Dylan Donnelly Captures Exacta Extravaganza After Wild Finale at Woodbine; Sean Nolan Records Three Big Sunday Triumphs; Brian Chenvert Earns His Way to Santa Anita and The BIG One (Weekly Recap, September 8-12)

In terms of last-race drama, we couldn’t have scripted the Exacta Extravaganza much better.

In as contentious a race as you’re ever going to see, Dylan Donnelly, 30, of Alta Loma, Calif., saw two of his three exacta box horses—Hallie’s Hero (9-1) and Abbaa (also 9-1)—prevail in a five-horse blanket finish in the final race of the two-day, $50,000 Guaranteed Exacta Extravaganza, the 11th at Woodbine. The dueling 9-1 shots combined on a $1 exacta payoff worth $152.20, and that propelled Donnelly from 3rd-place to first—a distinction that came with a prize of $20,250.

The two who led going into that last race, Ryan Knottek and Wayne Collier, elected not to take a chance on Abbaa, and had to settle for second-place ($8,100) and third-place ($4,500), respectively. Anthony Trezza, Edwin Herr and Scott Duffield all had the Hallie’s Hero (#8) and Abbaa (#1) exacta to wind up in 4th, 5th and 6th positions, respectively. David Nelson (who earned $1,250 in bonus money for being the Day 1 leader) checked in 7th, while Matthew Balungo, Nancy Spence, Frank Stohr and A. Ryan Roberts were the others to finish in the money of the Extravaganza, which was contested with a takeout to players of just 5.6%.

For his efforts—and his undoubtedly elevated blood-pressure reading on Sunday—Donnelly also took home an additional $1,250 for having the highest Day 2 score.

The written description above doesn’t really do justice to the closeness of the last race. Here’s a shot of the finish for the more visually-inclined of you out there.

The shot probably serves, unintentionally, as a bit of an extra gut punch to second- and third-place finishers Knottek and Collier—who both had the 8 and needed the favored #9 horse Hitters Park to get up into one of the top two slots.

Actually—believe it or not—the visual of the finish may not even do justice to how tense this race was. Anyone who had any action at all in this race may have been screaming his or her head off in mid stretch. Check out the Equibase chart:

I truly can’t ever recall a race in which the top seven horses at the eighth-pole were separated by six heads.

Early on, it certainly didn’t appear that Donnelly would be a significant factor in the two-day, full-card Kentucky Downs and Woodbine competition.

Yes, Donnelly nailed a very nice $136.60 payoff in the 6th at Kentucky Downs after firing 11 straight blanks. But he finished Saturday with $152.15—$164.00 less than Day 1 leader David Nelson.

To make matters worse, Donnelly whiffed on his first nine plays of Sunday, extending his personal scoreless streak to 15 races.

Then, however—as he is known to do—Donnelly went on a tear.

Six winning exacta boxes out of the final 12 races, including five of the last seven. To paraphrase Ed Burgart, Donnelly got stronger as the Exacta Extravaganza got longer.

Only one person can emerge on top, obviously, but we hope everyone had a good time and enjoyed exercising a different “contest muscle”—especially those new to the HorseTourneys Exacta Box format.

Of course, the $2 win/place scoring system remains our bread and butter, and we had plenty of those featured tourneys to go around last week…starting on Wednesday.

Fred Christ had 3 wins and 2 places among his body of 10 Wednesday selections for the $6,000 Guaranteed cash game. His two best picks were Newsworthy ($35.60, $14.80) in the the 5th at Kentucky Downs and In Love ($19.00, $8.40) in race 8 at the Franklin, Ky. track. When the dust settled, Christ’s collection plate was fuller by $2,700.

On Thursday’s the day’s featured cash tourney, our $5,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, was taken by Alan “The Muscle” Baze.

Baze compiled four runners up followed by four winners—including the final three in a row at the end—to pocket the up-top money of $2,519 in an event ultimately worth a total of $5,599.

Sticking with the cash-game theme, Friday’s high-score was posted in the day’s HT Tour event, our $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, by Dan Soukup (no relation to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker).

Soukup had the horse everyone wanted to have on Friday—Gee Gee Whiz ($56.00, $18.40) in the 8th at Golden Gate….

…and that, along with his five other winners, earned Soukup the $7,331 grand prize in a game that closed with a purse of $16,292.

Eight people earned berths last weekend to this coming weekend’s The BIG One. The first two of those eight were Robert Reidy and Ted “The Big” Apple.

Reidy and Apple took vastly different routes to their The BIG One berths. Reidy picked 5 winners, all paying between $11.00 and $15.60 in the win hole. Apple (2 wins and a place) landed the day’s bomb, Gee Gee Whiz.

Marc Stateler took a Ted Apple-like approach in Friday’s qualifier to the Santa Anita Opening Weekend Challenge.

Stateler collected just on Gee Gee Whiz and one other $3.00-to-place runner-up.

Ilan Cuellar (3 wins, 1 place) and Eric Liebmann (2 wins, 1 place) were the two winners of Keeneland Fall BCBC/NHC Challenge seats in Friday’s qualifier.

Yes, they both had Gee Gee Whiz at Golden Gate.

In Friday’s Canterbury Big 10 BCBC Handicapping Contest qualifier, Pete Acocella had Gee Gee Whiz, but Joshua Taarud did not.

Taarud still came away with a $3,000 Canterbury entry for this Thursday night, however, by coming up with a well-rounded 4 winners and 2 places.

Getting back to Pete Acocella, his winning scorecard was far from the week’s best—or even the day’s best—but it made me smile.

It’s not often that a multi-track tourney here contains just two races from a track and those two races serve as the first and last race of the contest. It’s even rarer when the track in question is Golden Gate. But perhaps those are the precise circumstances that Acocella has always…secretly…longed for. Give him a Golden Gate race at the beginning and the end, and he’s good!

Over at HorsePlayers, Jeff Sandler (3 wins, 2 places) and Karin Lundberg (3W, 0P) both liked Gee Gee Whiz, and that meant they were both good.

They’ll both be heading to the 2022 NHC—already just a mere four and a half months away.

Gene Kim did not have the big Golden Gate longshot, but he still had reason to say “Gee whiz!” at his good fortune on Friday.

Kim made the low ratios (and the payoff cap) work in his favor in this BCBC qualifier thanks to 4 winners (none of which paid more than $11.00) and two places that enabled him to narrowly top the one player, Dan Brockman, who did have Gee Gee Whiz.

On Saturday, Paul “None the” Weizer (2 wins, 1 place) and Brian “BC” Chenvert (also 2W, 1P) were both in good spirits.

They both played In Good Spirits ($31.80, $12.20) in the 6th at Kentucky Downs and they both added their names to the roster of no more than 57 that will be competing for 10 top tournament seats and $153,000 (and counting) in cash in next weekend’s The BIG One.

Chenert, by the way, was in even better spirits on Sunday.

Here he added a $1,500 Santa Anita Opening Weekend Challenge berth to his always-formidable portfolio of contest seats by racking up 2 wins and 5 places on the day. Meanwhile his “lousy” entry in this one managed to come in second.

Getting back to Saturday’s action, the day’s best score was amassed by Craig “Home Sweet” Hom.

Hom took home $13,500 for his 4 firsts and 2 seconds in Saturday’s $30,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray (an HT Tour event).

The featured cash game went off with just a 3.7% takeout to players.

Another big Saturday cash event was our $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray.

Tomas Johnson (not the former Islanders great) recorded 3 wins and 3 places to garner the top prize here of $9,261. The tourney closed with a final overall pot of $13,230.

David Barnier (2 wins, 2 places) and Jeff Ferren (3W, 2P) were the best of 90 in Saturday’s 2-seats-guaranteed NHC qualifier.

Barnier struck it rich with Starship Bonita ($71.80, $22.80) in the 11th at Gulfstream.

In the Saturday feature at HorsePlayers, Michael Domabyi put together an impressive assortment of 4 wins and 4 runners up to capture the day’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier.

Domabyi’s best hit came with The Lir Jet ($19.60, $9.80) in the 10th at Kentucky Downs.

Neither John Van Arnum (1 win, 2 places)…

…nor Paul Fishman (2 winners)…

…managed to go 4-for-4 while winning the weekend’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourneys. So that means that next Saturday’s Jackpot will start out with $1,114 in the kitty.

Separate and apart from the final day of the Exacta Extravaganza, there was a lot going on here on Sunday. In the middle of much of it was Sean Nolan.

Perhaps I should have said “On top of much of it was Sean Nolan.” The affable 57-year-old from Alexandria, Va., led a group of four winners in Sunday’s The BIG One Blowout. Also earning spots in the small-but-select contest were 2005 NHC champ Jamie Michelson (4 wins, 1 place), Dan Horvat (3W, 1P) and Brian Graziano (3W, 2P). All four had the first-time-Norman McKnight horse War Bomber ($41.30, $15.70) in race 8, the Toronto Cup Stakes at Woodbine.

For his part, Nolan had the day’s highest scoring total.

It served him well not just in The BIG One Blowout, but also in Sunday’s HT Tour event, the $20,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, where he won $9,785 out of $21,744….

…and in Sunday’s Last Chance qualifier to Thursday’s Canterbury Big 10 BCBC Handicapping Contest.

Joining Nolan in the Canterbury starting gate in a few days will be runner up Ted Apple (6 wins and 1 place, including 12-1 Woodbine race 10 winner Spite Store). On Friday, Apple picked himself up a seat to The BIG One. So it will be a very busy—and potentially lucrative—Thursday, Saturday and Sunday in the coming week for both Nolan and Apple.

Frank “54-40 or Fight” Polk (5 wins, 2 places) also had Spite Store.

The victorious Woodbine runner ($27.60, $11.10) was Polk’s third of four consecutive winners late in the game of Sunday’s Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship qualifier. Polk gets a $6,000 seat in the January live-bankroll test.

There were five unofficial winners (pending routine Tour membership verification) in Sunday’s free, 15-race NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers.

Congratulations to Christopher “Liberty and Justice for” Ahl (7 wins, 2 places), Jim Stirr (also 7W, 2P), Michael Tucker (9W, 4P!), Frank Natale (7W, 2P) and John Herzberg (5W, 1P).

The other featured tourney at HorsePlayers on Sunday was a $500 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio Pick & Pray.

Kevin Newell had a 5-race dry spell in the middle, but he came up with 4 winners and  3 runners up in the beginning and at the end to prove best and take home the $10,000 entry for November. Second-place finisher Bernard Moore received a $5,000 partial BCBC entry for his performance.

Jorge Cruz-Aedo has been on a very nice run of late.

As the only player of 34 to crack triple digits, Cruz-Aedo (6 firsts, 1 second) grabbed a $3,500 entry to the October 16 Keeneland Fall BCBC/NHC Challenge. (He also earned $3,914 for running second to Sean Nolan in the day’s $21,744 cash game.)

That Norman McKnight 19-1 shot (War Bomber in race 8 at Woodbine) was the only winner all day for Ken Jordan.

But that tally plus two place collections were enough for Jordan to take down the top prize of $5,250 in Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney.

For a week without NYRA racing, last week wasn’t half bad! Belmont will be back in the mix starting on Thursday. In the meantime, good luck to those playing in the big Canterbury contest on Thursday. And thanks to all for what was a rather novel and fast-paced week of featured events. Next stop…The BIG One!