5 winners—including Florida Derby hero Known Agenda at 5-1—plus 1 runner up to draw off to a $23.80 margin of victory in Saturday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier.

Bloom bagged a $3,500 package for the April 10th tournament—which can be played either live onsite at Keeneland or online via Xpressbet.

William Holmes (4 wins, 3 places) and Crescencio Decayanan (5W, 1P) each had Self Taught ($13.40, $4.00) in the final contest race, the 6th at Santa Anita. 

That proved to be the clincher for both in Saturday’s special $100 NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers.

The other Saturday feature at HorsePlayers was captured by Jeff Bussan.

He had a win and a place in the final two races to get up late for a victory in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier.

On Sunday, the featured-tourney horse that you really wanted to have was Cuestion de Tiempo in race 11 at Gulfstream.

Joseph Costello had the 43-1 shot and that allowed him to lead the way in Sunday’s NHC qualifier here at HorseTourneys.

Steve “The Admiral” Nemetz (4 wins, 0 places) also had Cuestion de Tiempo en route to a second-place finish and an NHC seat.

For Costello, his score of $127.40 was tied for the highest of the afternoon.

Daniel Zaretsky used a different formula to come up with his version of $127.40.

The 3 wins and 2 places in Zaretsky’s case added up to a payday of $11,415 in Sunday’s $20,000 Guaranteed cash game, which had a final purse of $25,368.

Joe Jacaruso was also highly appreciative of the nose distance that separated Cuestion de Tiempo from runner up Street Copper.

Jacaruso parlayed Cuestion de Tiempo plus one other winner and one place collection into a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat in the day’s Low Ratio Pick & Pray qualifier at HorsePlayers. Gregory Newell came in second and received a $5,000 partial BCBC entry for his efforts.

Alan Mullins had just 2 Sunday winners but they were the day’s two best.

Mullins combined Cuestion de Tiempo with Waiting for a Star ($24.80, $9.60) in the 12th at Tampa to rule the roost in Sunday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble play-in. Brian Johnson recorded 2 wins and 3 places to grab a $3,500 Keeneland package of his own.

You knew it was only a question of time until Lawrence Kahlden earned a Players Championship entry.

Ironically, though, 3rd-place finisher Kahlden (4 wins, 0 places) was the only one of the five $2,000 seat winners in this All Optional Live game who didn’t have Cuestion de Tiempo. The other four all did. Congratulations to John Meyer (3 wins, 3 places), Jim Wissig (3W, 0P), Greg Knepper (2W, 0P) and Mark Aylward (2W, 1P).

Only one player had Cuestion de Tiempo in Sunday’s Lone Star Million Betting Challenge qualifier.

That one was not eventual winner Dellie Ford. Dellie made up for the big one that got away by ordering up five winners that ranged in price from a tasty-enough $5.40 to a delicious $24.80. Come Memorial Day, Ford will head to Lone Star on a $3,000 scholarship ($2,500 entry plus $500 travel).

As we embark upon the very big week ahead, a couple of notes going forward: Since so many of you will be understandably engrossed in the Players Championship on Friday and Saturday, we are, for one week only, dropping our guarantee amounts slightly for the featured Friday and Saturday cash tourneys. This Friday’s guarantee will be set at $10,000 and Saturday’s will have $20,000 certain. (The following week, it will go back to $15,000 and $25,000, respectively.)

On the other side of the coin, the Wednesday marquee cash game will be bumped up from $4,000 to $6,000 for a guarantee, while Thursday’s $2,500 Guaranteed Pick & Pray is now a $4,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray. Even better, these two increases are not one-week-only deals. They will remain in effect until further notice.

Thank you for your support in making the guarantee upgrades possible—and for making our other qualifiers and cash tourneys the lively and competitive events that they are. 

On to the Players Championship!