Frank Polk Captures Belmont Stakes Day $48,000 Tourney; Daniel Kovalesky Wins on Back-to-Back Days; Plethora of Mid-Range Horses Make for a Wide Open Sunday (Weekly Recap, June 2-6)

For the most part, last week’s featured tourneys were exciting free-for-alls with several horses in the 10-1 range connecting, and almost no cap horses doing so. The one exception came on the first day of the featured-tourney week, Wednesday.

When is the last time you bet a horse that clipped heels during the race and still managed to win? When is the last time you played a horse that clipped heels and went on, nonetheless, to win by 5 lengths? When’s the last time you picked a horse that did all that…at odds of 66-1?

Say hello to Strum and Pluck.

Strum and Pluck had Mike Lazarus (3 wins, 1 place) pickin’ and grinnin’ at the end of  Wednesday’s $6,000 Guaranteed cash tourney.

Lazarus did the best of the nine who had the last-race Parx bomber, and that resulted in a payday worth $2,700. 

You don’t have to dig very deep to realize that Strum and Pluck wasn’t a factor in Wednesday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier…because the winning score was below $64.00.

That winning score ($61.60) belonged to Kyle King, who accumulated his total via 2 wins and 3 places. King will now be “in the entries” for this Saturday’s Pick Your Prize Challenge, which can be played onsite at Monmouth or online at Xpressbet (or at 4NJBets for New Jersey residents).

Michael Bailey was apparently so confident in his Wednesday selections that he played them twice—in the day’s one-seat Bally’s First Chance/Last Chance qualifier.

By finishing both first and second with his dual 3-win, 0-place entries, Bailey collected not only a $500 berth to the NHC Eve event…but a coveted $118 breakage refund as well.

G.T. Nixon took home the top prize of $2,612 in Thursday’s $4,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which wound up with a final pot of $5,806. 

Nixon did it by picking 6 winners out of 10 races, which resulted in Nixon having the top score of the day.

Scores were a little lower in Thursday’s Bally’s NHC First Chance/Last Chance qualifier—despite Daniel Kovalesky picking 6 winners (plus 3 places) and Jon Van Niel nailing 7 winners.

They both picked up $500 entries for August 26th, however. Kovalesky’s big horse was Star Command ($19.60, $8.20) in the 9th at Belmont. 

On Friday, Kovalesky picked up right where he left off on Thursday.

Make it two Bally’s NHC First Chance/Last Chance entries for Kovalesky. On this day, he had 4 wins and a place to top fellow $500 seat winner David Conover (2W, 2P), who gained his August 26th berth by a precarious 90-cent margin. 

The big winner of the day—and the provider of the highest score of the day—was Michael Sussman.

Sussman fired off three consecutive winners at the start, then added 2 more firsts and 1 second thereafter to bag top money of $7,406 in Friday’s $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed up business with an overall purse of $16,458. Here’s a look at his scoresheet:

Gary “Macho Man” Machiz took a somewhat unconventional route to the winner’s circle of Friday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier.

We say that not because of Machiz’s 3 wins and 3 places…but because the horse that got him the biggest return all day was one of his runners up—Saint Selby, who paid $20.00 to place after finishing second in the 6th at Belmont.

The two players who managed to top the $50.00 mark were the two to leave town with Friday’s two available $2,000 Monmouth Pick Your Prize seats.

Congratulations to Terence Severson (3 wins, 3 places) and Dr. Ronald Tang (3W. 0P). Both had Estilo Talentoso, the 5-2 winner of the Race 8 Bed o’ Roses at Belmont.

Fifty bucks also proved to be the magic mark in Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers.

Mike Yurczyk was the only one to scale that not-so-lofty height thanks to his 2 firsts and 1 second. Yurczyk’s best yielder was Alastor ($19.60, $8.20) in the 5th at Gulfstream.

Scores were higher in Friday’s $75 NHC qualifier—as would befit a tourney with 302 entries.

Robert Carlson (5 wins, 1 place) and Randy Bauer (3W, 4P) were the two to emerge here with the cut-rate NHC spots for 2022. Both had Alastor early and Carlson had Landbiscuit ($9.60, $4.20 in the 11th at Belmont) late.

On Saturday, we upped the stakes in honor of the Belmont Stakes. The biggest beneficiary of that was Frank “54-40 or Fight” Polk. 

Polk had an ideal start, hitting the day’s highest priced winner in the very first contest race. From there, he added five more firsts and two seconds to bag $19,420 in our $45,000 Guaranteed live-format game which closed with a purse of $48,551. Here’s how Polk’s day went:

In addition to the $48,000 live-format game, there was also a $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray on Saturday.

Though Belmont and the Belmont Stakes was the day’s main focus, three of James Lisowsky’s five winners came at Gulfstream, and that meant a winner’s share of $7,406 went Lisowsky’s way from a total final purse of $16,458.

Like Frank Polk, Daniel Fischer used 10-1 Casa Creed in the Jaipur Stakes at Belmont as his springboard to success.

Fischer (3 wins, 2 places) made $9,261 in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray, which had a final pot of $13,230.

Two players earned $500 entries in Saturday’s Bally’s NHC First Chance/Last Chance qualifier.

Kirk Rockwell (5 wins, 1 place) and James Politano (4W, 0P) each had Essential Quality at the end to get themselves into the pay slots.

For Peter Osella, it was the $4.10 place return on Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont that made the difference.

Osella (3 wins, 5 places) used that last selection to safeguard his $2,500 passage to the $300,000 Guaranteed Spa & Surf Showdown here on August 14-15.

Bernard Reilly and Darryl Mays punched their respective tickets to this Saturday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize Challenge.

Reilly didn’t bother with runners up, but he had 5 winners. Mays compiled 4 winners and 2 “placers.”

Having Essential Quality in the Belmont allowed Robert McCluskey (5 wins, 2 places) to squeak past Matt Miller over at HorsePlayers.

For McCluskey, the winning favorite in the “Test of a Champion” meant a $10,000 entry in what is another “Test of a Champion” of sorts…the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

Justin Fattore had 2 winners (Casa Creed and Domestic Spending) to finish first in Saturday’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourney.

On Sunday, things were even harder. None of the four winners went off at less than 5-1. Richard Spring had just one of those winners (plus two runners up), but he took top the top spot in Sunday’s four-race event.

Since no one went 4-for-4 last weekend, next Saturday’s Pick 4 Jackpot will begin with a carryover of $5,574.

The big cash-game winner on Sunday was Robert Reidy. 

Reidy hit back-to-back winners that paid $27.60 (Gulfstream race 9) and $29.80 (Monmouth race 9) en route to 5 wins, 1 place and a victory worth $9,474 in Sunday’s $20,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray which finished up with a purse of $21,054.

Some days—when there is one winning bomb amid a sea of chalk—you pretty much have to have the bomb to do well. Sunday was pretty much the opposite of that. There were no bombs…yet was also no shortage of pricey winners. 

The person who did the best job of navigating what was a pretty tricky “course” on Sunday was Cheryl Knepper.

Knepper came up with all three of the $20+ horses that were out there to account for the day’s highest score. Even better, the performance earned her a 2022 NHC seat.

Joining Knepper at the Big Dance in January 2022 will be runner up Michael Chavez (4 wins, 1 place). He had the winners of the final two contest races—at 9-1 and 5-2—to get himself into the all-important second slot.

With a variety of good-paying horses in play on Sunday, there were many paths to victory, and only one double winner. And that double winner came in a single event.

Evan Trommer (3 wins, 3 places) got the gold medal in the Monmouth Pick Your Prize play-in, but Christopher Olsson (3 wins, 2 places on both of his tickets despite slightly different scores) got the silver and bronze. That will give Olsson double-barrel action this Saturday at Monmouth/Xpressbet.

Perhaps the best snapshot or “microcosm” of Sunday’s featured competitions was on display in the day’s Bally’s NHC First Chance/Last Chance qualifier.

The three earners of $500 seats were Marc Wlodkowski (3 wins, 3 places), Robert Pennell (4W, 5P) and Christopher “Liberty and Justice for” Ahl (2W, 2P). Between the three of them they had 9 winners. And not a single one of the nine was held in common among even two of the players.

Furthermore, all three succeeded despite none of them having the 9-1 winner of Belmont race 9. 

Another interesting result came in Sunday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers.

Obviously victor Corey Lonberger leaned pretty heavily on the #1 horses here. We don’t know if that was by design or if he didn’t realize until the very last minute that the tourney was a Pick & Pray instead of a Live game like most of the others.

I’d imagine that some of you out there are already laughing at me for wondering aloud if it might not have been a premeditated move. Some of those people may be assuming that Lonberger used a different horse (#4) in the first race because the #1 had been scratched. 

But the one-horse was NOT scratched from that first contest race. And the funny thing is…had Lonberger, indeed, used the 1 in that first race…he would have won by even more!

In Spa & Surf Showdown qualifying action on Sunday, Carl R. Logan (4 wins, 3 places) was the winner of our $147 qualifier by 40 cents over Kevin Willett.

Willett may have temporarily rejoiced when his pick in the last race (the 11th at Monmouth) won at 5-2. But Logan’s pick ran second, returning $7.60 in the place hole and allowing Logan to narrowly retain his lead.

Sunday’s $368 Low Ratio Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier went to Robert Schintzius Sr.

Schintzius recorded 5 place collections before connecting on his lone winner of the afternoon, Miss Margaret Ann ($29.80, $12.60) in the 9th at Monmouth.

Steven Meier had 3 winners, including F F Rocket ($21.20, $10.40 in the 9th at Belmont), and 3 runners up.

The six collections added up to a $3,000 entry for Meier in the September 16th Canterbury Big 10 BCBC Handicapping Contest (perhaps the first big contest to ever be scheduled for a Thursday). 

A couple of familiar names won the other two features on Sunday.

Dylan Donnelly collected in the final three races (including with F F Rocket at Belmont) to finish with 3 firsts and 3 seconds.

That earned Donnelly a spot in what will be a field of no more than 57 for this September’s The BIG One, which will be held online for the second straight year in 2022). Donnelly also got $500 for winning (as all weekly The BIG One qualifier winners do)…and Robert Schintzius Sr. got the customary $395 refund for coming in second.

Howard “Big Bucks” Welsh also had F F Rocket.

And that meant yet another Big Bucks title for Welsh, who earned $5,699 for this one. The final overall purse came to $8,142.

Here’s an early reminder that the last chances to qualify for Monmouth take place this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday…and that Sunday will bring with it our first qualifier to the Del Mar Summer Challenge. 

Meanwhile…thanks to all for playing—and reading—this week.